Here's a little known fact about me: we have a reincarnated cat. His official name is Tigger, but he is so much in nature like his predecessor, Pooh, that we call him Pooh, too. The timing and circumstances of his birth- and how he found us - was amazing, as if he was conceived the day Pooh died. And, like the Dalai Lama, he even answered to his name.
When we first got him home, he was just bouncing off the walls, young and healthy and filled with this incredible joy at being alive. We could play string forever: he'd be flying thru the air, finally collapsing with exhaustion, gasping for breath from the excitement.
That's a bit how I was at my first fashion week: September, 2009. The first time at the Somerset House location. I had just switched to digital (I'm ashamed at how sharp focus my shots look now: I didn't know how to use the settings) and after seven months of doing street style, not knowing another soul doing it, and going thru the whole hoo ha about asking to take people's photos, not to mention how exhausting it was to run after stylish people... to suddenly find them in one place was like shooting fish.
And the thing about fashion weeks are: people WANT TO BE SHOT. (Except, of course, Kit: when she gets the tee shirt made I want one, too). But while the good news is, everyone is fair game, there are still some general rules that will help the novice, if shooting stylish people is your goal.
• Respect people's time.
Sometimes you'll come across people that want their photos taken, want to be seen on blogs, and - at that moment - have the time to pose. Others are desperately trying to get to a show on time (imagine running for a plane, over and over: that's what fashion week can feel like if you're actually there for the shows). It's pretty easy to tell the difference: if someone is moving fast, that's a good indicator that they don't have time to pose for you.
If you see someone freakishly tall and almost inhumanly attractive, who you think might be a model, chances are, they are. And is so, chances are they are WORKING. If that model is running, most likely that's cause she is LATE, and no doubt, terrified that someone really scary is going to yell at her. For God's sake, please don't ask to take her photo. Just because she (or he) is photogenic, doesn't mean that they necessarily want to give it away for free.
Sometimes especially, models don't want to be photographed without their armour on: their hair and makeup and beautiful, expensive clothes. There will be exceptions of course: if a model has the time, and feels confident about his/her appearance, they might well pose for you. If you befriend them, they might even, if you ask nicely, jump for you. (In general: the more famous or successful the model, the more likely they will be comfortable in their own skin and more easy about being shot: like Dree Hemingway, for example: 'when I say jump'). But they are under no obligation. So try to be sensitive and read their face. If they put their hand up between their face and your camera lens and are moving fast, there's your answer.
• Choose your setting.
There's nothing more distressing to a photographer than getting the best shot of somone, only the background is so cluttered and distracting that the subject just doesn't read - and the photo isn't successful. In general I like to choose a background - this is something I"ve learned thru practice from street shooting - I find my subject and take a quick look around to find a background that works. You don't want someone agreeing to have their photo taken and then standing there while their face looks more and more impatient and you're waiting for some idiot behind them to stop ruining your shot. That's why these days you see more street shots with someone leaning against a wall: you simply have more control.
I don't know about other cities, but at Somerset House, the buildings that make up the boundaries of the square are beautiful stone, and there are enough nooks and crannies that you can usually find a great setting. The British Fashion Council also goes to great lengths to create photogenic backgrounds just for that purpose.
• Remember the Inverse Celebrity Proportion Rule
Which is: the more famous someone is, the less time you (a presumably less known public figure) should expect to take up of their time. So move fast. Don't in general pull them aside and start bossing them around. The first time I met Scott Schulman, aka the Sartorialist, I felt so shy that suddenly I got really bossy, and made him stand in the corner. You can read more about it here ('I shot the Sartorialist' - really should have called it 'no one puts Baby in the corner') and maybe I caught him on a good day cause he was a sport about it, but in general, you're running the risk that you'll piss them off. And God knows, no one wants to piss off a celebrity.
Of course, if you yourself happen to be more famous than the person you're shooting, well, all bets are off. (Shown above, Orla Kiely, who I met with her husband, and who had all the time in the world for me: that's true class, in my book).
Oh! Speaking of photography: I was kindly asked by the people with W hotels in NY to do a photo shoot/party for NY fashion week, and I'm so glad I'm here and the plans fell thru, but I can't think of anyone - apart from the Photodiarist - who I'd rather have to it than Shini (curated by Susie Bubble), so if you're in NY right now, check out Bubble + Cube.
• Ask people's names.
For example, this is Paolo, who shoots for Paris Match and all kinds of great publications, and who greeted me with a huge hug when I saw him again in February. Simply because I remembered his name and greeted him each day with a big 'Hi Paolo!'
And if you can, write it down after. Or, better yet, take one quick digital shot of their ID tag. While it's great in general to have business cards (something I always used to give out when I was doing street style photography, because in the beginning, no one knew what it was, and it helped give me an air of legitimacy), really at fashion week, there's almost no point. You might exchange cards but at the end of five days of this madness, all you end up with is a bag full of cards an no idea who they belong to. I find shooting someone's tag right after I've shot them helps me ID them better.
The unbelievable thing is, today, in Florida, I decided to illustrate this guide with only photos from my very first day of my very first fashion week, and lo and behold: I met and photographed two girls who are now my friends! Daniella, of F blog fame (above), and below, Jackie, the Platform Princess!
Of course, all rules are made to be broken, so trust your instincts, judgement, and discretion.
But mostly, let's try to remember our manners, boys and girls. The basic rules of etiquette still apply at all fashion weeks, anywhere in the world. If you can learn the words 'please' and 'thank you' in whatever tongue that city speaks, you'll do just fine. And let a smile be your umbrella.
(I shot everything here on Day One, London Fashion Week, Somerset House, September 2009).