It is an hour before show time – and backstage at the Bermuda Fashion Festival it’s eerily quiet.
Models are calmly getting dressed and having their make-up applied before they strut down the runway for the Local Designer Show 2017; meanwhile, two or three local designers have yet to arrive.
This week marks my first time behind the scenes at a local and international fashion show. It’s not as frenzied as it appears on FashionTV, but then again the evening is still young at this point.
I kill time before the show by talking to a few of the models who are dressed and waiting for their moment to shine.
Jaaziah Richardson-Webb is a 15-year-old walking in Bermuda Fashion Festival for the first time. With mile-long legs, a slim physique and beautiful espresso complexion, it’s no surprise her friends encouraged her to audition.
“To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to make it through because I had tried out two years ago and wasn’t successful,” Jaaziah said. “I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but when I heard I finally made it I was excited. I almost cried; I was that surprised.”
For her, the atmosphere backstage could best be described as “organised chaos”.
Once the show gets started, the pace definitely picks up, the teenager assured me.
Models cast in more than one scene can have as little as two minutes to undress, change their outfit and shoes, touch up their make-up and catch their breath (hopefully) before greeting the audience again.
In order to cope with the last-minute rush, event organisers try to be as prepared as possible.
Some models have to be on hand as early as 4am – 14 hours before curtain call – to get their hair styled and make-up prepped. For Vanessa Lake-Waldron, a 32-year-old plus-size model, she was up earlier than normal to start getting ready for the Evolution Retail Show. Her hair appointment was scheduled at 9am; make-up followed a few hours after at noon.
The curvy beauty describes the experience as “a waiting game” – while preparations for the catwalk can take hours, you’re only in the spotlight for a few short minutes, she said.
During the Local Designer Show, Ms Lake-Waldron was picked to model for two collections: Lunar Soul and ieShun S. She said it was refreshing to see fashion lines being developed with fuller-figured women, like her, in mind.
“I love that Lunar Soul was designed for plus-size women,” she said. “It’s a lot of the sexy outfits that thinner people can wear, but made for us and our bodies. Usually plus-size collections look like they were made to suit someone’s granny, so to me this is a very big deal. ”
Around me, many of the local designers look composed.
Cary Butterfield and Patricia Borland, creators of HAMEC Bermuda, have all their models dressed in their tropical-inspired collection long before the action is due to start.
They have time to discuss last-minute details such as what earrings their girls should wear, while their gorgeous models snap photos to fill up their Instagram feeds.
As time inches on, however, it’s clear not all the Bermudian designers are as cool, calm and collected.
Stress begins to mount in certain parts of the backstage tent. One designer, Mo’Nique Stevens, is yet to arrive; her friends reveal she is busy sewing and adding last-minute touches to finish the collection.
Another designer casually saunters in at 6.15pm – just moments before the show is due to start – with a suitcase filled with garments. His entourage takes a big sigh of relief.
Both designers have to utilise every second before their collection is revealed to a live audience. Luckily, they have a small team of supporters and Bermuda Fashion Festival volunteers helping them to steam the clothing and dress the models, as they complete their stitching and focus on the meticulous details.
Outside, fashion show guests appear to have no idea about the anxiety rising behind the scenes.
Soft jazz music plays and guests chat excitedly before the show begins.
After checking out a few collections that go off without a hitch, I revisit backstage. It feels like Project Runway, as Mo’Nique, a busy mom who works full-time, rushes to get her wardrobe items down the runway in one piece.
Her collection is stunning – sexy evening wear, trench coats and bodysuits – featuring earth-tone shades. However, some pieces are held together with only a few pins and loose threads.
Moments before the models are set to go down the runway, one of their tops bursts open, exposing her chest. If I wasn’t nervous before, I’m certainly feeling it now. I can only imagine how the designer must be feeling.
The outfit is repinned before the model goes on stage; however, she has limited movement of her arms and takes a few seconds to practise her restricted strut before heading down the catwalk.
I’m worried by this point. There could be a major “wardrobe malfunction” taking place in front of a couple of hundred people – including children and media cameras, but thankfully the pieces hold up as far as my eye can tell.
It’s a bitter-sweet moment for the designer.
After the show, Mo’Nique gets a hug from New York-based fashionista Shiona Turini, who tells her how proud she is of her collection. Mo’Nique, however, does not seem as impressed with her own work.
“This experience highlighted some of the things I already know I have to improve,” the designer said. “It’s taken lots of long hours and I have fallen asleep at my sewing machine a few nights. That was my biggest challenge – balancing this with my heavy work and home commitments, but it was a great experience overall. I got to understand a lot more about being a fashion designer and what it takes to showcase a complete collection.”
For other designers, such as James R. Lee, whose black and gold collection won him one of the top prizes of the night, including a cash prize of $5,000, it was a moment of pure elation.
He said he “couldn’t have asked for a better turnout” and experienced a rush of excitement when seeing his pieces drift down the runway.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous tonight, but there is a little anxiety,” he said. “You just want to make sure everyone looks good and you’ve presented something to the best of your ability.”