A disused vault filled with rat droppings and crumbling masonry may have put some people off, but Sara Blonstein saw only the potential of the space. The ‘Dead House’ vaults are located under Somerset House and had remained disused for many years, with the walls featuring gravestones of people who had come to rest there. To turn this rather grotty looking cavern into a space worthy of hosting London’s fashion elite was a monumental task, but something Sara saw as a challenge. ‘My first thoughts were, ‘Oh my god- what a natural catwalk!’ she said, and the space is now firmly established as the venue to be at LFW, hosting the Fashion East show.
I went backstage with Sara to see how things worked behind the scenes, and with a show scheduled to start at 1pm, we had an early start of 7am. Her crew were already hard at work, prepping the stage area, planning security and going over the music, and it was intriguing to get a sense of how something like the show is created, as there’s far more than just aesthetics involved. Sara swept in, a vision in a leopard print coat and pink lipstick.
Whilst some people would assume a woman of Sara’s position would be aloof and uninvolved she was extremely friendly despite the chaos (missing models, lack of tools) and very on the ball. I was impressed to see how no detail escaped her eyes, as when she wasn’t directing her crew as to where to place the lights, she was personally checking out security and making sure they were informed. Whilst she clearly had a capable and very loyal team (some of who said they’d worked with her for more than 10 years) she was very involved in every aspect, preferring to personally attend issues, rather than just delegate. This perfectionism coupled with a friendly professionalism made it clear to see why her team treated her with so much love, far more than your average working courtesy.
I asked her what were her proudest moments in her career and she had to think hard about the many events she’d created. ‘The MTV work we did during the Cannes film festival was amazing, and my work with Lulu Kennedy has been incredibly rewarding. I loved the re-launch of Stolichnaya Vodka, where we brought the Red Army Choir to a disused cinema that we transformed into a constructivist salon- it was unforgettable!’
Backstage became more chaotic, full of designers ironing their clothes, makeup artists laying out their brushes, models stripping to their underwear and lighting people placing cables pretty much everywhere you looked. Sara’s walkie talkie never stopped beeping but she remained unflappable and calm, with an easy smile for people, as she strode through the (extremely) cold venue in her floor length leopard print coat.
I wondered how she stayed so calm with all that manic activity and asked her what type of problems she usually encounters on jobs.
‘It’s like Groundhog day. The most stupid things like- signage, wind, backstage catering. Luckily the important stuff we have got totally sussed now!’
The closer to the show, the more Sara seemed to thrive and emanate energy. ‘The creative process is fascinating,’ she told me. ‘I always take the cue from the client and see how far you can further take it. Some just want good support – others want you to bring it to life and beyond.’
We sat in the vaults watching the run through. It was strange to see the difference half an hour later- the smiling models who strutted barefoot were now transformed into Amazonian goddesses with faces of steel and the clothes and music created an eerie atmosphere. Watching the seats fill up you really grasped how much effort was involved in creating the whole event, and how the designers only play a small part in the entire production. I found it inspiring and even wondered at how I would do in the world of event organising- I’m thinking pink chandeliers and girls riding unicorns dressed as Goths… My ideas might not fit in with the clients though, but I do like the idea of being able to create this type of visual artistry.
‘How did I get involved in event management?’ said Sara in response to my query. ‘I was working in the film business as a costume designer Stylist- I styled Bros, Inner City, Ten City and loads of commercials- and I really liked the creation side- but I wanted to be making the big decisions not being told what to do. Around the same time I became a face on the late 80’s Soho nightclub and bar scene and started a club called the Pussy Posse. We took over derelict spaces and created unbelievable events run by women. Definitely for men too, but sexy glamorous happenings that also had a safe sex message to boot. In 1990 the whole thing came together and I have been a producer of events and shows ever since.
Once the show is over the crew retreat upstairs to the production office to prep for the afternoon. They feast on yesterday’s cold pizza (less than glam) and high five each other in congratulations of a job well done. I leave them to prepare with one more piece of wisdom from Sara- the most useful advice she can think of. ‘Never presume anything- always double check.’
Well, that seems to have worked for her…
Check her out at Blonstein & Associates