Sweetie, it's showtime

Annalisa Barbieri on the unwritten rules of London Fashion Week

This past week was London Fashion Week, when the spring/summer collections for next year are shown. Fashion journalists use the shows to find out what next year's trends are and the buyers see what's available so that they can place their orders for next spring's stock. The catwalk shows are tremendously important and powerful, far more so than any of the party conferences, even though few would care to admit it.

My first LFW was 18 years ago. I remember only one thing from it, which was that, backstage at one of the shows (I was a PR at the time), a model standing next to me balanced her ashtray on my head - I was at just about the right height - and then used my shoulder for support to balance herself as she eased her enormous feet into sling-backs. Some people think I should have been insulted at being used in this way, but she said, "Thank you, sweetie" in her model-international accent and I'm not sure one could really have asked for more. Five years later I became a fashion editor and suddenly found myself transported, in one season, from being the person who had to seat people and put up with their enormous tantrums, to the one being seated in the first or second row. In fashion terms, the distance I'd travelled was comparable to a mission to the moon.

It was a heady time, but I actually missed being the "usher". When you go to watch shows as a fashion editor, you have to spend enormous sums crossing each city to attend shows in impossibly trendy and hard-to-find places: disused Underground stations, mine shafts, sewers, that sort of thing. Then you have to queue for ages, unless you're one of two people, and jostle to make yourself known to the PR at the gate so that you can get in and sit next to someone whom you've met a thousand times but who will pretend not to know you. Fashion shows have strict, unspoken rules.

I was never popular with other fashion editors because: a) I never wore the right shoes, b) I was always saying hello, although after six years even I started to ignore everyone, and c) I was always eating. I once went to a fashion dinner with some other editors and they all ordered Diet Coke (at a restaurant, for dinner) while I ordered actual food, lots of it, and a pudding: profiteroles to share, which I didn't. I was never invited again.

The biggest competition, once you had got the seating thing out of the way (obviously, go beyond row three and you might as well be dead), was The Drawing. Fashion editors sketch and make notes, but the truth is, most of us were rubbish at this and our drawings looked more like the promo sketches for the Mr Men. There was only one exception to this, and to sit next to him was dreadful. As the super-fine tip of his pen would fly across the page, picking out just the right detail to evoke an entire outfit, the rest of us could only look on in envy, while we drew skirts that looked like trapezoids, on models that looked spookily like wooden spoons.

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