My modelling debut at London Fashion Week

I have just returned from my modelling debut on the catwalk for the second largest fashion week in the World – London Fashion Week.  No pressure then!  It started with a very early morning…

I set my alarm clock for 4am as all the models were told we had to be at the venue in London for 10am for rehearsals, fittings, hair and make-up, before the fashion show at 9pm, so it was a very long day.  I left early as I knew London would be very busy during the official period of mourning for the late Queen Elizabeth II, as thousands of people flocked to London to pay their respects to her.  I made good progress and I arrived at the venue for 9.25am and I was the first person there, so I just hung around in the hotel reception for a while.  I made my way to the designated room at 10am and while many other models were there then, many other drifted in later and it was a while before we were greeted by the organiser.  We then started the long wait where nothing seemed to happen.  The world of modelling is not as glamorous as it looks!

The fashion show was called “All Things Fashion – Fashionista Event 2022” by Diana Dahlia Public Relations and it was all about embracing diversity and inclusion.   Most of the models looked like professional models and our separate “Diversity” group definitely stood out from the rest of them.  There were only four of us in our little section to showcase the designer Hermann Yonga of The House of YGA – Grace, Victory, Nicola and me.

Eventually at around 12pm (yes, I could have had an extra 2.5 hours in bed), we were all called down for our first rehearsal.  We then had to practice walking the length of the room keeping in a straight line, before practicing a pose to the front (where the photographers would be), a pose to the left, a pose to the right and then another pose to the front before walking back to where we started.  They all set off at such a pace and I could feel my shoes slipping.  This was not a good time to discover that my feet have shrunk!  Many of my trans female friends have told me that their feet shrank with their transition and up to now, I didn’t think that mine had, but this was rubbish timing to find out that indeed, they had.  I managed to keep up and to stay upright.  So far, so good.

This short rehearsal was followed by a lot more hanging around while some of the models were called for fittings with their designers while others went into make-up.  We all then had to move upstairs to the the room where the fashion show would be as the crew had finished rigging up the lights, sound, background and props.  More sitting on the floor and waiting continued, before eventually, I was called into make-up.  At last, something exciting was happening!

I was led into long and bustling room full of an amazingly talented and creative hair stylists and make-up artists, all showing off their talents in spades.  I was introduced to my make-up artist, Maria and after a consultation about the style and colours of my dress, she was given very precise instructions by the lead make-up artist on the task in hand.  I have to say, she didn’t disappoint!  I particularly loved the smokey eyes with burnt orange to match the orange in my dress.  I wish she could do my make-up for me every day!  I also had the new experience of wearing false eyelashes.  My eyelids felt so heavy at first and I kept noticing the lashes, but it didn’t take long to get used to them.

No sooner had Maria finished working her magic on my my face, when I was introduced to Tamara, my hair stylist.  She asked me what I would like her to do, but I thought she was the best one to decide that and I was intrigued to find out what she could create for me.  After I told her about the style of my dress, she suggested and “up do”.  I agreed and she set to work.  I have never had an up do before, so this would be a completely different look for me.  She then produced a load of extra hair to stick on top of my own hair to give it a lot more bulk.  I would say she doubled the amount of hair that I have, so it was a significant increase.  There was no mirror, so I just sat there and let her get on with it.  Various people passed me and made very complimentary remarks about my hair, but I had no idea on the masterpiece that was taking shape on the top of my head.  After the obligatory “death-by-hairspray” moment, Maria informed me that her work was done and it was time for the big reveal.  She took some photos of my hair from all angles and the she showed me her creation I was unprepared for what I saw.  I was completely blown away by her brilliance.  I was now sporting a two-tone (but mainly blonde) up-do with huge swirls on top.  It was simply stunning and so classy. 

When I returned to the fashion show room, rehearsals for the other groups were underway.  It was easy to spot the more experienced models and they had their poses off to a tee.  I watched them closely as I had to work out what poses I would do and the business-end of the runway.  More sitting on the floor ensued and I began to wonder if it would ever be our groups turn for a rehearsal, as the other groups had multiple rehearsals and we still hadn’t a clue what we were required to do.  Time was ticking on and just an hour before the show,  I got the call to get into my dress.

