by Tahir Sultan, Photography by Jonathan Page
My name is Tahir Sultan. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a half Kuwaiti, half Indian fashion designer based out of the Middle East. I recently showed at London Fashion Week with my first solo show which was, I am happy to say, very well received. I attended Central Saint Martin’s, the number one school for fashion in the world, and have worked with both Alexander McQueen ( back when he was still alive), and John Galliano ( before he was forced to resign) . I am proud of both my cultures and strive to represent the ethos of who I am and where I come from. Below is a fashion diary I thought you would enjoy reading; it’s an insight into my world and the crazy fast-paced world of fashion.
Remember if you have a dream you can follow it, never take no for an answer.
Day 1 – Of jetlag and bad photo shoots
Its 3 pm and I’ve just landed in London. My head is still reeling from the fiasco that ensued in Dubai the day before. A disastrous photo shoot. The photographer hired a model who was stunning, yet failed to realize that she had a 1 pm flight, so by the time hair and makeup were done, she had to leave to the airport. I was left standing there thinking, “wait, did I just pay this model to get her hair and makeup done and catch a flight to where she’s going?! ahem shai.” I breathe in and out and am cool as ice – if there is one thing I have learned, it’s screaming and hysterics won’t solve anything. So another model turns up, a friend of hers, who as I try to fit, realize has lied about her weight and is actually not a UK size 8 but a size 10. And none of the clothes fit her. I was supposed to try and get twenty shots for my look book that’s going to be distributed to the press at my show, BUT after 10 hours, I have seven images. I take the very Zen approach of “everything happens for a reason” and am thankful I have something to work with. my mind wanders to my happy place which is trying to keep me from screaming because I am stuck in traffic, I still need to pick up clothes from two factories, pack , and reserve a hotel room, all before my flight in ten hours.
As I sit in the cab in London on my way to a hotel (a term I use loosely), I make a mental list of everything that needs to get done.
The final seven images of the photo shoot from the day before should be with the graphic people in India, they are to create the look book that needs to be placed on the chairs. The images need to be placed today, as they need to go into print tomorrow, and be handed to a sponsor that is flying down and has offered to bring them with him. I can feel the hyperventilation coming on, but my phone rings and distracts me… it’s India, well to be precise, my left hand assistant from India, she has called to tell me that the printers thought I was kidding when I asked them to deliver the box of invites to my show, so they could be flown over with her. She has checked in and is boarding the flight; they have missed her at the airport, (at least she has the large envelopes the look books and the sponsors’ details will slide into, I think). “They charged me 150 pounds overweight!” she tells me… I ask how that is humanly possible, she says, “that box we so effortlessly picked up, it weighed 8 kilos.” I close my eyes; take a deep breath (one of a billion I am going to have to take), added expense – not good – (but to be expected). However, no invites are a disaster. My next phone call witnesses the Zen all but leave me, and I throw a fit. It’s five days before the show, where the hell are my invites?!
Most people would wonder why they were so late and last minute; the truth is, trying to find sponsorship for a London Fashion Week show was almost impossible. Almost none of the sponsorship came from Kuwait, in spite of my being Kuwaiti. I also had to hold back the printing process as I needed to confirm the sponsors and get their logos. And then you have the added stress of high resolution, placement, and having to have them approved by London Fashion Week to ensure they were not conflicting with any of their main sponsors.
I’m sitting in the cab screaming that they need to be DHL’d to me today, because when do they think they are going to be distributed? The day of the show! I am assured that this will be done in the next hour, I threaten them with a, “they had better be!” I put down the phone, pay the cab, check in to what can only be described as a glorified dorm room, not a hotel, grab my bags (by bags I mean suitcases) and head to my PR’s office.
As soon as I walk in, I get asked where the invites are. I want to crawl into the corner, curl up, put my head in my hands and weep. I am exhausted; I have a full-blown migraine, am running on almost no sleep, and still have to unpack the jewelry and clothes. And now, I have to explain the invites fiasco.
“Not to worry darling its always like this,” I turn around and it’s Amanda, the head of FTV London, she is at her computer, and tells me everything will work itself out. She and I became good friends throughout the course of five days, and she would do sweet things, like plug my phone in for me when it needed charging, even though I hadn’t asked and it was just lying about.
“Right,” says Steph, my English PR team leader, “shoes, we need to choose them and we have to do this now.” Lottie, her assistant, sits down with me and we go through the most amazing selection of shoes, most of which have no heel and are very Daphne Guiness meets Lady GAGA. I am suddenly excited as these are exactly what I wanted, and we go nuts making the selection. Once the shoes are done, we book the seamstress, unpack the clothes, start to envision outfits and get hair and makeup references. This takes me to 9 pm. I am still exhausted and all I want to do is crawl into bed, which of course, I don’t… as if; it’s my first night out in London. I have dinner with one of my best friends and at 1 am, drag myself home to Notting Hill, climb into my glorified dorm-room bed and pass out without having unpacked any of my own clothes.
