News & Runway

Backstage Diaries: Paris Fashion Week with Wilhelmina’s Damien Neva


PARIS, 10/1 — After three shows and an attritional, late-night post-production session on Monday, I kept a relatively light, but no less ambitious schedule for my Tuesday that included the Valentino Spring 2014 runway show in the Tuileries. I would be flying back to New York early Wednesday afternoon and was not going to stay to the glitter end of Paris Fashion Week, no matter how many drip-drip rumors I heard about the immensity, grandiosity, etc. and so on of a luxury baggage company’s ready-to-wear show-cum-designer-swan-song. Nah, I was going to cover Valentino and be out.

DPFW1-1​Tuesday afternoon following the morning’s tweed jamboree over at the Grand Palais, many of the girls, including Elisabeth Erm (right), made their way over to the tents for the period collection for spring by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli. The number of girls in the show was staggering and ratcheted up tension backstage where Guido’s and Pat McGrath’s teams were furiously realizing the Valentino spring maiden look. I had to be especially mindful backstage as to not so much as impede, even momentarily, a single professional busily working in the narrow galley of a corridor of the backstage at the Tuileries. I stepped aside and waited. And waited. For example, for a four second clip of Elisabeth getting her hair done, I easily spent 20 minutes or more in the wings before swooping in, focusing my camera, and whispering “action” to my seated subject. There was simply no time or space to dawdle endlessly and risk being asked to clear the backstage by an iPad-wielding PR. The casting volume and time crunch put a much, much sharper point on the hair and makeup process.

This was my first time covering the show and I was impressed by the house’s transformation of the temporary space into a nearly all wooden theatre. Every square centimeter of the runway and terraced seating was covered in planks of light wood. To even imagine Viktor & Rolf having bricked up their “Wall” under the same pitched roof just days earlier was difficult at best.


The wooden space dramatically changed the tempo of the runway. Girls would not be pounding the boards with stilettos, but rather would be gliding over the wood grain in leather flats at a languid pace befitting of a collection that has taken its cues from Maria Callas, Medea, and the like. Several inspiration boards were prominently displayed backstage where the designers were entertaining the media. In an age of digital pinning it was refreshing to see the seeds of a collection’s inspiration so physically manifest. There was a palpable pride in the act of these boards establishing a continuum that spanned from antiquity to present day. Visually, the boards beat the hell out of any step and repeat.

The painstaking detail of the garments was evident as soon as I laid eyes on Elisabeth’s two looks. Elaborate beaded details predominated the fabrics not unlike the Italian being spoken filled the otherwise noisy backstage. This was my third consecutive and final Italian show in the French capital, which was molto bene as far as I was concerned. The details were not lost at show time as I grabbed a spot in between two benches in the front row on the return leg of the runway. Fashion is about timing and for Valentino, thankfully mine was impeccable.

A week removed, the Spring 2014 shows in Paris are still vivid. I am happy to have trained my lens on the runways of Paris, Milan, and New York over two seasons of women’s and men’s ready-to-wear for Wilhelmina.

Thanks for reading this season and last — onto the next…