Rhiannon D’Averc explains how to get those elusive passes when you’re just starting out. With illustrations by Joe Bailey
If you dream of being a runway photographer, you can’t get much better than London Fashion Week. As one of the main fashion capitals, it’s a place to see and be seen, with big designers coming from overseas to show their work.
However, this does mean that it can be a daunting process to get into fashion shows. You have to jump through flaming hoops to fill out applications, get the necessary experience, and even pay for your passes.
So what do you do when you don’t have any experience yet, and you’re not being sponsored by a magazine?
We’ve got some tips…
The on-schedule shows organised at the British Fashion Council showspace are only one facet of the LFW fun. There’s also off-schedule shows, which are usually arranged by individual designers or group showcases.
The big names and those up-andcomers with a lot of buzz will be on schedule, and they usually take place in just one venue. This is currently 180 Strand, though it was previously Somerset House and may well change again in the future. Some designers might choose to showcase elsewhere despite being on-schedule, but staying at the BFC showspace guarantees a full day. Getting the right pass means you hardly have to move. But off-schedule shows can be more enticing to first-timers. They can be very diverse: from tiny shows held in a small, cramped room to flashmobs marching down the street, or to whole hotels taken over for an extravaganza. It’s harder to get to them because they are scattered around, and it can be tough to figure out which will be the most rewarding – especially if you aren’t experienced in the fashion world.
Events like Fashion Scout may appear to be off-schedule, but they are actually very highly-regarded and the passes can be just as difficult to get. You can then go to the opposite end of the scale with some of the collective shows, which are organised according to whoever can pay the fees rather than whoever has the most talent. These can be somewhat lacking in quality, so there’s a real range of hierarchy across the off-schedule events.
Search online to find as many offschedule shows as you can and start requesting tickets. Eventbrite, job boards looking for press photographers, announcements, social media, and other event listing services are good places to start your search. If you email absolutely everybody, you’ve got a good chance of getting at least one pass.
And if you don’t? Well…
Most shows make it difficult to enter if you don’t have a pass. They will have a list of names, a scanner to check your ticket, and hefty door staff. But if you’re gutsy enough to try it, then there’s a way to sneak in.
Look confident and as if you know what you’re doing. Go in close behind another attendee, and preferably towards the end of a presentation running time or as the last people are entering for a catwalk show.
Catwalks and presentations are different: with a presentation, the models usually stand around to show off the clothes. Every now and then one of them will head backstage and pop back out with a new outfit on. This means you can turn up at any time during a presentation – but for a show, you want to be there for the start time. Be prepared to wait, however, as the fashion world is notoriously tardy!
If you’re not as confident, make friends with someone who does have a ticket, perhaps in the queue. Organisers will often allow in a plus one with each pass, so you might be able to sneak in with them. It’s a risk, but if you really badly want to get in, this is something you can at least try.
You might not get into the photography pit at a catwalk if you don’t have a pass. But you can try to get the best shots possible from a position with the rest of the crowd – even if you have to lean up against a pillar or wall to get a good angle.
Find a publication
Accreditation can also be achieved from a magazine or publication willing to endorse you for a pass. Telling brands that you have a place to send your images after their show makes them more likely to accept you. It’s not a good idea to pretend – they might check, and you could end up burning bridges if you don’t get the shots published – but getting accreditation is usually quite easy.
Just get the editor’s email address, and ask – the worst they can say is no. Tell them which show or shows you want to cover, and include your portfolio if you have one. Then you can start including the magazine name in your applications, which should help a lot.
Email Everyone (and We Mean Everyone)
Now, you probably think your chances of getting into the BFC showspace are slim – and they are, if you want one of the media passes which allows you into the pit. On the other hand, attending as a guest is a lot easier.Head to the official LFW website and grab the names of each press contact from the schedule, and email them requesting a pass. Explain if you are attached to a publication, or tell them where you will use the images (if you have a big social media following, this might help).Email every single one of them. This will take a long time, but it’s worth it when those passes start rolling in.Be aware that you might not even hear anything until the day before the show, so don’t make any plans if it seems like nothing has been accepted. They might wait until the last minute just in case someone big wants to come in, then hand out those leftover passes to small fry (which is you).
Get an Official Pass
Of course, if you do have a publication on your side as well as prior experience, you can always pay for an official pass (or get someone else to fund it for you). You can do this through the LFW website as well, but you need to know that you will still have to get there as early as possible and fight for your position in the busy pit. Tape on the floor means the position has been claimed!
These days it’s hard to get backstage at on-schedule shows without a BFC pass, but off-schedule, backstage might be another option. Permission from an individual designer can get you the chance to see behind the scenes, capture the process of hair and makeup, and even see the looks before they go out on the runway.This is a great way to avoid the clamour and elbowing of the pit, too. These are all methods that I tried at least once myself before London Runway was around, when I was a baby photographer with nothing but a Nikon D80 and a dream. I got one pass by begging for it, agreed to work unpaid for another, and snuck next door past the bouncers without being noticed for my first three shows. And look at me now, Ma – I’m the Chief Editor of a real-life fashion magazine! Everyone has to start somewhere, so take the initiative to make your start happen.