Mar 19th, 2020, 04:02 PM

A Backstage Peek at Paris Fashion Week: Rokh AW20

By Linnea Wingerup
rokh show backstage aw20
Paris Fashion Week was a whirlwind of stunning garments, supermodels and world-famous designers; but what’s going on backstage?

As the first model took her first step onto the runway and began to strut to pulsing beats and classical piano, all eyes turned to her shockingly blunt, platinum bob, and body-hugging tailored blazer with contrasting white stitches. With every audience’s focus on the model, I can assume that not one audience member was concerned about the goings-on backstage at that very moment. The viewers of the show were too distracted by the perfection of a finished look to consider the model dressing into sheer black tights with the help of her stressed dresser, or the hair and makeup team going up and down the row of models awaiting their turn in the fields of lavender flowers on the runway, patting down stray hairs and touching up lips with just a bit more color. There is no denying that the backstage of a fashion show is where the magic of fashion happens. 

This specific show in question was rokh, a Korean designer based in London, where I was to help the team as a dresser and general staff aid during the production of the show. When I first arrived at the Palais Tokyo at 9 am to help out with the set-up of the runway and other miscellaneous tasks, I was surprised by the emptiness of the building. Only a few people were moving in and out of the show space, yet those who did commanded the area with sure-fire organization and skill. I stepped out on to the empty runway to be greeted by the rokh staff I’ve worked with for the past few seasons. We exchanged smiles, hugs, and ‘how are you's’. The people I didn’t recognize turned out to be local fashion students who were also helping out during the show, many of them currently on three-month internships with a PR agency. We also bid each other  ‘hello’ and ended up sticking by one another for the rest of the experience.

Small purple flowers were to be laid out on the runway, so the whole team and I quickly got to work placing each tray of the delicate plants on the Palais Tokyo’s signature concrete flooring. Halfway through the placement of the flowers, Rok Hwang himself came in to help and further decide on how the flowers should be placed. He walked in and immediately claimed a calm force of kindness and leadership in the room, as he individually thanked the whole team for their presence in making the show possible, whether a top stylist or lowly dresser. In noticing me, Hwang smiled and welcomed me back to the rokh family with a meaningful hug, proclaiming that it was ‘so nice to see you again’. I felt important, even as a dresser. 

The day progressed, and the activity backstage increased tenfold with the arrival of the clothes, models, and hair and makeup teams. A ferocious frenzy of stress and excitement filled the air to the point where you could almost touch it, and all the dressers and I chatted and gawked at the collection before us.

Although it is a decidedly chaotic and beautiful blur of puffing powder brushes, soft fabrics, and frantic stylists, the backstage is where the inspiration for the show finally becomes materialized into production more than worthy of the applause and photos at the very end. I chatted with Cim Mahony, head hairstylist of the show, co-owner of Studio Cim Mahony in Copenhagen, and fellow Scandinavian about the inspiration behind the collection.

A close-up of the looks; image credit: Linnea Wingerup

“The show was inspired by Rok’s sister’s wedding,” Mahony said, brushing delicately at the hair of the model patiently sitting in front of him. “Basically the idea was to create something that took inspiration from an English garden, while still giving it a little edge.” He went on to explain that the collection itself was based around the juxtaposing ideas of floral femininity and a harder edge, resulting in structured suits, floaty sheer dresses, and strong silver metallic accents. “So you have something that is very strong, very precise, very tailored, mixed with a beautiful floral dress that basically is not trying to do anything else but be pretty” Mahony notes. 

Models rushed in and out of frantic states of dress, as all-black-clad dressers hurried to get them into their individual looks. Sunglasses flew, shoes were thrown, and shirts were systematically tucked in, as each ensemble was prepped for the runway. 

Model Leah Gibby backstage; image credit: Linnea Wingerup​​​​​​​

As his models lined up, Rok noted to his them that “It’s a big day for my show—but it’s a bigger day for my family and my only sister,” he stated. “So I wanted to write a visual love letter to her, to dedicate my collection to all her characteristics—she’s a very strong woman, but also humorous, romantic, and cheeky.”

As the last model walked off the runway and returned backstage, followed by Rok after his final bow, the energy exploded into a collection of claps, whoops, and relieved sighs. The show had gone off without a hitch, and the models broke into ear-splitting grins as they cheered on the designer, and posed for photographers who had made their way backstage. The show may be over, but the audience was still buzzing, and the lasting impact of the collection will be impressed upon viewers for some time to come. I, for one, will not forget wanting to take the whole collection home with me.

Rokh racks backstage; image credit: Linnea Wingerup