A month in the life of a Session Tech: Paris
Marie-Louise Coster shares her Fashion Week story...
Paris was always my second favourite city (after Dublin), and I was excited to be on my way to assist on the Rocha show, a show I had never worked on before.
So, after more hours of travelling and a short flight I was there, the Palais du Chaillot, at the Trocadero, the best view of the Eiffel Tower anywhere in Paris.
The Rocha Show
For Rocha's the nail look was nude, for both fingers and toes. Nude nails are a classic and they particularly worked with the elegance of this collection.
Backstage was reasonably calm; it is interesting how the atmosphere various from city to city, London can be quite fraught, Milan seems to be very laid back…perhaps too laid back at times with a minimal sense of urgency, and Paris sits somewhere between the two.
This show was very plain sailing, everything ran to time, we encountered no issues and the show was a success.
I left the show with time to spare to get my coach back to the airport as I was flying home that night to work in the salon Thursday and Friday, only to return to Paris on Saturday. My happy feeling soon disappeared when, at 9.45pm, 50 minutes after my flight should have left it was cancelled all together! No one knew what was going on, ground staff were particularly unhelpful and I had nothing with me - no clean knickers, no wash bag, no make-up, no clean clothes, nothing as I was only due to be there for the day! We waited hours for answers, and at midnight I walked into an airport hotel bedroom that I had to organise myself.
I was eventually on a flight the next morning, but this of course totally messed up my appointments and work for the day, and I eventually stepped through my front door at around 1pm Thursday afternoon, 12 hours later than expected. A little over 36 hours later I was on my way again, back to Paris for my last stint this season. I have to admit, whether I like it or not, I am a woman of a certain age and all of this travelling, the minimal sleep, the stress when things don't go to plan and missing my family is a bit too much for me at times, but I am so lucky to do what I do and I always feel sad when a season comes to an end.
I was returning to Paris for two shows: Hermes, which I have been lucky to do for four seasons, and Paul & Joe, which I had never worked on before.
The Hermes Show
Hermes was at the Tennis Club de Paris and, in true Hermes style, it was a clean, classic, timeless, delicate natural nails buffed to a high shine, fingers and toes.
Hermes is a big show, there are usually around 55 models, and whilst in Paris you are given a lot more space than in London and there is less scrabbling around on the floor and under tables (in Milan I was even give a chair to sit on!), there are still two to three people working on a model at any one time as you have hair, make-up and nails all needing to do their job at the same time. In moments of panic, when time is against us, there can be double that amount of people!
The call time was 3.30pm and the show time was 8pm. Four and a half hours I hear you say, with a team of eight that is a doddle! Well a doddle it isn't because there are quite a few factors to consider here:
No1: Not all models arrive at the desired time, some are coming from other shows so will arrive late and may have all manner of make-up on, product in their hair and stuff going on with their nails. Most manicurists are respectful, to both the model and the Manicurist working on the model after. However, this isn't always the case, with some manicurists gluing nails or adornments directly on to th natural nail and others even going to the effort to use gel polish! There is no time, let alone space for resources to apply, let alone remove, gel polish within a show situation, it just isn't conducive and it makes the job for the next team really difficult.
No. 2: There will be one, if not two, rehearsals during that time that can last up to 45 minutes long, costing you precious time to get your job done.
No. 3: There are times when you just cannot get to the model because there are so many other things going on around her.
And No.4: Think on this…55 models, fingers and toes is basically 110 services between eight people; that's 1,100 individual nails to be prepared and painted (or in this case, buffed).
The Hermes Show got a little bit close to the wire and it was very much all hands on deck, but it all went off well and looked beautiful as always.
After the show I was staying with a friend who was also working on the Hermes show. She wanted us to go home and freshen up and then go out for dinner, a lovely sentiment but I had been up since 3am and this was nearly 9pm. We drove back to hers, about an hour away, changed, drove back in towards Paris and ate our evening meal at 11.30pm. Much too late for this old bird that's for sure!
She then told me that at 1am the Eiffel Tower changes colour and sparkles for 10 minutes. Now I have always been a sucker for a bit of sparkle and I did want to see this as I like to see different things when I visit places, even if I have been 100 times before. I did see the illumination, which was spectacular, but then proceeded to sleep in the car on the way back!
The Paul & Jo Show
My final show for the season was Paul & Joe. I had never worked on this show, neither had I worked with the lead Manicurist before, but she was lovely and the show was really good fun, the clothes really were creations.
There were only 30 models, fingers and some toes, depending on whether they were wearing open toed shoes or not, and there was eight of us to complete it and we had four hours to do it, minus rehearsals etc. It should have been straightforward right? Wrong! There were three nail looks; look No.1 was a cat decal with added crystals, look No. 2 was a black accent nail with the remaining four nails a clear glossy base and a black dot at the cuticle, and the third look was five pastel shades.
For the first hour we didn't know which model was having which look as the designers hadn't decided. Rather than waste time, we prepped the nails so as when they finally decided we could just get on with it. Once they decided it was all hands on deck to get the job done; interruptions ensued with shoe rehearsals, walk-in rehearsals, models catching their nails and it having to be reapplied, but the job was completed and it was another success.
It was then time for my adventures to come to an end and as I boarded the train back to London I had a real mix of emotions; overwhelming gratitude for the amazing opportunities I had been gifted, sadness that the season was over, fear that I may not get asked back, exhaustion due to all of the travel, the work, the lack of sleep etc. and I was feeling very excited and very tearful at the prospect of being reunited with my daughter, my biggest supporter and my constant motivator to strive for more, to be more, to do more and to give her opportunities in life I didn't have.
For those of you reading this that are still wanting to get in to Session work my best advice to you is find some Session manicurists on Instagram that you follow and like their work, contact them to see if they ever need any help and ask them if they will keep you in mind. Maybe give them a nudge leading up to show seasons but don't become a pest!
Also, keep your eye out on their Instagram stories; as and when their team is short, or they need an assistant, they are likely to put a shout out on there.
Be prepared for early mornings, long days and travelling, and also be prepared to work for free! Not ideal, and you can't pay the mortgage with nail polish, but a lot of work is initially unpaid.
Use it to your advantage, build a great portfolio and make contacts. I am not suggesting you work for free forever but there will be occasions where it is a great job that could lead to great things but there is no pay. It isn't acceptable, I grant you, but if you say no someone else will say yes. Be selective, don't work for anyone for nothing, but consider the job before you decline.
Finally, I would just say - whilst a small number do - Session work is not, I don't believe, ever going to give you the financial reward of a successful business, whether salon-based, home-based or mobile. I enjoy doing it and I use it to my advantage when it comes to PR and marketing for my business but it is that business that provides the roof over my daughter's head, the food on our table, the clothes on our backs and her trips to experience amazing things.