“What I’ve Learned… about being a first assistant”

Session stylist Alfie Sackett has enjoyed time as Eugene Souleiman’s first assistant, working for some of fashion’s most iconic designers. Here, he shares his insight on what it takes to be someone’s “first”…

L-R: Alfie working backstage for Eugene Souleiman at Chloe in Paris, Alfie working backstage for Eugene Souleiman at Jeremy Scott in NYC

Something myself and my good friend, former It List Fashionista and Session Kit founder Anna Chapman, are aiming to teach people through Session Kit’s new education programme – Backstage Bootcamp on 2 and 3 September – is a set of absolutely necessary skills to survive backstage at shows.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been so close to someone as talented and experienced as Eugene Souleiman. Not only in a hair sense but also just to observe in the way he conducts himself with clients and goes about his job on a daily basis. Working with Eugene, it’s more than just learning about hair. He’s so holistic in his approach, everything just seems to form organically and appear…  I often found myself with others just asking: “Where and how did he come up with that?!”

So, to work for him, everyone around needs to be very in tune with what’s going on, and be one step ahead.

I can only speak of my experience and know it’s different for everyone and all artists definitely require different things from their teams, but this is what I believe you need to be a first assistant… hair fundamentals aside!

You’ll need some monk-like patience, and you must be very, very organised! There’s lots that needs to be remembered and any mishaps can result in a show look being in danger…. Not the best start to a career!

Be open to working and communicating with others in ways you’ve never experienced before. Fashion Week is fast paced, with lots of prep work and shows to be done, so being able to work on little (and sometimes no) sleep is a given. It’s essential to always be prepared with your kit, your attitude and to understand how to behave.

That was a particular challenge in my case as we never knew if we were going to use some exotic fine thread for a style or fashion something from a bird’s wing. And If you don’t have it, you better get it fast! The whole job is making sure they have exactly what they need when they need it.

Generally, first assistants would have been working on the team for a while and it’s a long road to get to the point of a trusted team member. Frequently, I’ve noticed newcomers being proposed but have with no full understanding of what they are venturing into and how to perform basic skills. It’s a very hard wall to scale once you have made some vital errors.

The reality is, there is no time backstage, you can either do it, or you can’t!

The skill is judging the relationship between you and the artist; when it’s time to joke and when you need to be alert and focused. It’s very important also to not overstep the boundaries with clients and other artists alike.

It may sound archaic at times and I’d never want to stifle a person’s personality but there is always a hint of abiding to a certain etiquette. Be calm, quiet, respectful and go about your work with no fuss. Again, of course, this all depends on the situation and surroundings.

Different teams set up, organise and create in many different ways, I would always want to make sure I had the skills to fit into any team – how to organise a team backstage, how to communicate looks and talk to clients. It’s something you must witness, but to get into that arena it helps to have a good idea of what to expect. Education and preparation is key!

It’s such a big commitment and your lifestyle will take a hit, but being able to be a part of pivotal moments in fashion and hair history is certainly worth it and I’ve made some friends for life along the way. It’s really nice to see people with the same hunger and under the correct guidance go on and achieve great things. It’s great to feel a community of hairdressers really growing and sharing experiences together.

For more details on Alfie’s Session Kit course click here or contact: info@sessionkit.com

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