The Street Where I Live

British by birth, New Yorker by nature.

Careers and Working

Behind the Scenes at Fashion Week with Anna Lyles

Careers and Working, Fashion & BeautyAlexandra kingComment
Anna Lyles TSWIL

I've mentioned my sister-in-law Anna Lyles a couple of times on the blog (she did my hair for my wedding, obvs, also I love her x a million) but I wanted you guys to get to grips with what she's really known for, which is being one of the US's top fashion hairstylists. Anna lives in LA, but spends seemingly unfathomable amounts of time jet-setting around the world each year for fashion weeks, working on teams with top artists and influencers at some of the biggest shows in the world. From Alexander McQueen to Dior to Valentino to Marc Jacobs, this babe has racked up an impressive amount of notches on her hairbrush- over 100 shows and counting, in fact. So with the season over (for now) and Anna safely back in LA and therefore able to have long and hilarious phone chats with me again (yay) I asked her if she would fill you in on what it's really like backstage at fashion week (spoiler: the models do eat).

Louis Vuitton Menswear F/W 2015

Louis Vuitton Menswear F/W 2015

How does the hair styling work for a runway show?
It all starts with the hair test, which is done by the key hair and makeup artist anywhere from a week or two in advance to the night before the show. This is where the designer, hair, and makeup teams get on the same page aesthetically.  A model will be there for a day in the hair and makeup chair- then the head artist will create a look and it goes to the designer to be evaluated. Either it's approved right away, tweaks need to be made (volume/ shape/ texture/ up/ down etc) or a whole different look needs to be created on the fly. Then pictures of the look are taken and printed to be put up backstage the day of the show!

On the day itself, there's usually 3-4 hours of time until the show is live, and there are 20-80 models. Rehearsal is called one hour before the show so that the models get to see the runway path and go for a test walk with the music. This is also where they are coached to know how fast to walk and what attitude to have (sexy? Strong? Sweet?).

Then there's only 30 minutes until first looks, meaning almost no time at all to get every girl to 100%!  So this is crunch time, and also the moment that photographers are allowed backstage. You often turn your model's chair to face the middle of the room so that makeup artists and manicurists can work on him or her with you at the same time. Multitasking to the max!

Suddenly it's show-time, the model's names are called, they get in single file and the music starts. That's when the whole room goes completely silent. It's an amazingly calm moment after a hectic few hours. Everyone falls totally silent, you could hear a pin drop. Then, as soon as the show is finished, the whole room erupts into cheers and whoops and hollers. It's so celebratory and emotional. I always feel an amazing sense of accomplishment to have been part of such an incredible team in that moment. It's really so thrilling. 

Dolce & Gabbana S/S 2015

Dolce & Gabbana S/S 2015

What does backstage look like?

Firstly, "backstage" almost feels like a misleading word in itself, because it's usually in a place that was not built for backstage at all! The location for the show is chosen for aesthetic, so it often gets hidden somewhere strange where the people attending the show won't see. Maybe stuck in a back room, or behind a makeshift wall or in a tent! There are always six-foot folding tables and portable lights on foot stands scattered through the space for hair and makeup. Because it's a makeshift work area, space is often very tight and illogically set up- like a makeup table set up four feet behind your table, which means everyone is bumping elbows or stepping on toes the whole time. This season I worked for a runway show hosted at a very fancy NYC restaurant, and the entire "backstage" consisted of a narrow hallway for wardrobe and a small room underground for all hair, makeup and models. Half of my station was on top of a pile of giant wires. Needless to say, not the most ergonomic salon situation. But we made it work!

 Working the Burberry Show with supermodel Jourdan Dunn

 Working the Burberry Show with supermodel Jourdan Dunn

What do you wear for shows?

Something with pockets! Usually pants. A lot of hair assistants wear an apron, which is basically a tool belt filled with lots of different combs and brushes. I find the apron a little cumbersome though, so I just use the pockets in my jeans. I always have hair spray in my back pocket, clips on my shirt and pins in the front. As for colour? Usually fashion black, darlings. When you're backstage, you want to make sure you look practical but reasonably chic. There are photographers everywhere! This Kenzo button-up and these 3x1 jeans are my fave go-to show outfit right now. Also, I'm obsessed with this fantastic sanitizing gel which is antibacterial and makes my hands smell amazing! I have it with me at every show.

