London-based photographer Charlie Kwai, whose candid work capturing the quirks of everyday passers-by caught the eye of the British Fashion Council, didn’t expect to receive a call requesting him backstage at London Fashion Week S/S18. “The BFC got in contact out of the blue asking if I was interested in an assignment to go and shoot backstage. I obviously jumped at the chance,” he explains over the phone. “They were excited about my street photography, and their vision was that it translated into fashion. I didn’t really have a brief. They said: ‘just do you’. You might think that was liberating, but when you are dropped in it, especially with fashion and backstage, it’s bonkers.”
Kwai’s first initiation into the frenzied pace of fashion week was fraught. “It was pretty full-on,” he says. “You pack about 100 people into a shoebox-sized room and everyone is doing their job, rushing around. All of the other photographers are there, taking their perfect beauty shots, for example, and I ended up taking behind-the-scenes images.” His priority was not to shoot the clothes themselves, he says, but the moments in between. “It was when the models were almost ready that I felt like I was getting the best photographs – when people were waiting.”
As such, Kwai’s series distills the minutiae of fashion production: in one shot, a pair of feet, cotton wool haphazardly woven between toes and red nail polish still drying, is surrounded by a circle of disposable overshoes; a model naps in another, curled up backstage on two purple chairs, a wash of copper eyeshadow across her lids. We see the girls in their faded black jeans, standing in the Gaffer-taped borders of the final line-up, or waiting impatiently for a manicure. We see everything, in fact, and in Kwai’s trademark Technicolour detail.
Kwai was also deaf to the buzz of ‘big names’, and although he did capture supermodel Jourdan Dunn and the preternatural beauty of Lorna Fornan, it was entirely by chance. “I don’t do fashion and so I don’t really know much about who is who. My girlfriend asked if I had managed to shoot anyone famous and I had absolutely no idea if I had or not,” he laughs. It’s an unexpected viewpoint, and all the more captivating for it – a refreshing antidote to the lacquered veneer of fashion week.
See more of Charlie Kwai’s work here.