Words and Photos: Reef Gaha | Backstage & Runway: Manning Cartell MBFWA 2015 |
Some creatives work best in their own space. It’s familiar. The environment can be readily controlled. You can orchestrate lighting with the touch of a button and adjust the volume remotely. You can set the pace. If you’re working with a client, you can tailor the entire experience toward them. If you like chaos, you can let a little in. If you’re more interested in order, you can dial the chaos out.
Some creatives leave this order in favour of an altogether more edgy environment.
That’s not to say busy salons or studios aren’t edgy. Put everything on the line to produce and direct the hair styling for a fashion week show however, and you’re buying into something altogether more keyed up.
What if the cadence of a bustling high street salon was a Xerox of the backstage environment at a Fashion Week show? Dale Delaporte laughs off the comparison. ‘I’d never go back to that salon.’
Backstage, the atmosphere contains little of the glamour and opulence runway shows often convey. Industry and intensity fill cramped, hotly lit spaces. Creative disciplines work in synthesis to drive a helix of skill and talent; a cocktail of caffeine and epinephrine that occasionally boils over.
Dale describes the scene: ‘Forty girls take up a small space shared with wardrobe styling. Ten hair styling sections work on a look that takes at least one hour per girl to create. This cuts things very fine.’ The average backstage is around 3 hours.
‘Factor in models that’ll need glue in hair wefts, a campaign photo shoot, press and beauty photographers, interviews and ten models arriving within the last hour of our preparation time… The chaos sets in. Conversely, a salon is all about making one client as happy as you can and giving them the absolute best aesthetic experience possible. As it should be.’
What exactly drew Dale into working with hair at this level?
Picture the 1990s. It’s Dale’s Year 10 formal. His coif is gelled into sharp N’Sync style spikes with blue tips. A year or so later at 16, he steps in as a training model for a friend’s sister. She gives him a silver-white scalp bleach. Year 12 and the HSC rolls around. Dale’s formal outfit is replete with full diamante cuffs (again in silver and light blue) to match his date’s gown. All these looks would have bordered on outrageous for a kid living in Campbelltown (south western Sydney) during that time. ‘It wasn’t until I moved into Newtown in Sydney after beginning my apprenticeship that the real fun started.’
‘When I finished school, all I was looking for was a full time job in the creative industry. I didn’t realise I wanted to be a hair dresser until I was already doing it. I saw an ad for a creative job in the city with possible overseas opportunities and literally thought “yeah, I could do that.”‘
I ask Dale if he thinks hairdressing was his calling, as such.
‘I can’t say it was the one thing I was destined to do, but I also can’t imagine doing anything else. Put me behind a desk with nothing creative to do for 40 hrs a week and… ’
Dale trails off, muttering something about euthanasia.
However creative, hairdressing is physically demanding work performed daily over the course of long hours. I ask Dale if he feels passionate about it all the time, or whether the urge wavers. The answer reveals a lot about his creative drive.
‘I’ve discovered that there are subtle levels of creative passion. It’s impossible to maintain the same level at all times. Being Creative Director [at Prema] has taught me more about this than anything else. Before Prema, there was a stage when working in a salon for a full week had me close to giving up hairdressing all together. I actually applied for a fashion design course, but something happened.’ Dale describes a more layered approach. ‘My work… my brain evolved. Now different things support and inspire my passion at different levels.’
‘I don’t really go on holiday, so any money I save goes toward enhancing my work – like travelling the fashion week circuit from home in New York through to Paris … it’s the kind of job where, if you find yourself devoid of passion, you get out ASAP.’
As the conversation progresses, it becomes apparent that Dale’s most potent inspiration comes from seeing top creative hands at work. Having started his career assisting Renya Xydis, he moved on to working with Daren Borthwick, Michele McQuillan, Max Pinnell and Duffy. On one of his more recent non-holidays, Dale session styled on Guido Palau’s team for Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, Prada, Valentino, Miu Miu and Versace.
As a resume, it’s a pretty neat roll-call.
‘I love looking at magazines and editorials, but you can only take so much away from a still image. Watching hands manipulate hair and finishing things that would just boggle your mind in a picture. That really picks up my adrenaline.’
My strongest images of Dale at work were taken backstage at Manning Cartell’s 2015 MBFWA show. I ask him what it was like planning hair styling for the runway production with Gabrielle, Cheryl and Vanessa, the sisters behind one of Australia’s most iconic labels. His face lights up.
‘They are SUCH a delight to work with. Three of the loveliest ladies in Australian fashion.’
Between salon clients in Manhattan, Dale met the trio over a Skype call with the Manning Cartell offices in Sydney where Tony Assness [Production Manager], Peter Simon Phillips [Stylist] and Nicole Thompson [Makeup Director] were also in attendance. ‘We spoke in depth about the Manning Cartell girl, establishing the kind of look we were aiming for.’
Ideas developed online as the team sent ideas back and forth.
‘When I finally arrived in Sydney, the trial process began. I met with the team just a few hours after hopping off the plane. The next week, Nicole and I were creating looks on models.’
‘The looks all had one basic theme that we played with and manipulated until we got right. One of the most important parts of the beauty look was that the girls look like a tribe. They all needed to look VERY similar, which meant half the girls needed extensions, and one of them, an entire lace front wig.’
Viewing the finished looks along the runway, the effect is seamless. The intricate prep work now appears as a whole, unified front. The girls march toward the media riser like a follicular sisterhood; a third millennium girl gang.
‘They were an army. They had to be individuals, but cloned from the same origin.’
I ask Dale to describe how these concepts become spoken into hairstyles?
‘The fringe on the right paired with a scraped left and back conveys attitude. The profile shows the laissez faire side of the Manning Cartell woman, letting the attitude come to them.’
The profile also calls to mind images of Brigitte Bardot’s loosely slung pony tail.
‘The mini pony at the bottom really contained the silhouette from every angle and held the look together. The idea of covering one eye was brought in very early. Initially the fringe was heavier and sleeker, but it evolved into a kind of glamorous, day-old version of the original.’
Back in the salon, the strains of an eclectic electro-pop ballad play over the pipes. The AC blows cool. The room might not be whisper silent, but I can hear every snip. Words are exchanged knowingly and concepts become cuts. Customers sip hot coffee and read glossy magazines, occasionally boggling at the extreme opulence of pictures. Dale adjusts the volume via remote and picks up the scissors. He’s not dreaming of deserted beaches or crystalline ski slopes.
See the entire Manning Cartell MBFWA ’15 runway gallery below.
Something stirring within that you’d prefer to have tirelessly and expressively sculpted into the tresses of your own hair?
Based in New York, Dale Delaporte is Creative Director for Prema.
See premalove.com for Sydney and New York locations.
Reef Gaha is a Sydney based photographer.