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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
What does it smell like?
Hairspray and hot hair!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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