Last night, The Coterie made it’s first ever visit to Glasgow and hosted a packed event at the vibrant Bar Soba, Merchant City. With a line-up bursting with talent and style know-how, guests were treated to unrivalled insights into the fashion, session, salon and online retail industry.
First up to the plate was multi-hyphenate Anna Freemantle-Zee (and we’re not just talking about her name). The high-fashion model-turned curator, creative director, cultural visionary and successful businesswoman had the audience mesmerised from the moment she uttered her opener: “I didn’t find fashion, fashion found me.” “It took a little while for me to switch from in front of the camera to behind it, and then to be taken seriously for it,” Anna admitted of her transition from model to creative consultant, to festival creator and curator. “But having children ripped open a whole other dimension for me… It gave me the balls to go left when everyone else would go right.”
Anna candidly told the audience that even after taking that first difficult step and formulating the idea for Edinburgh International Fashion Festival, getting exhibitions and panel discussions to the stage was tough. Peppering her account with wry observations, she explained how despite it’s wild success, the first incarnation of the event (now a stand-out feature of the style calendar that is renowned worldwide) was a “nightmare” to produce.
“My husband and I were on the floor of this warehouse venue, scrubbing it with toothbrushes to get it ready for a Pam Hogg couture presentation featuring one-off pieces… I was absolutely knackered… but I was so passionate about what I wanted to achieve that it kept me going.”
Anna described her vision for the festival as a celebration of fashion as both a true art form, and a complex multi-discipline industry thats huge role in the British economy is often belittled or overlooked. “Fashion is often portrayed as superficial and petty… but it’s so much more than that and I hope the festival shows that,” she explained. “I like to think I offer a platform and fulfil something nobody else can… something that sits outside the commercial machine.”
At this year’s festival, Anna brought session styling to the fore, featuring the creative talents of Gianni Scumaci. “It was all about showing the journey for these people,” she said of his presentation, which featured performers from queer club night phenomenon, Sink The Pink. “Gianni is kind as well as a genius,” she added with genuine affection, “And kind is good!”
After receiving royal recognition (HRH Prince Charles and The Duchess of Rothesay attended her 2016 exhibition ‘From Harris to Paris’ about the journey a garment takes before it appears on the runway), Creative HEAD Editor Amanda Nottage asked Anna what could possibly be next for the thriving fashion fest and its founder. “2017 is going to be bigger, much bigger,” she teased. “We’ve got some big people confirmed already… but it’s still about giving those people behind the scenes in fashion the platform they deserve and their moment in the spotlight. “We’ll be touching on technology, set design, theatrical –” she added, before catching herself. “I can’t say any more! You’ll have to come along and see, it’s going to be great.”
Meteorically rising session star, salon owner and bundle of creative energy Richard Phillipart then took to the stage to open guests’ eyes to the session world. Describing his pure love of hairdressing from an early age and his determination when setting out in the fashion industry – “I walked up to Sam McKnight at the Most Wanted and It List winners’ dinner and outright asked him how I could get on his team” – Richard left the audience buzzing as he shared tales of wonder and graft from backstage.
He also highlighted how entering and winning Creative HEAD’s The It List ‘It Guy’ award provided a next-level foot in the door when it came to session work. “After rejections the year before, the only thing different on my CV was the line ‘It Guy winner’. I applied again and it landed me a place on both Guido and Eugene’s team.”
Richard was keen to emphasise that although his salon training has been beneficial to his session career (“It gives me an edge – only three people on Eugene’s team colour, so I get to be hands-on with the hair”), session work is not the glamorous ride it can be painted as on social media. In fact, a series of behind the scenes snaps illustrated that it’s less after-show parties and more sleepless nights spent colouring hairpieces in a washing up bowl at the back of a warehouse show space!
“The best advice I can give is be available and go above and beyond what’s expected,” Richard added, “carrying kit, being early – it all counts… It doesn’t happen overnight and you’ve got to be really dedicated,”he continued, “but it’s worth it. It’s an amazing aspect of the industry if you ever get to work in it.”
The final name on the bill was Richard’s session pal and online entrepreneur Anna Chapman, who charted her career from south coast trainee to member of Guido’s core team (accompanied by a fantastic array of personal behind the scenes photos). “I trained in my hometown of Portsmouth, straight out of school, before applying to Trevor Sorbie salon in Brighton. I chose there because it was still south coast and Brighton didn’t seem as scary as London,” she explained. “However, my interview ended up being with Trevor himself!”