Paris Fashion Week F/W 2015

Paris Fashion Week F/W 2015

What do you think are the misconceptions vs the realities of fashion week?

It's not super glamorous!!! Backstage, models are annoyed a lot of the time because they're overworked and tired of having their hair pulled and cuticles nipped. It's often too hot or too cold, there's a total lack of space and a lot of on-edge producers yelling while trying to run the show.

Monique Lhuillier S/S 2015

Monique Lhuillier S/S 2015

What does it smell like?

Hairspray and hot hair! 

Anna with hair guru Garren at Anna Sui

Anna with hair guru Garren at Anna Sui

What's the energy like?

Beautiful chaos, everyone is excited to be a part of it, most people don't work for shows unless they enjoy the high energy. It's a creative process on speed- you've got to enjoy the pressure and be flexible, because people will be in your way! Backstage photographers will sneak up in your space and you may accidentally poke their lens with a pin tail comb... everyone's got to be understanding of all the working parts of the machine and have a good sense of humour about it.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 3.36.35 PM.png

Do the models really eat?

Yes! There is usually some kind of catering table- It can range from a full spread of fresh fruit, fancy pastries, Nespresso, fresh sandwiches etc to a box of bagels, coffee and no toaster. The models absolutely do eat, just not carbs for the most part. A lot of fruit, quinoa, hummus type salady things. They get upset, rightfully, when there aren't healthy options available- if it's just the cold bagel scenario most models would probably forgo. That's why I always travel with a backpack full of energy bars.

Anna Lyles TSWIL

How do you stay calm and focused in such a frenetic atmosphere? 

I breathe deeply and make a concerted effort to move calmly- there is a process the hair has to go through whatever the look, so choosing your tools and techniques wisely rather than being spazzy and losing your focus is much more time effective.

Backstage at Lanvin at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris

Backstage at Lanvin at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris

What do you pack in your bag for shows? 

A phone charger with my name colored all over it. Also snacks!  Those bars I mentioned. I love KIND bars, Lara bars, Chia bars, it goes on. Either way I have eaten at least a thousand protein bars in my lifetime and I would probably be dead by now without them.

Some of Anna's favourite looks that she's worked on this year

Some of Anna's favourite looks that she's worked on this year

What's your favourite show you've ever done?

I'd say the Dior Haute Couture SS15 with Guido Palau. The hair was really complicated and avant-garde as hairstyles go, a super sleek silhouette with a disconnected foot long (!) ponytail attached by a human hair loop. The clothes were a fusion of 70's David Bowie and romantic 50's couture. Thigh-high orange vinyl boots! Ball gowns! Sequined pant suits! It took place at the Rodin sculpture museum in Paris. The runway was a two-story, round room (constructed for the show) with pink carpet and mirrors on all the walls and ceilings. It was like a carnival fun room.  

Dolce & Gabbana Ready To Wear S/S 2015

Dolce & Gabbana Ready To Wear S/S 2015

And what about the strangest?

A giant cold warehouse in the outskirts of Paris for Raf Simons. It took an hour to get there by car, it was FREEZING and the power kept blowing from the blowdryers. Even the Parisians among us were slightly lost after- we barely made our way home on the Metro.

Once I very embarrassingly didn't recognize a really well-respected makeup artist- the key artist nonetheless, and asked him "are you with makeup?". He was amazingly forgiving, gave me a disapproving look and said "yes.. why?" (thank you for not embarrassing me, sir!).

Then there was the time Hanne Gaby sat in my chair and promptly popped a bottle of champagne and poured me a glass (she then Snapchatted the whole thing to her fans). Also when Tom Ford walked up and said "thank you guys for being here, you're doing a great job". Oh, and the thousand other times show producers have yelled at me for "not having my number on" or asked if I'd had my makeup or nails done yet. I'm tall and thin, so I do get mistaken for a model quite a lot. The producers are like, why is she wearing ripped jeans and carrying ten hairbrushes? Hahahaha!

