There’s definitely a fast but focused pace on the really big shows; everyone needs to be on their A game.

Pauline McCabe

Destination: New York // Via @pauline_mccabehair
Hair by Guido Palau for Burberry // Via @burberry
Hair by Duffy for Hugo Boss // Via @boss
Backstage at Vera Wang // Via @pauline_mccabehair
Backstage at Vera Wang // Via @verawanggang
Backstage at Vera Wang // Via @verawanggang
Backstage at Vera Wang // Via @verawanggang

Fashion Month may be over for the season (sigh) but for hair lovers far and wide, the momentum has yet to waver.

Just ask ghd Guest Artist and former WA/NT Hairdresser of the Year Pauline McCabe, who among a handpicked, uber-talented few, trekked the fashion world’s seasonal vigil… navigating more than one backstage labyrinth to be part of the action.

Fresh off her Spring/Summer ’20 sojourn, the seasoned creative shares her Fashion Week highlights, craziest call times and what it’s really like assisting backstage amid one of the most electrifying, inspired – and down right exhausting – months of the year.

Over to you, Pauline.

So, just how many shows did you partake in over four weeks? Around 30!

Show/Location(s): New York, American Coin Exchange, Orchard St Gallery, Rutherford Park, Pier 59 London, The Troubadour, Milan and Beaux Arts de Paris – Just to name a few!

Time you woke up: The earliest times were 4.30am for Vera Wang New York, 4.30am Hugo Boss Milan and 6am for Nanushka Paris.

Hotel location(s):

New York: Life Hotel Mid Town Manhattan and Old Brownstone House Airbnb West Village – which is located in the next from Carrie’s in Sex and the City!

London: Notting Hill Gate Hotel – which was amazing as I was staying in my old neighbourhood of Portabello Rd! I love the markets, cafés and the whole vibe here. Also, Citizen M beside the Tate Modern.

Milan: Hotel Europe which is a very central hotel just off Corso Buenos Aires… a great area!

Paris: Hotel Horlege in Republic, near Marais, my favourite area. Great cafés and boutique shopping.

First thing you did when you arrived in each city? Had a shower, freshened up, unpack a little and go out and explore the city.

Backstage arrival time(s): It varied depending on the show. Here were the call times for some of my favourite shows across the month!

  • Paris 99: 10am
  • Collina Estrada: 2pm
  • Zero Maria Cornejo: 4pm
  • Social Work: 1pm
  • Refuse Club: 8am
  • Vera Wang: 6am
  • Burberry: 10.30am
  • Hugo Boss: 6am
  • Nanushka: 8.30 am
  • Brother Vellies: 1pm

(Average) time it took to reach prep location? 30mins, which I think is pretty good!

Time spent prepping backstage: Probably an average of three hours, however on the Hugo Boss and Vera Wang shows there were 78 plus models… so prep was around four and a half hours. Burberry had 100 models and a six-hour prep time!

The backstage vibe was… Different for each show, depending on the amount of models, the designer and the complexity of the hair. There’s definitely a fast but focused pace on the really big shows; everyone needs to be on their A game.

Number of models walking the show(s): So many different amounts, but on the big shows with highly reputable designers we had an average of 70-100!

Top model sightings? Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Irina Shayk were all in the Burberry Show which meant we were able to work with them in close quarters. Isa Alien and FeiFei Sun walked for Vera Wang as well which was pretty cool!

Number of hairdressers assisting backstage: Around 32 on Guido’s team for Burberry, 30 to 35 for Vera Wang and Hugo Boss with Duffy, and on other shows, around 15 to 20.

Hero product backstage: ghd heat protectant – I could not live with out it and I desperately wanted to make sure the models’ hair had that extra layer of protection in such a hectic week; their hair could be styled multiple times in one day!

Most used ghd tool? The ghd curve soft curl tong; it’s the perfect tool to create natural texture which was really popular on runways this year!

Number of coffees consumed… Definitely at least one to get the day started, I normally try to have only two a day, so that I can stay centred and not feel jittery.

Highlight of the month… The Vera Wang Show was my absolute favourite; she had not shown for two years and this show was a homage to her late father. It was so poetically beautiful and soulful – everything from the staging, the designs, the hair and the make-up were stunning. It was almost like the models floated through lights!

Something new you learnt this Fashion Week… The technique used by Duffy for Vera Wang was outstanding; the removal of hair to create the same length and density of hair on every model using 32inch real hair extensions that were colour matched on every model was incredible.

What do you love most about working with Guido Palau and Duffy? The level of hairdressing is so sharp; every detail has to be so precise. You learn to work really quickly; working on teams of this level makes you the best hairdresser you can be. As Duffy says ‘At the end of the day, we want to feel proud of the hair we’ve created’.

What you love most about international Fashion Weeks… It’s the University of Hair; the techniques and skills that you learn whilst working on these shows are incredible, and you can’t learn them anywhere else. Working at this level pushes me to be the best I can be.

Daily rituals? If I’m on an early show, up early, coffee first, I always pack and reorganise my kit the night before and have my clothes ready. It’s so important to be super organised! I make sure I eat healthily, go to bed early before a show, use google maps to see how long it will take me to get to the venue so that I can leave on time and I always arrive early to set up. When I’m not working, I explore the city because… why wouldn’t you!

To unwind post show? I like to walk a little from the venue, to have some quiet time; the energy is so high, that it’s nice to just breathe and come down from that high intensity. Sometimes I go to a café and sit and relax.  If it’s a later show, I will catch up with the team for dinner and drinks! There was lots of that in New York which was great fun, and I got to catch up with so many stylists and friends!

Favourite backstage memory… When Duffy spoke with all of the team after the Hugo Boss Show in Milan; I have great respect for him as a person and as a hairdresser and creative. I have admired his work for such a long time and having the opportunity to work with him was incredible; it’s made me admire him even more. I love his passion and desire to push stylists to become the best we can be. It’s so inspiring and real.

Number of shows to date? I’ve lost count, but it’s definitely in the hundreds…

First ever show? London Fashion Week for the Vivienne Westwood show.

What was your fave look to work on this year? Definitely the Vera Wang show in New York by Duffy. The hair was super long, 32inch extensions, which floated as the models walked and gave each model the exact same length and density. It was so hauntingly beautiful.

Any final words of advice or wisdom? Keep developing your skills as a hairdresser, never stop learning, be open, be humble, know the history of hair – all of the eras – write a list of your areas for improvement and be an all-rounder. There is so much to know and learn in hairdressing, which means that you can have a long, interesting and continually challenging career.

Follow: @pauline_mccabehair