I had just started to get undressed when I was called back in to the show room for our rehearsal, but then there was doubt whether there would be time to rehearse our section.  Eventually, we were given a very quick rehearsal before I darted back to get pinned into my dress.  Due to my dress not being able to be zipped up fully at the back, it had to be held very securely in place by lots of safety pins attached to my bra straps by the lovely stylist Katz who has eyes sharper than an eagle when it comes to details.  The frilly cape which would hide the gap left by the unclosed zip on my dress had to be pinned in place too.  I wanted to take no chances with this, as there was no way I wanted to risk a wardrobe malfunctions in front of all the fashion journalists and photographers from Vogue and all the national press.  No sooner than the final pin was in, I was rushed off for a quick touch-up of my make-up and straight out to join the line-up as the show was about to start.

Katie Neeves with designer Hermann Yonga of The House of YGA.

My nerves were building almost as much as my feet were hurting as I stood in line with in my highly impractical heels.  The words “practical” and “comfort” don’t exist in the world of fashion.  It was exhilarating watching the models before me, one-by-one coming off the catwalk on a high, to applause of the audience.  

The line was getting shorter and shorter and soon it would be our section’s turn to strut our stuff.  First up was Grace who is an actor and her acting skills really came to the fore, as she went out with such attitude and she left the catwalk with huge applause.  Nicola was next and she was wearing a very long dress with a train.  I really don’t know how she managed to walk in it, but she coped with it in style.  Now it was my turn as I felt a hand in the small of my back giving me the signal to put best foot forwards.  Nothing could have prepared me for the room packed with the Who’s Who of fashion in the rows of seats (and standing) either side of the runway as I headed towards the huge bank of photographers focussing on every step I made.  Halfway down, I felt my right heel slip out of my shoe.  Whatever happened, the show must go on and however uncomfortable it may feel, I had to continue and not let anyone realise that I was having shoe-strife.  Thankfully, on my next step, my shoe went back into place and all was well in the my little bit of the World.  I decided to walk down the runway with a straight face as most models do, but when I struck my poses, I wanted to show them some of my character and as I am always smiling, I decided to give everyone a huge smile.  Thankfully, they seemed to like it as they responded well.  My first pose was for the photographers, before a step and a turn to the left to pose for the audience to my left.  As I turned, I was looking eye-to-eye with fashion icon and diversity advocate Caryn Franklin who was sitting in the front row, just a few feet away from me.  I gave her a big grin and she responded which such a warm and spontaneous smile back.  Her smile meant so much to this particular 53-year-old transgender woman on my catwalk debut at such an incredibly prestigious fashion show.  I was on a high now, so it was then over to the audience on the right to strike another pose.  I was then supposed to go back to the front to give the photographers another pose, but it completely went out of my head.  Oops, sorry photographers!  Never mind, I was now on my return journey back up the runway and I started hearing many cheers among the applause.  I just had to reach the end without falling over and I would be home and dry.  I neared the end and I could see Victory waiting in the wings, ready to shine.  I made it and Victory set off into the spotlights.  We then all had to go back down the runway together while clapping as our designer, Hermann followed us and took centre-stage.  After a bow, Hermann took Victory’s arm and led us all back up the runway and off-stage with the applause ringing in our ears.  That was an experience I will never forget and one which I never thought I would ever have the chance to do!

We were followed by the beautiful creations of the headline couture designer Adebayo Jones.  Seeing all the intricate and luxurious black and gold designs backstage was on his stunning models was a such a privilege.

I was so tired when I got back to my hotel, but I didn’t want to remove my immaculate make-up and deconstruct my awe-inspiring hair, but I knew it had to be done.  I started with my hair.  Hair-pin after hair-pin came out.  I wondered when they would stop coming out.  I didn’t know it at the time they went in, but a whopping 36 hair pins were needed to keep my up-do in place.  With these and the safety pins for my dress, it was a day of pins, poses, powder, paint and pouts, but it was a day I will never forget.

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