Photography: James D Kelly

we hit peak fashion-celebrity at last night's london fashion week closing party

Arch-surrealists Rottingdean Bazaar team up with crafty catwalk showman Matty Bovan for ‘Night Of A Thousand Stars’ – a fashion party where nothing is quite as it seems.

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20 February 2019, 11:12pm

Photography: James D Kelly

If you’ve ever picked up a free newspaper or magazine during London Fashion Week, you will know that – quite aside from the fashion – there is a thriving circuit of celebrity photocalls, with the rich and famous dashing from front row to fancy dinner to exclusive parties. If you work in the industry, there’s a sort of celebrity-based bingo to be played at the shows and events. Perhaps Naomi Campbell or Bella Hadid was ushered past you arriving at a private members’ club. Maybe Hari Nef pointed you in the direction of the bathrooms, and Munroe Bergdorf was reapplying her lipstick once you got there.

“I think to be famous would be terrifying,” says Matty Bovan, one of the UK’s most exciting young designers (who takes his ‘bow’ at the end of a show by sprinting around the catwalk as fast as he possibly can). “The internet has ramped up celeb culture times 100, people are obsessed,” he says. So, presumably in an attempt to deflect attention away from himself, Matty co-hosted a London Fashion Week closing party last night attended by so many celebrities it was quite impossible to believe your own eyes. Kate and Naomi were on the decks, designer Ed Marler and stylist Matthew Josephs hung out with FKA Twigs and Miriam Margolyes, Daisy Lowe and Simon Cowell shared a booth, Zandra Rhodes cosied up to Paul Hollywood, and Grace Jones rubbed shoulders with Art School muse Josephine Jones.

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I know it sounds like I’m making this stuff up, but I saw Britney Spears and Adam Sandler hanging out next to the kitchen. Gail from Corrie turned up. Angelina Jolie and Angela Merkel chatted conspiratorially in a secluded corner of the dining room. Kendall and Gigi hung out on opposite sides of the cloak room, and Princess Julia had a ball with Justin Vivian Bond. A young Bill Gates fixed Anna Wintour, who was hiding behind a column, with an amused stare, and of course the usual suspects were there: the Queen and Gene Simmons propping up the bar. Hosted at Hoi Polloi, the restaurant in Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel, the party was dubbed Night Of A Thousand Stars and – if you didn’t guess already – the fact that Matty’s fellow co-hosts were arch-surrealists Rottingdean Bazaar should give away that not everything was quite as it seemed.

Naomi Campbell was the one who started it all. Strapped to model and it-girl Harry Freegard, Naomi stormed down Rottingdean Bazaar’s catwalk in January 2018 to rapturous cheers from the assembled press, buyers, family and wellwishers. The fact that she was a completely flat cardboard cut-out didn’t seem to phase anyone at all. Why had designers Luke Brooks and James Theseus Buck strapped Naomi to Harry? “Initially we had [her] on a remote control car, but it turned out that there were stairs at the top of the catwalk,” they tell i-D. Of course. After her catwalk appearance, flat-pack Naomi was cast in some photoshoots, and since then she’s been relaxing in their storage unit. Until last night, of course, when she joined the great and the good in glorious 2D.

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“It was mine and Rottingdean’s dream guestlist,” Matty says of the famous faces. “We have a mutual love of off-kilter celebs and stars, and it’s hilarious in a week full of huge parties to do one with fake celebs and real celebs and personalities. London is great at having fun parties with a sense of humour.” The bizarre effect of all the celebrity cut-outs was not, in fact, that you mistook them for real people, but the opposite: mistaking real guests for cut-outs, and being unnerved when they moved. “We are drawn to when fantasy meets reality,” James and Luke say. They’ve wanted to do something with lots of celebrity cut-outs since casting cardboard Naomi. “They’re very pliable,” they add – unlike real celebrities, of course; a group of humans who enjoy a strange relationship to the fashion industry, especially during fashion week.

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“I’ve always been obsessed with celebrities,” Matty says, explaining that the trio of designers focused on their “mutual interest and humour in celebrity culture” in planning the party. “In the era of the selfie,” he adds, “there’s always a camera phone and someone behind it. It’s very 1984, very ‘Big Brother is watching you’.” Now that we consume culture via a phone screen, often on Instagram, are images of celebrities just as good as having the real thing? “No! In a way they’re better because they look so 2D in photos and almost surreal,” Matty says. James and Luke add a characteristically abstract take on why the concept works so well: “We were in Homesense the other day looking at plastic flowers, and realised that they have their own unique visual language and craft which is not purely about imitation,” they tell i-D.

Fashion week parties inhabit quite a strange space. They are almost folkloric, because of the starry guest lists, extravagant venues and themes, celebrity gossip and pictures in the next day's papers. But to attend fashion parties is to understand their deceptive nature: you’re there with famous people, but you’re not really there with them, because you still don’t know them. Each strata moves around the other like a spectre and so, for what it’s worth, the stars may as well be cardboard cut-outs to other attendees. Plus, with photographers focusing solely on the very-famous, the attendance of the non-famous barely registers in the document of the night.

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The way Rottingdean Bazaar describe their party, however, it is not simply a case of replacing celebrities with fakes, but actually creating an altogether different experience – where even the least-famous guests are more real than the ‘stars’, and people still want pictures of themselves with pieces of cardboard. To add to the disorientation, flesh-and-blood guests were provided with Matty Bovan masks to wear. “It’s one part clone, one part joke shop, one part Matty Bovan family. It was hilarious to see people in them,” Matty says. “We thought about doing our faces too,” Rottingdean Bazaar add, “but realised we look quite boring, especially without eyes.”

Living in Rottingdean, along the coast from Brighton, James and Luke say they prefer to attend local parties, like the annual Christmas party of a friend of James’s mum, the “Up The Chimney Party,” they say. Nevertheless, one of their favourite moments as designers was when a look from their second catwalk show (of Max Allen covered in rubber tools) was given a full page in NOW magazine. “They said funny things about it – ‘babe magnet’ and ‘fashion gets freaky’,” James and Luke told the Guardian at the time. But their all-time favourite celebrity sighting in a fashion context? “We were really happy to meet Mary Portas at Sarah Mower’s birthday party,” they say. “We watch her shows when we’re working in the middle of the night and feeling despair.”

Now that Matty, James and Luke are fashion-famous in their own right, their tongue-in-cheek relationship with celebrity culture is playful and knowing. But I wonder, as fashion students, were they the ones trying to blag their way into glamorous fashion parties? “I went to a few,” Matty says. “It was always so fun trying to get in – the people on the doors, clipboard in hand, were always so hard to get by.” Perhaps the real secret about fashion parties is that they are usually more fun in your imagination, when your name isn’t on the list, than when you are welcomed through the velvet rope. I ask Rottingdean Bazaar if they were desperate to get in to fashion parties as students, but they answer simply, “We are still trying to blag our way in.”

Night Of A Thousand Stars, hosted by Matty Bovan and Rottingdean Bazaar, was commissioned by Hoi Polloi at Ace Hotel in Shoreditch.

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This article originally appeared on i-D UK.