Anna Lyles


Thank you darling Anna. I love you, and if my future babies don't inherit those Lyles limbs I'll be very cross indeed. If you want to keep up to date with Anna and why wouldn't you, make sure to follow her on Instagram here

Three Game Changer Words At Work (And In Life, Generally)

Careers and Working, Books & Words, Love and MarriageAlexandra king1 Comment
Bridget Jones TSWIL

Three little words. Not "I love you" obviously. Something else. Something less easy to think and feel. Something you should definitely say more.

I'm blessed to have a wise fairy godmother of a mentor, who happens to also be an award winning film maker and journalist. I met her because five years ago, she took a chance on a fresh out of school foreigner with too-long hair (me) and gave said haircut-avoider her first proper job. Since then, working alongside and for her, I've basked in the glow of watching her power house her way through life, in the most graceful way imaginable. Though she's at a professional level where Devil Meets Prada type behaviour is entirely possible, perhaps even expected, hers is a presence that is both commanding and gentle. She nurtures others and doesn't take no for an answer. You want her on your side and you want to be on her team. You want to earn her admiration and respect. As Sophia Amoruso would say, she's an ultimate Girl Boss.

There are many Girl Bosses out there, and I urge you to seek out yours and study her, David Attenborough style, as intensely as you would a window display at Celine, or a super hot shirtless Idris Elba look-a-like running through Prospect Park or a truly excellent piece of winged eyeliner mastery from your tricksy bestie (these are my examples, yours may differ). Anyway, I digress. I noticed that one of the things my own Girl Boss had mastered so well was negotiation and listening. Even when presented with ideas in turn misguided or ridiculous, or even in the face of outright hostility, she always kept her cool. In fact, she had a magic ability to make people feel heard, while firmly letting them know what was up. That was when I first heard her say those magic words.

"Help me understand"

Help me understand why you think that's the best option. Help me understand why you're feeling frustrated. Help me understand how to make this situation better. Help me understand.

Wowzas. Such a subtle, magical phrase, firmly placing you smack bang wallop in the centre of a perfect venn diagram of strength and humility. A little breath for you as you work out your options, a little moment of compassion and patience for a colleague or friend or stranger. I'm telling you, even if the person you find yourself with is being a downright A-grade a-hole, this magic phrase always manoeuvres you into a position of strength. I've placed it firmly in my repertoire and have watched it work magic on everyone from curmudgeonly car rental dudes to conversations with Time Warner Cable call centre staff (surely a pit of hell Dante missed) to (ahem) beloved husbands. Help me understand. Learn it. Use it. And, on a side note, don't forget to let your Girl Boss know how much you appreciate them. Which is what I am going to do, right this second, by pressing 'publish'. I'm curious, do you have an inspiring Girl Boss in your life? What has she taught you? I'd love to hear.

William Zinsser: A Teacher Who Inspired Me

Books & Words, Careers and WorkingAlexandra king4 Comments
 William Zinsser. Damon Winter/The New York Times

 William Zinsser. Damon Winter/The New York Times

"As you start your may tell yourself that you’re doing “communications,” or “new media,” or “digital media” or some other fashionable new form. But ultimately you’re in the storytelling business. We all are. It’s the oldest of narrative forms, going back to the caveman and the crib, endlessly riveting. What happened? Then what happened? Please remember, in moments of despair, whatever journalistic assignment you’ve been given, all you have to do is tell a story, using the simple tools of the English language and never losing your own humanity."

Writer William Zinsser died yesterday. He was 92. 

Most Americans know Zinsser from his classic US writing manual of sorts called On Writing Well, but, only arriving in New York from the UK one sweltering August nearly 6 (6!) years ago, I didn't know about On Writing Well. I didn't know who William Zinsser was at all. 

Everything changed when I met him. I was a student at Columbia, in the first week of my Masters in Journalism, and he gave a lecture called "Writing English as a Second Language" for all the International Students. Despite being British and English being my first language, I still fell under the International category, so I rather grumpily turned up at the appointed time, along with my Korean and Turkish and German classmates, who I had already haughtily inferred would be much more in need of this lecture than me.

