By  on September 11, 2007

Cramped quarters, buzzing hair dryers, frazzled designers, harried journalists, stressed public relations agents and models in various states of undress hardly translate to a glamorous scene backstage. Add to that a dash of British eccentricity and bare-bones budgets, and the result is often a hotbed of creativity, according to London Fashion Week behind-the-scenes stalwarts.

For many years, London was seen as the fashion circuit's scrappy sibling. However, makeup artists and hairstylists who have remained backstage fixtures at shows in Britain's capital believe that in recent seasons the city's mojo has been well and truly restored.

"People are coming to London again," said Terry Barber, director of makeup artistry at MAC Cosmetics, which sponsors a number of shows during London Fashion Week. "It's more professional, more slick, and designers are pushing the boat out. New designers are more credible than they used to be."

Backstage creatives maintain the city is a breeding ground for new talent and trends, often because of its underdog status.

"London is the home of ideas," said hairstylist Eugene Souleiman. "Because there isn't as much money [behind fashion brands] here, people have to make it up as they go along. [Designers] don't have much support and ideas are put together on a shoestring budget."

On the other hand, "There's more freedom as there are less controlling companies behind the designers," added session stylist Luke Hersheson, who regularly represents L'Oréal Professionnel Tecni.art at the shows here. "Sometimes that's a pretty good thing."

Hairstylists and makeup artists credit designers like Giles Deacon, Todd Lynn, Richard Nicoll, Gareth Pugh, Christopher Kane and Marios Schwab with injecting renewed vigor into fashion week and upping the ante for British design in general.

"There is very good energy around at the moment," said Souleiman. "I haven't seen it like this for 10 years."

In addition to newer players making a splash on the scene, more established names returning to the London fashion fold for this season — including Luella Bartley and Matthew Williamson — are building a sense of renewed confidence.

"London is on a high," said Barber. "I think things run better backstage, it's more slick than it used to be — less rough-and-tumble."Souleiman added that since headliners like Paul Smith and Nicole Farhi attract high-profile models who then also walk for smaller design houses, everyone benefits from the media coverage.

"Good models help shows look great," said Souleiman. "Beautiful clothes on beautiful girls always look better."

It also doesn't hurt that many fresh-faced yet quirky British mannequins, such as Georgia Frost and Agyness Deyn, are finding success on the international scene.

"London has always had an antiestablishment vibe, which challenges people's perception of beauty and fashion," said Barber.

To wit, hairstylists and makeup artists say they often enjoy a sense of creative freedom in London that they might not feel elsewhere.

"Designers are more spontaneous and willing to take a risk," said Hersheson. "You can do things here that are not acceptable in Paris and Milan — you can make mistakes."

Makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury recalled painting models' faces at Biba to look like silver butterfly wings as among the wackier briefs she's received in London.

"The shows here are more underground with a real feeling of the young innovative designers," said Tilbury. "I think that London-based fashion brands have a great understanding of what their customers want and keep trends new and exciting, pushing the boundaries in order to keep fashion fresh and moving forward."

Much of the current momentum is attributed to London's vibrant clubbing scene, according to Barber, who added a number of high-profile designers glean inspiration at boîtes such as BoomBox.

"London is not about money or luxury goods or wearing your money, it's about the street," he said, adding street-inspired fashion also impacts makeup looks. "The club-kid trend has seen girls wearing techno-neon nails and fuchsia lips."

"There is a youth culture here that is really important," agreed Souleiman. "A lot of groundbreaking design starts here."

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