behind the scenes with the marques'almeida girl gang
i-D’s assistant music editor Francesca Dunn joined the squad and walked for one of London’s most exciting labels.
For someone who spends as much time as I do tripping over, walking into stationary objects, and generally contorting my body into awkward positions at the mere sight of a camera, the concept of runway modeling has always terrified me. And yet this London Fashion Week, I walked for Marques'Almedia, one of the capital's most hyped shows.
What made the whole experience not just bearable but warm and fuzzy was the fact that the couple behind Marques'Almeida, Marta and Paulo, are two of the nicest people I've ever met. The kind of people who invite you over for prosecco and cakes, the kind of people who are always smiling, who stop for a casual chat and a hug half an hour before showtime because they actually care.
Last spring, Marta and Paulo asked photographers Ronan Mckenzie, Alice Neale, and Masha Mel to shoot friends wearing their new collection for what would become their FW15 campaign. Released by email and on request only, the result was a series of playful photographs of girls -- including myself and i-D's former assistant editor Felicity Kinsella -- hanging out and having fun. The apparent mantra of "by friends, for friends" stuck and a few weeks ago, I received an email from the designers and their BFF/right-hand woman, Rita. "We've been thinking about our shows a lot and how we can make them more meaningful," they opened. "After you've done a few shows and it's always the same structure and set of procedures that you don't quite know why you follow, you start questioning! We've always been so obsessed with the fact that girls are what define M'A, and the fact that we're more interested in girls than clothes says quite a lot :)"
They went on to explain that they don't enjoy the way that, with the fast-paced nature of fashion week, they barely get to know the models who are essentially presenting their work to the world. "We started thinking about you girls, real girls, the girls that have been involved in M'A for a long time and how it would be much more fun to do a show with you all; to actually think about the looks for you while we're making them, letting it inform the collection." Their 'friend casting' approach is perfect; as fans, friends and family, the circle of friendship and mutual appreciation is now complete. Invited down to fittings at the M'A studio a few days before the show, we were plied with popcorn and good music, and invited to try on our favorite looks as well as a couple that Marta and Paulo had in mind for us.
Despite having been backstage on many an occasion to interview designers and steal the souls of winking models post-show, it's a different experience altogether in the build-up. Firstly there's the early start -- an 8:30am call time for a midday show. After breakfast chats with both the friendcast and M+A's favorite new faces (the split was 50/50), it was on to hair and makeup which, for the uninitiated, lasts forever and starts out feeling a little bit like going for a facial but ends up almost torturous with lightly toasted scalp, pulled hair and sore eyes from looking up for too long. It all looked great though, so in the immortal words of my grandmother and whoever she stole this probably famous quote from: beauty bears pain. I was also very easily convinced that we should all experiment more with make-up. And, for someone who literally never wears it at all, I now plan to wear colored eyeshadow under my eyes at least twice a week. You should too.
I was completely amazed by how calm Marta and Paulo were in the lead up to the show. The mood backstage was friendly and fun, and the whole scenario felt like acting -- playing a part by getting into costume and pretending to be models. As we nervously lined up in our order, alongside the likes of stylist Tess von Yopp, we pictured our friends and colleagues bound to be lining the catwalk. Grateful to be wearing flats (Marta understood my inability to walk in anything but), as one by one the line of girls snaked around the corner, it felt like lining up to ride a rollercoaster. It was my turn to ride and I emerged from behind the plywood wall and followed the pink carpet around its figure of eight route and past the iPhone barriers behind which the fashion world was sat. As I navigated the most intense Scalextrix track of all time, I pretended I was walking to work and ignored the fuck out of everyone around me. Back on the safe side of the wall and we'd done it, it was time for Round 2: The Finale. By this point everyone watching is cheering and, while the cheers are obviously for the designers and their incredible collection, it feels kind of like they're cheering you, too. Back we all go in our long line, trying not to stand on each other, and enjoying Beyonce's "7/11" a little too much. We smacked it, smacked it, in the air all the way back to our safe space and congratulated our lovely leaders, M+A.
All of a sudden comes the backstage stampede that I'm usually a part of. The safe space is invaded by photographers asking you to pose and it's kind of funny. An i-D wink here and a smile there, Susie Bubble soon pops up and, quite wonderfully, remarks that the cast is made up of the future of young fashion creatives. And just like that, the party has finished and everyone rushes back to central London. But while the show's over, the other M'A girls and I are in the club now; we'll always be part of the family, even when we're not wearing the collection. Members for life.
Text Francesca Dunn
Photography Ronan McKenzie