 Just one hour later, I would find that no class before or since would make quite such an impact on the way I write, and (most crucially) the way I re-write.

A small, twinkly-eyed figure, peering over a much too high desk, Professor Zinsser gave his lecture. He was well into his 80's, and had already written all of his 19 books. But he seemed excited by the crowd and filled with energy. We all immediately fell under his spell, as, ever so neatly, he proceeded to make a huge-hearted case for the beauty of the English language. He talked about writing as a job, writing as a pleasure, writing as a way to define ourselves. The rules were clear, he said, and they would set us free. Short is better than long. Simple is good. Long Latin nouns are the enemy. Anglo-Saxon active verbs are your best friend. One thought per sentence.

Mr Zinsser's lecture didn't just give me what felt like a new lease of life on that burning hot day, but a new lease of language. I felt him over my shoulder so often afterwards, especially during the intense year of study that followed. Each time I wrestled with a sentence that didn't feel quite right, I'd scan it for latin nouns, active verbs, sequential order. It always got better.

 I was devastated when I heard that Mr Zinsser had died. In the years since his class, I've ended up covering international news. Over the past half decade, when I have inevitably quoted him, or instructed one of my foreign-born interns struggling with writing to read "Writing English as a Second language", I've often thought, "I must write to him and tell him what his class meant to me". Thank him for helping me discover writers like Joseph Mitchell and Gay Talese. Tell him how the crinkled printout of his lecture from that day half a decade ago still sits on my desk. But I didn't write that letter, did I? I so wish I had.

I struggled how to begin and end this post. What could I really say? He didn't know me at all. I had just been a face in his class. But I nonetheless feel absolutely compelled to tell you what an extraordinary man I think William Zinsser was.  How I still laugh when I think of him instructing a room of super green and somewhat surly 20-somethings to chant, en-masse, "short words good, long words bad". How my own deep and abiding love for the English language, for all words, to be scorned and savored, was bolstered by his. How maybe English really was a foreign language to me before he gave me the tools to truly know, appreciate and wield it. 

You know what's wonderful? He's still on my shoulder, because I hear him now, analyzing that paragraph. I think he'd love the active verbs of "laugh, chant", the alliteration of "scorned, "savoured". He'd (I hope, probably not) forgive my latinate "en-masse". Then, as I sit back now and think "is this good enough?" he'd ask "Is this the story you wanted to tell?" And I would say yes. And he would (I think) be satisfied.


Do You Tell Your Friends How Much You Earn?

Careers and WorkingAlexandra king1 Comment
emmanuelle alt and geraldine saglio

I'm guessing your answer is a wayward kind-of no. Up until recently, even with my closest friends in the world, with whom I talk extensively about careers, whos bosses names and office addresses and working titles I know, we still never talked explicitly about that most crucial figure, the one that dictates why we're doing all this in the first place.

Last week, while discussing some money woes I was having with one of my close friends, who is also a journalist, I found myself suddenly rather apologetically asking if she might mind sharing with me what her salary was (look at how many qualifiers it took for me to just  write that sentence- I'm not editing them out as an example of this dilemma). Though we are both in the same industry, working in a similar level of responsibility, I realised I had no real idea what a reasonable salary expectation was for jobs like ours. More than mine? Less? Much more? Much less? There's just so much secrecy about earnings! Even JOB DESCRIPTIONS in the US don't list salaries, instead hiding behind non-words like "competitive," which can, in fact, mean 30,000 dollars a year for the equivalent in hours of hard labour. Where's the transparency? Though my question to my friend initially felt painfully intimate and gauche in the extreme (are Brits maybe worse at this? I'm guessing yes) she graciously told me, and I, in turn, shared mine, and suddenly we were able to have a super useful and productive conversation about what we both wanted to ask for and achieve in our careers, and how each one of us might approach our next steps to get the kind of salary we'd like and feel we deserve. I realised then that as I move forward in my career I'll be continually relying on this kind of honest dialogue between my peers to get the clarity I need and make the best choices in the jobs I choose to pursue.

