If you have aspirations of being a fashion photographer, London Fashion Week is about as big as it can get. It's one of the main fashion capitals of the world, and remains highly respected for both designers and the press.
As a result, getting into fashion shows can seem daunting. There are hoops to jump through in the form of paperwork and applications, a Catch 22 that requires you to have experience before you get experience, and even fees to be paid for passes. So, how do you get in with no prior experience, and without a media outlet sponsoring you? Here's how.
There are two main parts to LFW: the on-schedule shows, organized by the British Fashion Council at their showspace, and the off-schedule shows which are arranged by individual designers or agencies.
On-schedule shows are more enticing, and usually include the big names as well as up-and-comers hand-picked by the BFC. They also take place mostly in one venue — currently at 180 Strand, though it has been situated elsewhere in the past. Some designers will choose their own venues for their own reasons, but the majority like to stay at the designated site. This makes it easy to cover the whole lot if you have the right pass.
Off-schedule shows, however, are extremely diverse. They can be tiny shows held in a single room, bigger brands taking over a whole building to create an immersive presentation, or even guerilla flash mobs on the streets. This means it's harder to get to them, and also harder to figure out which are worth attending if you aren't already in the fashion world.
There are hierarchies within the off-schedule shows, too. Events like Fashion Scout may appear to be off-schedule, but they are highly-regarded and very desirable passes. Then there are the individual designers who just wanted to go their own way, but are also well-known already. Under those are the newcomers and smaller brands. Finally, you will find the collective shows organized to give very small brands the chance to take part at a lower price, which may leave something to be desired in their quality.
Find as many off-schedule shows as you can - search online, use Eventbrite and other event services, and keep an eye out for announcements. You can even look at job boards for listings asking for a photographer. Grab the email of the press contact for the show, and request a ticket - it's as simple as that. Either you'll get in or you won't. Chances are that you will get at least one pass, as many of the smaller shows are desperate for publicity.
Let's say the worst case scenario happens, and you don't get any passes. What then?
Getting into a show without a pass is normally quite difficult. On the other hand, if you know what you're doing, you look confident enough, and you know where the show will be held, you might just be able to walk right in.
Let's be clear: this absolutely will not work with established brands. Most of them will have someone standing on the door with a list of attendees and even a scanner for your pass. But if you're in the right place at the right time, you might just be able to walk right in to a presentation, particularly towards the end of their running time.
Presentations are a bit different to the catwalk shows you might be envisaging — they usually involve the models standing around in their outfits for a period of time, going backstage and changing, and then coming out again. For this reason you might need to hang around a bit to capture all of the looks. But this format also means that once people have seen it, they leave — unlike in catwalk shows, where everyone stays for the whole duration.
Another hot tip is to make friends with someone in the queue. A lot of the time, organizers will be happy to allow ticket holders a plus one — so if you walk quickly enough beside your new friend, you might just get in on their ticket. Sneaky? Yes. Risky? Absolutely; you might get turned away. But if you really want to get that experience and this is your only option, it's worth a try.
You'll want to get into the photography pit at catwalks — an area at the end of the runway where photographers gather to shoot the models head-on. If you get turned away from there, stand with the crowd and try to get the best shots you can. Even if you're leaning up against the wall at the back of the room, you might find a way to make it work.
Find a Publication
Your next option for getting a pass is to have accreditation from a magazine or other publication. This will give you a lot more clout, even though you are simply saying that they are likely to publish your images in an upcoming issue.
It's not wise to pretend that you are working for a magazine when you really aren't, but it might not be as difficult to get that approval as you think. Like almost everything in life, you just have to ask for it.
Find the email address of an editor and send them a query. Explain which shows you'd like to cover, and include your portfolio (even if you don't have runway experience — they need to at least know that you can use a camera). If you get approval from them to use their name, it's time to start applying.
Email Everyone (and We Mean Everyone)
This part of the process is going to take some time, but it's more than worth it. Go to the official London Fashion Week website and check out the schedule. Each designer listed there will have a press contact. Grab those details and write them an email, telling them what kind of pass you want and which publication you are shooting for. Yes — every single one.
Alright, you might skip the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Victoria Beckham, knowing that you've got no hope in hell of getting in there. But then again, it's good practice to try all of them, and it might just put your name into the head of a PR agent who will cross your path again in the future.
Once your emails are out, it's a case of waiting to see what comes in. Some passes may only be confirmed the day before the show, as the organizers juggle their list and hold onto a few places until the last minute. Be prepared to have your plans suddenly change when you thought you wouldn't be going in at all!
Get an Official Pass
By this time, you're doing a little better. You have some experience under your belt, you've been allowed to use the name of a publication, and maybe they have even actually published your work. Now you're ready for the big time.
The BFC organize their own passes, which you can also find through the LFW website. An official LFW media pass gets you access to all of their on-schedule shows — although you will still have to get there early and fight for your spot in the overcrowded pit.
There are a few things you will need to supply in order to get your pass:
- Details of your publication including plans for coverage
- Examples of your previous work
- A fee, which depends on the level of access you want
These passes may seem like a waste of money if you aren't getting paid — which many LFW photographers aren't. You may be able to get the publication to cover it, but if not, consider what you want to do. Do you want to hit the best shows and get images of the most sought-after designers? Or do you want to save your cash and hit as many of the off-schedule shows as possible?
It's worth noting that the BFC pass is steadily gaining more weight. There was a time when an invitation direct from the designer was more impressive than the BFC pass, but the rules have changed. At some shows, photographers have reported being removed from the pit and told to join the standing audience if they did not have a BFC pass — even when holding a press pass from the designer.
The official pass, and permissions from individual designers, can also get you another option. You might be able to go backstage.
A few years back, this was a very exciting prospect as it was the main focus of the big fashion magazines. They wanted to take their readers behind the scenes and show them what it was like in the eye of the storm. But these days, it's become normal to cover the backstage area, so the bubble has burst a little.
Still, you can get some great shots of the models right before they go out on the catwalk, so this is a great way to get your shots if you don't think you will be able to handle the elbowing, shoving, and posturing of the pit.
How do I know all this works? Because I'm describing to you the route that I took to Fashion Week. I started blagging it as a spectator, got my first passes, signed on with a magazine, got some bigger shows, and ended up with on-schedule passes within a few seasons. Now I'm the Chief Editor of my own fashion magazine, so you'd have to think I did something right along the way!