live runway sketching – London Fashion Week 14-09-12

Overlap day is a window of opportunity for outsider applicants to London Fashion Week. While the international glam squad are flying over the Atlantic, upstarts get the chance to attend fashion shows – and for me, the ability score that rare valuable vantage point that will actually allow me to sketch the runway show as it happens.

This year, there is a sponsor box that offers an excellent standing view of the runway over the heads of the audience. Of course, I’m not allowed in the box, but one edge of the box is perfectly situated for placing my sketchbook on. I was able to score this single perfect spot for the first two runway shows on Friday and that auspicious little circumstance helped me sieze the momentum and confidence I need to perform.

The first show (above and below) that kicked of London Fashion Week was Antoni & Alison. I wasn’t familiar with their work, so lucky for me they had a voice-over introduction for their show, in which they reflected on 25 years of working together. It was a wonderful, bittersweet way to begin a week – and what that they said really struck me.

Alison spoke first, and she mentioned a couple times this lingering sense that no one cares about what they do. I found this sentiment resonant to my own live runway sketching work – I’ve been developing this skill for over five years, and it has never been a particularly popular feature on Final Fashion. In spite of the fact that it is a great challenge that I’m proud of being able to perform, the reaction to the work has never really matched my own emotional and creative investment in it.

Then Antoni spoke, and counterpointed Alison’s lament with an assertion that he doesn’t care if anyone else cares about what they do. What a wonderful creative partner to have. He also said that over the years, occasionally it gets so difficult that they contemplate quitting… and every time that happens, something happens. This was a fabulous kickstarter for me as I wet my brush… if you’re a creative soul, you are constantly in the position of questioning why you do it when it is often so painful, offering only rare, intermittent bursts of transcendence. If you’re truly meant to do what you do, you never give up before something happens. You hold on, no matter how much it hurts.

The Antoni & Alison show itself was delightful and very appropriate for watercolours – hand-painted shift dresses with tons of colour. I’ve gotten better at holding two brushes in one hand – one for black lines and one for colour, which allows me to get much more of what I see down on paper, faster, than if I’m working with a single brush. All of these sketches were completed while the show was happening – depending on the show, I do about five to ten sketches, out of which one or two will be more successful.


The next show was Caroline Charles (above), another designer I was unfamiliar with, who also has impressive longevity. There were cards on the seats that told me she had been in fashion for fifty years. I think it’s amazing when designers stick with what they do for so long, considering how difficult and precarious it is to run this type of business. Already the theme of the day was “never, ever give up” and I poured that sense of stubbornness wholeheartedly into the sketching.

Charles’ show demonstrated that she had grown with her clients – very much the kind of little black dresses and floral resort wear that would look great on a West London lady of a certain age. There was some abuse of the “pop of colour” trend in the accessories, but Charles wasn’t the only designer who showed that day who is still drinking the neon kool-aid.

Speaking of fluorescence, outside the tents felt like Toontown from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Head-to-toe, violent colour combos, kooky hats and shoes of every description, senseless layering of every played-out trend on top of one another. The courtyard at Somerset House this season is more slapstick than street style. I much prefer sketching runway.

The next show was Maria Grachvogel, another designer I was unfamiliar with. She showed a lot of flowing chiffon jumpsuits which were lots of fun to draw, with a really lovely french braided hairdo that looked terrific from the side. Pretty pretty, though the look didn’t work as well on some of the PRs as it did on the models.

Up next was Corrie Nielsen (below), whose work I was aware of as she was a nominee at the Scottish Fashion Awards earlier this year. This was exactly the type of fashion show you hope to see in London – high-conceptual, exaggerated proportions, over-the-top styling, with a botanical/historical inspiration. There was a lot going on and as such I found it challenging to sketch quickly.

The final show of the day was Jean-Pierre Braganza, whose work I have been following for several seasons now. I was happy to be warmed-up when it was time to sketch it, because I love his style. He’s like the Trent Reznor of fashion designers – possessing a sincere, organically evolving aesthetic. He doesn’t do trends – he’s an auteur. Perhaps this is the reason that he doesn’t get the kind of recognition he deserves – simply because London’s fashion week audience is so hungry for eyeball-grabbing novelty, there isn’t enough appreciation out there for a designer who does work that is consistent and soulful.

The tent is not necessarily an easy place to stage a compelling, unique show – there is a blank, empty-box quality to it. Braganza transcends this with very personal choice of music, which always feels like it is integral to the collection. In this case, the music was produced by a friend of the designer. The sharp, nervy auditory vibe inflected the show and infected my sketches, which I am proud of.

After every fashion week I attend, I often feel on the edge of an existential crisis. Sometimes I’m not happy with the sketches at all and I despair. I question why I do it and whether it all matters. On Friday, I was able to immerse myself in what I love – sketching runway shows as they happen – for a day I poured all my heart and enthusiasm into it. This time, a few designers reminded me what I love about fashion and why I make the effort to sketch every season. Some day, all the time I’ve spent developing this skill will make sense and something will happen. I will never quit.

10 thoughts on “live runway sketching – London Fashion Week 14-09-12”

  1. I love everything about this post – your commentary and most especially your sketches! I think they’re gorgeous, I esp. love the Jean-Pierre Braganza sketches – the movement and rhythm, you def. channeled the music into them! I can’t imagine how tough it is to sketch in watercolor on the spot in seconds! As someone who wishes she were a better fashion illustrator, I can appreciate all the work you put into your skill and I really admire the style you’ve developed!

    I can def. relate to your comments about struggling to continue doing what you love, even when you feel no appreciation for it. It helps to know I’m not alone in that feeling. I admire your guts for constantly sharing your work and feelings on this blog regardless, it’s rare and inspiring! I haven’t given up yet on my passion, but I’m still struggling to find a way to stay motivated, and I think overall this process makes me a stronger person. And I must say, your blog is playing a role in the process, so thank you!

  2. Danielle,
    I haven’t visited your blog in a while. These runway sketches are beautiful. They have life – are not calculated or planned. You definitely deserve a good seat at the shows. I love that you managed to find an “edge” near the sponsor’s box to set up your portable studio. You’ve experienced that ‘something that happens’ in the near past and you’ll have it again.

  3. D, your runway sketches are great – thanks for sharing them! I’m sure this is not easy to do (being a very mediocre artist myself); perhaps people aren’t appreciative as it seems rare that anyone shares anything that’s not great OR that they’ve never tried fast sketches… Two paintbrushes is a great idea!
    At a folk fest I recently attended, a woman was sketching the musicians and I really enjoyed watching. She had a lot more time than you and usually did about three paintings in a 3/4h set.
    Keep up the great work!

  4. I think your sketches are wonderful – and the words/thoughts of Antoni and Alison (and you) definitely resonate with me… I guess when you’re working creatively you often come to a point when you wonder ‘Is it all worth it? Does anyone care?’ But if it’s your ‘calling’ you don’t really have a choice – there’s that ‘urge’…
    (and in the end it does not really matter if anyone gets it or not. But it is nice to get acknowledgement and being able to feed yourself from your art 🙂

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