I'm not saying begin a not-so-tacit survey of your co-workers, or approach people who you barely know, but please, among good friends, perhaps over a glass of wine (just sayin) let's be honest. And I'll add that being open applies even more in industries where oft-dodgy freelancing or short term contracts prevail, and especially when you're in your late 20s and 30s- still junior, but a good decade shy of your last internship, and at the point where making a living wage is something you should not be expecting, but demanding.

So please, let's talk about it. Because of the pay gap. Because we need to normalise talking about salaries so that we can ask for the pay rises we deserve (because we're not). Because being open with our peers about what we earn helps us to gauge whether or not we're being treated fairly. Because this is essential- for ourselves and the sisterhood at large. 

Let's stick together, share our stories, and ask for more.

Pimp Your Commute

New York City, Careers and WorkingAlexandra king5 Comments

Commuting is like pooping. Everyone has to do it, apart from the Queen. No, wait, she does too.

I had never thought much about commuting, and even when the time came, it took me a while to realise what it really entailed.

 After moving to Brooklyn from the Lower East Side in November, at last escaping our much-loved but utterly decrepit Chinatown apartment, I did vaguely surmise that moving further away meant I would now have a proper hour-long commute rather than my 25 minute train hop to my work in Midtown. However, as with the realising of many a profound truth, it took me a while to acknowledge, and I swiftly wafted that unappetising prospect away in favour of rhapsodising about our beautiful new light-filled, bug-free, completely liveable new home.

 At first, I didn't really notice. The commute I mean, not the apartment. I really noticed the apartment. Especially when we'd come in at night and I would gleefully turn on the light to expose a spotless bug free surface- "LOOK ISAAC, NO ROACHES. NOT ONE". In my first month or so of Brooklyn life, I was too in love with the fresh air and fresh neighbourhood; staring dreamily out of the subway car at the sunny approach to Manhattan with its golden skyscrapers skewering the chubby marshmallow clouds; flirting happily with the owner of the bodega next to the subway station in exchange for a complimentary Lindor truffle (issued "on the house" with a wink as if it was a Negroni at Harry's Bar) and reading a solid book or two a week. “It's amazing, I'm getting so much reading done”, I said to all my friends, who merely peered cynically over their glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. “Perhaps I will re-read The Illiad and completely pay attention this time. I will get Rosetta Stone and learn conversational Finnish. I don't know what everyone complains about, truly.”

 Eight weeks in, the shift happened. I began to walk to the train with less of a spring in my step. More like chains, actually; big cold chains, soldered at random to my fellow train-slaves, edging their way collectively up seventh avenue in the ice, each joined and loping in grim intention like a mournful commuter chain gang. 

 Once on the train, I was getting distracted from my books. Instead, I began spending my time worrying about whether or not I would get a seat. And once I had one, I started thinking about the email I hadn't sent the previous day or whether or not the meeting was at ten or nine thirty oh christ was it at nine thirty. Out went the dreamy staring out the window- in came staring with righteous indignation at the inevitable seat-hoggers, man spreaders, and those charmless fuckwits who favour Nacho Cheese Doritos for breakfast. Worst of all, I learned which stations had Wi-Fi, or were open air enough to get a phone signal. The Iliad got replaced by Instagram. Finnish was discarded for Facebook. 

 In short, it becomes so easy to commute mindlessly. And that might be ok if we didn't do it quite so much. Studies show that the average commute for a New Yorker is 48 minutes. For the average Londoner it's 54 minutes

 So let’s do the maths (not my strong point but in this case essential).  Most of us are spending about two hours a day, 10 hours a week, 40 hours a month on public transport or in cars. Terrifyingly, that means that at the end of just one year, the average city dweller has spent roughly three weeks sitting on a train. Three weeks glaring ferociously at the Dorito munchers, three weeks with your eyes wondering over the page of your book while stressing about whether you can really make that deadline, three weeks refreshing your phone, once you get that slither of reception, wishing ardently that the photo of the kitten in a dinosaur suit on Instagram from 12 minutes ago could be replaced by something equally redundant and shallow (disclaimer: I love kittens, but urge you to love your brain more).

 Enough was enough. I had started to dread my commute. Feel profoundly oppressed by it, even. Something had to change. 