Anna’s choice of salon proved to be a strong one, as within just a few years, she was putting together her first awards entry. “They were models from Facebook who were paid with free cuts… shot against a black backdrop with one light,” she said of her low-budget approach. But her talent shone through, winning her the accolade and bringing her to the full attention of Mr Sorbie himself (who upon seeing her entries for the first time, asked: “Did Angelo Seminara do that?”).
“After joining the Trevor Sorbie art team and doing product and salon imagery shoots, I realised creating editorial looks was the right path for me,” Anna explained. “However, my salon experience has really helped me translate designers’ visions into the hair – just as with clients.” She began by assisting Anthony Turner (alongside Richard), and credits him with fully giving her the session bug: “He was amazing person to start session work with as he gave me that confidence I desperately needed.” Numerous sleep-deprived fashion weeks followed, along with countless unpaid editorial shoots undertaken to build her portfolio. Then came the call to work with Guido, whose core team she’s been on ever since.
“I am still mesmerised by how his creative eye works – the details, nuances,” Anna smiled. “I get excited every season.” And Guido and his fellow session star Eugene Souleiman also inspired Anna to found her own online retail business, Session Kit. “It all started because Eugene had these Japanese grips – no joke, they’re incredible! Amazingly strong,” she explained. “I realised that there was all this amazing kit backstage that we couldn’t get in the UK – we have the best hairdressers around in this country, but not the right tools.”
In just a few years, Session Kit has gone global. Now used by Eugene, Duffy and their peers, this year Anna also launched SessionKitxOpportunity; an initiative to help bridge the gap for salon and classically trained stylists who want to break into the backstage world.
As she was rejoined on stage by Richard, Creative HEAD publisher Catherine Handcock asked Anna if she had any words of wisdom for salon stylists hoping to emulate her fashion success. “It’s so important that you turn up with the right attitude – not being on your phone, being on time,” she replied, echoing Richard’s guidelines. “It’s so intense that it can be overwhelming and nobody tells you these kind of things when you start,” she added, explaining that one of the goals of SessionKitxOpportunity is to introduce stylists to the unspoken rules and etiquette of the backstage world. “I also think there’s a need for people to understand importance of quality tools and kit,” Anna added. “It’s part of being prepared.”
“No matter the salon, if you’re committed and want it enough, I think you can make it in session now,” said Richard. “Especially with social media, it’s a bit easier to get noticed… but Instagram and the like can mask the reality of session life.” Anna agreed: “You have to really want to be there, and a lot of the time on only 3 hours sleep!”
“The hardest lesson,” she continued, “is that it’s not your time to shine. You’re there to learn and you’re part of the team and in the excitement – when you know you can do certain things – you need to be respectful of that.”
“You can be the most incredible salon hairdresser,” Richard agreed, “but when you step backstage, it’s such a different set of skills… Session styling is about there being a story behind the hair, why it’s a bit greasy-looking, what’s the journey for that woman?”
“You need to know rules to break them,” said Anna. “You need to know your salon skills extremely well and break them down for the situation you’re in.”
“I’ve definitely made sacrifices for session,” Richard admitted. “It really did take 3 or 4 years of it being all-consuming to get this far.” Anna echoed his sentiments, adding: “You don’t get paid at first, so you work-work-work in the salon, use your holidays for session gigs and then end up taking extra time off for LFW and then having to work overtime!”
“I saw it as a session apprenticeship,” said Richard. “And the reason you have to work for free is there are ten people behind you who will do it for free if you ask for pay.”
“After all that graft, what moment made you stop and think ‘I’ve made it’?” asked Catherine. “I don’t ever think like that really,” Anna admitted sheepishly. “I’ve still got so much I want to do.”
Richard smiled: “Watching John Galliano sew couture onto a model, who was stood on plinth in the middle of an empty showspace at 3am. That’s when I thought ‘Yeah, this is going quite well!'”
Huge thanks to our fabulous event sponsors BaByliss PRO, who generously insured that every attendee went home with their own Titanium Expression Curling Tong.
Check out more photos from the night on our Facebook page, and stay tuned for a round-up of the sharpest soundbites from each of the guests.