What I’ve learned… about styling a Big Four Fashion Week show

Andrew Manion, of AJM Hair in Liverpool, shares his need-to-know tips after leading his first Big Four Fashion Week show this February…

I’m certainly no newcomer when it comes to planning and working on fashion shows, but up until this season, I’d always been involved in multi-designer presentations. Such events are usually spread over a number of days, and can feature up to eight shows per day, meaning that it’s logistically impossible to plan a unique hairstyle for every designer’s collection. This type of format requires the skill of being able to create quick and simple looks on models, with no more than two styles per day – when models have to quickly change between runways, there’s often no time to style a whole new look!

Working on a single-designer show for Milan Fashion Week, however, proved a totally different experience. Here are the key things I picked up during what turned out to be a career highlight…

When faced with a new project, it’s easy to get carried away and rush to get hands-on straight away. Instead of throwing yourself in at the deep end, it’s always important to take the time to fully understand the brief at hand.

The first step in my involvement at Milan Fashion Week was meeting with the show’s designer, Chanel Joan Elkayam, whom I had worked with previously in 2014. We discussed exactly what our aims were and the practicalities of how we would create the look required for the models. To compliment the outfits, we knew that we wanted the hair styling to have vintage elements and one of our key decisions was that we didn’t want to use hair extensions. By taking time at this early stage to pinpoint what was needed to bring our vision to life, it helped to inform future decisions (such as castings) and made pulling together a consistent look across our 30 models that much easier.

Every head of hair is different, and it’s vital to be flexible and ready to face any challenges that may come your way when considering styling options for a diverse line-up of models . For example, when researching and putting together a mood-board for vintage hairstyles, it was obvious that many classic looks were suited to short hair, yet a number of our models’ hair was very long. While this was initially a challenge, we adapted our plans to encompass four styles rather than two, enabling us to create looks that better suited the different hair types and lengths of the girls who would be walking in the show.

When working within a large team, communication should be your main consideration. You all want things to run as seamlessly as possible, and keeping in touch regularly with your colleagues ensures that there are no surprises when show day arrives. It also lets each member of the team rest easy in the knowledge that everyone is working towards the same goal. In the twelve weeks running up to the Milan show, the team and I shared over 100 images and ideas.

From there, I carried out over 20 practice styles within the salon and invited Chanel to come and see the looks in person to discuss logistics, alternative possibilities and any issues that had arisen. It’s key that your clients understand your process and the way you work.

For any big event – whether it be a fashion show or a wedding day – practice makes perfect when it comes to styling. Ahead of the show, I liaised with my hairdressing team at AJM Hair so we could practise and prepare for our landing in Milan. With four different hairstyles to master, we had to look closely at technique. We considered different hair types and textures and experimented with products from our sponsor, Maria Nila Stockholm, who also provided products in the goodie bags for show attendees. By working ahead of time, you can rule out any issues and errors, which is key when you know you’ll be working to a tight schedule.

Be realistic about your timeframes and consider any factors that may alter them. You may have the tools to create an elaborate and ornate up-do, but will you really have time on the day to replicate this across 30 models? As Chanel’s show took place in the middle of the Big 4 Fashion Week calendar (covering New York, London, Milan and Paris), many of our models were flying in from all over the world. As a result, we adapted our usual schedule, with fittings taking place well in to the night ahead of the show.

When the big moment arrives, it’s important to relax, stay calm and really enjoy seeing your work come to life. As with any fashion show, nerves and excitement build up backstage before the models walk the runway. At this point, it had taken twelve months of planning for a team including models, hairdressers, make up artists, nail technicians, backstage dressers, photographers and videographers (to name just a few!) to come together, and we couldn’t wait to see our finished product – make sure you take it all in!