Picture the frisson of frenetic stress that is backstage at a Fashion Week runway show: models being clothed into multiple layers by three different people, laced into shoes, a stylist desperately attempting to tie a last-minute lace choker around necks while a team of hair and makeup spray another layer of sea salt spray, powder over face-shine and show producers desperately shriek out names for the runway line-up.
Throw into the mix a slew of photographers all attempting to shoot beauty looks, fashion trends, accessories, all within the cramped space behind that catwalk entrance, pale-faced designers, their eyes transfixed on the TV monitor beaming out a vision of guests taking their seats in anticipation – their moment about to be made or broken.
Photographer and industry veteran Sonny Vandevelde knows this scene all too well having captured backstage moments both here and abroad for the past 20 years. He talks to us about the good, the bad and the ugly of Fashion Week’s backstage area.
Why do you enjoy shooting from the perspective of the runway exit? “The other backstage photographers at the international shows always make fun of me and say, “Go on, off you go to your off-ramp” because they know I love my off-ramp. When it gets too hectic even KCD [a major fashion PR firm] will say to me, “We have to get rid of some photographers, you’ll be OK on the off-ramp right?” and I say “Yeah i’ll be fine, just leave me there”. I like it because prior to the show there is a lot of touching up going on and it’s really hard to get the models attention. If you’re getting the one girl, they’re a lot more static just standing there. They’re also potentially nervous unless they’re a seasoned veteran. On the off-ramp I can move around freely and then sort of engage with the girls, there’s more energy and it’s also a challenge to get it nice and sharp and in focus. I love getting a really nice sharp picture of the girls running off the runway.”
Who are some of your favourite Australian models to shoot? “Maddy [Madison Stubbington], she’s already one of my buddies from overseas. It was great to see Matilda Dods and Stephanie Joy Field coming back for it as well. It’s always good to see the girls you’ve been working with overseas that have made the effort. I mean when you think of Maddy, she’s fronting the Gucci campaign, she doesn’t need to be here. She’s actually losing money coming back because she could have been on option for bigger jobs or for a Vogue shoot or whatever but she’s made herself available for Australia Fashion Week which is awesome. But the it was also nice to see the Austrian girl Manuela Frey in town. She’s awesome. She always gives me so much love back stage. Both overseas and here. It’s great that she made it, it was her first trip Down Under.”
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen as a result of someone totally losing their cool when there’s a lot of stress going on? “Well the funniest thing was backstage in New York which is so celebrity based. Milan is about the bling-bling, big money. London is more about the up and coming and Paris is just all of the above. A couple of years ago I took my position on the off-ramp, they were waiting to go on but that’s also a good way for a celebrity or movie star to wait until the last minute to go and take a front row seat without having to go through the front with all the paparazzi.
“I had my camera around my neck, just checking my phone, waiting for the signal for the show to start. I notice there are two people standing next to me and I could tell out of the corner of my eye by the way she was dressed she’s got herself a nice bag, high heels on, well clothed. And then all of a sudden the person next to her says, “no pictures please”. I’m on my phone minding my own business going and I just ignored it. So I sort of looked over and still didn’t have my hands on my camera because the music hasn’t started.
When she said no pictures please and the other girl sort of looked over at me and I could sense this sort of anticipation and then the anticipation turned into disappointment because I didn’t pick up my camera to take a picture. It was Paris Hilton standing next to me. I look at the publicist and again she said “No sorry, no pictures.” I just said, “Sorry Darlin’, I’m here to shoot the fashion, I don’t care about celebrities” and Paris Hilton’s jaw just dropped. At the end of the day it’s about getting a great photo of the model and I’m there to capture the fashion.”
All images courtesy of Sonny Vandevelde