 That's why, over the past four weeks, I've been working hard to shift my perspective and view my daily commute as two hours of unadulterated me-time. I know this is something people usually say about yoga class and not about sharing a confined public space with an assortment of strangers, all with varyingly appalling levels of personal hygiene, but it is true. And, goddamit, I’ve seen the light.

 Dear readers, I came, I saw, I commuted, and this is what I have learned. Below, a five-part guide to pimping your commute.

 1) Completely ban email, texting, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, ANYTHING.  Embrace boredom.

 This is probably the most important. See your commute as an opportunity to train yourself to take an easy, well defined and scheduled break from your soul sucking telephonic device. Turn it off. Put it on airplane mode. Just take the luxury of an hour away from screens and enjoy the simple and inevitable fact that a train or bus journey demands nothing other than you being compelled to sit and wait. Breathe into the luxury of that a little, because it is rare, and fulfilling, and actually has the magical ability to coax out rather strange and fantastic thoughts. Once you've endured the initial agony of digital cold turkey for a few days, with your fingers fluttering reflexively for that iPhone, you'll be so pleased you did.

 2) Ditch the music, embrace the podcast.

 I've stopped listening to music on the subway completely. Firstly, it's no good at all when you are already being serenaded the entire way to Manhattan by a drunk pensioner singing the My Heart Will Go On while merrily quaffing a bottle of White Lightning (this actually happened to me last week). Also, I hate that cheap headphones mean everyone can hear what you're listening to, and I hate hearing other people's bad rap music. Or even their good rap music. This is when I turned to the podcast, discovering how remarkably soothing it is to start one's day with words. Podcasts are free, you can set them up to be downloaded automatically each morning, and it means you can get all the news without having to wield an ungainly newspaper.  Commuting with a couple of good podcasts in your travel arsenal means you can spend the day feeling as if you had taken a leisurely breakfast with your favourite and cleverest friends, and I am a true convert. My favourite podcasts, in no particular order; Desert Island Discs (forever and always) the Today Programme (you could not start your day more informed) and NPR's Fresh Air  (always interesting).

 3) Make yourself an amazing coffee/tea

 Embrace the literal daily grind and brew yourself a top-notch cup of joe to accompany your commute. Invest in a good thermos flask (FYI this is the one I use. I've had it for two years now. It's amazing and never leaks, ever) and make yourself a giant sexy coffee at home. Treat yourself to some fancy beans, sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg into the grind, or if you’re not a coffee drinker, pop some mint leaves in your thermos and pour over hot water. It saves you wasting your hard-earned wine money on boring old Starbucks and allows you to caffeinate yourself smugly as those familiar stations roll by.

 4) Breathe, dummy.

 On the days when the train is jam packed, there's no air conditioning and the only space to stand is directly underneath someone's stinky armpit, practice mindful breathing. Position your head as far away as possible, close your eyes and repeat the following. Breathe in for four slow counts, hold for four and breathe out for four. This has the effect of literally slowing down your heart rate. It really works and has helped me through many a stressful moment. P.S. I'm also a big believer in this

 5) Read. With gusto. Everything.

 The frequently distracting and noisy nature of public transport means that your book choices need to be as engrossing as they come, and never dull. I find a variety of heavy and lightweight tomes, both new and revisited and selected entirely according to mood, make all the difference. In the past couple of months I have read, in no particular order, The Fault in Our Stars, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Gone Girl, All Quiet On The Western Front and The Birthday Letters. I've enjoyed them all, both high and low brow. Don't be snarky about you or anyone else indulging in all of Oprah's Book Club or getting hooked on Game of Thrones or ploughing your way through the Twilight series. You're riding the subway and not allowed to be a literary snob until you're getting chauffered to the office in a Bentley.

Followed strictly, I’ve found that these rules will help you to start and end your day on the side of the angels, with calm and openness and enthusiasm, rather than having your spirit and patience crushed by the MTA only a couple of hours in. Dare I say it, you may even find yourself looking forward to your commute.  Isn't the whole point of The Iliad that it's about the journey? Maybe I'll even get around to that conversational Finnish. Mind ovet.