When I found out I was going to London on behalf of Man Repeller to Snapchat the 2016 Fashion Awards red carpet for Swarovski — the event’s lead sponsor — a colony of Monarch butterflies unfolded their wings in the pit of my stomach.
The idea of walking the red carpet alongside the likes of Naomi Campbell, Bruce Weber and Simone Rocha made me feel like I had just eaten a pint of cookie dough ice cream wayyy too fast. In other words: a combination of elated and ill. But the good news is that elated trumps ill in the Imposter Syndrome equivalent of rock, paper, scissors. Feel free to put that on my tombstone.
The Fashion Awards are one of the most important nights on the international fashion calendar, and Swarovski — with its rich brand history in the world of fashion — is a fitting partner. In addition to the awards gala, the evening is now also an annual fundraiser for the British Fashion Council Education Foundation, with the goal of raising £10m of scholarship money for emerging fashion talent over the next 10 years. Ever since Nadja Swarovski, Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow started the Swarovski Collective nearly two decades ago to spearhead innovative crystal use in fashion, the brand’s commitment to supporting up-and-coming designers has been a natural extension of that objective.
I flew into London on a red eye and arrived the day before the awards. After checking into my hotel, I immediately scoped out the breakfast situation. I ordered a cappuccino, scrambled eggs and muesli, kicking off a 72-hour marathon in which I consumed a heaping serving of oats, in some form, every single day, and precisely ZERO green foods whatsoever.
With no plans for the rest of the day besides an evening cocktail party at the Moda Operandi townhouse, I had plenty of time to visit a whole bunch of museums and soak in the London culture scene. (Translation: I took a hot bath, put on a fluffy hotel robe and napped napped napped napped napped.) I woke up three hours later feeling like a brand-new bug. After doing a bit of work and putting on some grown-up lady clothes, I headed off to the cocktail party.
What follows are a smattering of phrases that will (hopefully) paint an adequate picture of the Moda cocktail party vibe: life-size stuffed animal leopards. Baby quiches. Pale pink carpets. Badoit sparkling water. Perfectly edited racks of the best pieces from this season’s ready-to-wear collections. Thimble-sized servings of foie gras. A casual three-piece band. Air kisses. “Indoor” coats. Grapefruit slices. Cater waiters who could easily moonlight as Gucci cologne models. Metal straws.
It was everything I dreamed it would be, give or take a few life-size leopards, and pretty much the ideal way to kick off post-jet lag, pre-Fashion Awards celebrations.
The next morning, I journeyed to my second oat destination of the trip, 26 Grains, a Scandinavian-inspired hipster eatery that I discovered by expertly Googling “best porridge Covent Garden.” I ordered a cappuccino, a fried egg and oats with almond milk, banana, coconut yogurt, cacao nibs and date syrup. Cacao nibs and date syrup!! I dare you to describe a more obnoxious, or more delicious, breakfast.
The subsequent hour and a half was devoted to some pre-event beautification, including a blowout appointment to take my hair from airport Medusa to award show mermaid, and a quick stop at the Charlotte Tilbury beauty counter for a shimmery eye makeup touch-up. Charlotte Tilbury offers this quickie service for FREE, and it’s fantastic. Once my pupils were ready to party, I went back to the hotel and briefly checked up on my digital puppies (a.k.a. Man Repeller’s social media platforms) before logging onto the Swarovski Snapchat to document the final stages of my “getting ready” process.
I slathered my under-eye circles in a hefty layer of concealer, brushed my teeth for optimal red carpet breath and put on my full outfit for the event — Atelier Swarovski x Rosie Assoulin earrings, a Tibi dress that fulfilled every backless black tie sartorial reverie I’ve ever had and a pair of Prada wedges so shiny they could double as Christmas tree ornaments.
Like all dreamy “firsts” in life (jobs, kisses, Cronuts), my first time attending a major global fashion event was filled with moments both surreal and real.
Surreal: Standing so close to Kate Moss and Lady Gaga on the red carpet I could smell them.
Real: Taking so many Snapchats of Kate Moss and Lady Gaga that my hands turned into wintry London popsicles.
Surreal: Walking off the red carpet and into Royal Albert Hall right behind Anna Wintour.
Real: Hearing Anna Wintour audibly squeal when we got inside because it was so cold (her squeal’s spirit animal is “elegant seagull,” in case you were wondering.)
Surreal: Sitting in one of Swarovski’s loggias at the event with a direct view of Jaden Smith’s table.
Real: Confirming once and for all that I will never be as cool as Jaden Smith.
Surreal: Watching Franca Sozzani accept the first-ever Swarovski Award for Positive Change, a well-deserved honor after her years of tireless commitment to fundraising for local and international charities.
Real: Smiling to myself when I read the following quote projected behind her: “With each issue [of Vogue Italia], I was prepared to get fired.”
Surreal: Having baby mozzarella sticks served to me on white china.
Real: Eating every single one of the baby mozzarella sticks served to me on white china.
Surreal: Trying to get a decent (albeit blurry) photo of Alessandro Michele’s metallic floral suit as he took home the award for Best Accessories Designer.
Real: Staring wide-eyed at a good (and quite high-resolution!) photo of Alessandro Michele in the aforementioned metallic floral suit, snapped surreptitiously by my male seat-mate earlier that evening during a chance encounter in the men’s bathroom. I kid you not.
All of Royal Albert Hall hummed as the host gave his closing remarks and guests started making their way from the balconies to the main floor, greeting old friends, meeting new ones, complimenting outfits and making plans for after-partying. My vision swam with glints of crystal as encrusted ball gowns and head-turning jewelry flitted in and out of my periphery. I leaned sleepily against one of the tables (possibly Gaga’s) and basked in the room’s purple glow (oddly reminiscent of a Virgin Atlantic flight), feeling like the happiest of specks.
I arrived at the Swarovski afterparty just as Naomi Campbell was leaving, which means I finally get to check this sentence off my bucket list: “I stayed at an afterparty later than Naomi Campbell, international supermodel.” I had a glass of champagne and danced for a few songs before calling it a night and heading back to my hotel.
After precisely four hours of fitful slumber (thanks, jet lag!), I made my way to the airport, where I dined on my third and final bowl of British oats courtesy of Terminal 3’s Pret a Manger.
As I boarded the plane, curled up in a pair of oversize sweatpants and closed my eyes to catch up on sleep, I flipped through a mental scrapbook of the previous night’s events, dresses, speeches, icons, Snapchats. Despite my lack of sleep, every memory still gleamed sharp and sparkling, the edges of my vision still swimming with glints of crystal — or maybe a few unwashed traces of Charlotte Tilbury eyeshadow.
Slideshow photos by Dave Benett provided by Swarovski; Photos provided by Harling Ross.