Father-of-the-bride Karl Lagerfeld with Lara Stone and Baptiste Giabiconi - Image /Steve Wood
Clothes fly in all directions. Hair and makeup artists rush to touch up and de-wig models as they sprint off the catwalk. A perfectly calm bride and groom stand chatting in a corner. I'm backstage at Chanel Haute Couture, the biggest show of the week, and it's all happening. Getting there was a lot easier than I imagined it would be though. Pre show, 70 photographers, most of them Italians, stood crammed into a tiny velvet-roped area. I was in front of New Zealand photographer Michael Ng holding a very heavy bag filled with three cameras, four lenses and two flashes. The photographers were getting antsy. Normally they rush into a show venue the moment they arrive and stake claim on the best pieces of podium real estate. But not at Chanel. Chanel is the Fort Knox of fashion shows. Everything is controlled. Eight security guards policed a narrow entrance through which four airport-style metal detectors could be seen. Finally the chief of security stepped forward. "Invitations, s'il vous plait!" 70 fed up men barged forward. "Invitations, S'IL VOUS PLAIT!" The security guard screamed. I stuck close to a particularly aggressive Italian and pushed as hard as I could. By some stroke of luck the the two guards to my left and right looked away as I stormed past the front door. Through the metal detector. I was in.
Le Grand Palais - Chanel Couture show venue
I couldn't believe my luck. I'd penetrated the impenetrable fortress. I followed the photographers up to the podium and put the bag of camera gear down to mark a spot. Then the shouting started. "Move your ****ing box!" "You're blocking my lens!" "I'm going to stick this monopod up your ***!" It was intense. Grown men, most of them over 40, screaming like furious, territorial teenagers. A couple of harsh words were thrown my way. I looked around for help and found Steve waving at me from across the room. It was time to move.
A mere fraction of the photographers waiting to get in pre show
"Are you coming backstage?" Steve asked, like only Steve can, as if he was enquiring whether or not I'd like to take a stroll in the park. "Yes," I replied. "Yes I am." "Alright then, what are you waiting for?" "I'm right behind you," I said, grabbing my usual prop - a one metre squared white sheet of cardboard (otherwise known as a reflector). We walked down a set of stairs. About thirty metres in front of us was a black curtained area with two black suited men standing at attention. Our goal. "Walk slowly," Steve cautioned me, as he always does. I cleared my head and set my face to its most vacant expression - blinking slowly, not looking at anything in particular, and followed him. The security guards stopped us. "Where are you goeeeng?" "Backstage," Steve said. "Non, zees ees not backstage, zees ees thur exeet." They pointed us in the right direction - all the way around the other side of the building.
My first photo inside the venue - a square catwalk wiht giant plastic Chanel No. 5 Bottles in the centre
We set off again, still walking slowly, the vacant expression plastered firmly on my face, until we came to another gap in the curtain. This one, however, was unmanned. We wandered through in an aimless fashion and found that we had arrived in the catering department. We ambled past the bemused waiters and around a corner and found that we'd overstepped our mark. We were behind the backstage tent. But waddaya know? So were the models. Sitting on a concrete plinth, smoking and chattering, were Sasha Pivovarova, Freja Beha and four other shockingly beautiful girls. "Look at this," Steve said, "we've been very lucky. Very lucky indeed."
Girls smoking backstage - that's Sasha Pivovarova on the left, Snejana Onopka on the right
Not one to miss a beat, Steve immediately set to work shooting beauty, while I held the reflector. The girls posed willingly and we made it through them all in a flash. A few metres on another group sat around. We shot them too - Vlada, Lara Stone, Magdalena, they were all there. A producer came out of the tent. "Girls, come now please! It's time!" We followed them inside. Nobody said a thing.
Lara Stone pre show
Steve and I helped ourselves to the wonderful catering while the models got dressed. A couple of minutes later we started shooting again. It all started to sink in. I was backstage at Chanel Haute Couture. THE Chanel Haute Couture. It was all a bit much. I felt a peculiar mix of adrenalin and light headed disbelief. Then Karl Lagerfeld came in. Steve turned him round to pose with Lara Stone and Baptiste Giabiconi - the Couture bride and groom. He was mere inches away. I could have touched him. It was all incredibly surreal. As far as I'm aware, Steve shot the only picture of Kaiser Karl with his bride and groom - rest assured it was duly inspected and approved by the man himself.
My attempt at the same image as Steve, while holding the reflector board and pretending to text
The rest of the day was good and bad. I missed the first two shows after getting hopelessly lost in Le Marais; made it into Armani Prive backstage with no invite; lost my bag containing my passport; freaked out; attempted to take pictures of Cate Blanchett and Megan Fox on the catwalk - was thwarted by security guards; found my bag; was turned away (alongside journalists from OK! and the Telegraph) from what might have been Christian Lacroix's last ever couture presentation; but scored a lucky break at Givenchy and was let in by a kind PR agent to see one of the best womenswear shows of my life (shots to come).
That's quite enough excitement for one day.
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