Day 2 – Ftv Hair and Make up
My alarm goes off, it’s 5 am, which is 10 am in India. I call them as I need to get tracking numbers of my invites, finalize the look book so it can go to the printers, and deal with a whole host of other things which have been brought to my attention. My phone is beeping low battery and I suddenly realize my charger is still in Dubai and it’s another four hours till I can buy another one. I finish my emails, unpack, and before I know its 10 am. I throw on some clothes and head to the Toni&Guy Academy… I need to be there for my hair and makeup test. Cheryl, who is meant to be coordinating everything, is late. Luckily, I have been in the industry and worked backstage with models and in green rooms, so know exactly what to do. The model is waiting for me, as is George, the seriously handsome senior hair stylist at the Toni&Guy Academy. The look I want is soft, summery and effortless. Nothing too styled. He goes about with his team as someone brings me what must be my fifth coffee of the day. Everyone is so interested in my work and it’s so nice to be working with a team where everyone is at the top of their game and there is no animosity, rudeness or snideness. I find myself laughing, smiling and having a very good time.
A woman walks in with her assistant and two huge steel metal trunks on wheels. “Sorry I’m late; I just flew in from Milan. Hi, I’m Joe, in charge of makeup.” I run her through my Hamptons-meets-high-street-meets-English-rose look—she is super friendly and in an hour, we are done.
The sun light is streaming through the attic windows and the model reaches for her vintage dark glasses and puts them on; she looks amazing and the general consensus is that I have to source a pair for a hip 1940s look. Thanks to everyone’s efficiency, and my lightning-speed, decision -making skills, I have an hour in which to go and find dark glasses. I wander through Carneby Street and inevitably end up at Topshop. I go crazy buying the most amazing pairs of sun glasses ever. I get strange looks as to why a thirty-plus year old guy is trying on, and filling his basket with, vintage women’s dark glasses, but at this point I am beyond caring. I have twenty minutes to pay for my goods, hail a cab and make it to my PR’s to cast models for my show.
My shoes have started to arrive and on the second floor is an endless sea of models waiting to be cast. Lara, my savior who works for both my PR Company and Ftv, is doing the casting with me.
“Three piles,” she says, “choice 1, choice 2, and rubbish.” I look at her ” Lara, that’s a bit harsh, no?” “Its fine babes, you’ll see,” she replies. One by one they come up to the table, hand me a comp card, and I ask them to go to the back of the room and strut. The room is really long, so Lara and I have enough time to have a private conversation about which pile their cards will be going into. Some of them get thrown into the garbage pile before they even strut their stuff for us. Lara is seriously ruthless, I feel bad because while some of these girls shouldn’t be models or look way too emaciated, I know that they need the work. However, after seeing about 300 of them, I understand why one has to be so ruthless. The selection is huge, and the models have to fit with the hair, makeup, and theme of the show. This goes on for two hours till I can no longer bare it.
When we’re done, Lara starts calling all the agencies to book our choices, and I am on the phone chasing my invites trying to explain that, no, the tracking number he gave me does not, in fact, exist. This goes on for two hours. As I’m sitting around, working, I suddenly turn to one of the members of my team and say, “you know what, I would love to have a t-shirt that says ‘WHO THE FUCK IS TAHIR SULTAN’. I would love my backstage team to be wearing them and I would like for the press to receive them, what do you guys think?” There is this moment of silence among the team, and suddenly, everyone starts asking pertinent questions and before we knew it, the graphics team is on it and project TSHIRT is up and running… ‘Cause let’s face it; it’s a genius marketing idea. Fashion Tv also want to host a party for me, so between graphics for the t-shirts, party planning, look book finalization and guest list addresses, I suddenly find it’s nine o’ clock at night, and I am starving and about to miss my dinner reservation with Nikhat, my left hand girl who has my envelope sleeves. I say good bye, jump in a cab and don’t realize how many emails are waiting for me after dinner. I set my alarm for 5, and again, crash at 1 am.
Day 3 – Weight loss and thank you’s
I’m awake before my alarm goes off—it suddenly hits me, I should probably have a ‘thank you’ section in the look book for all the people that helped, advised supported, or were good friends and were there for me from college onwards. Damn it’s a long list. My team in India is not impressed as they need to go to print and this extra page basically means abject re-organization. My team in London already has a hit man out to shoot me, as Steph is awake at five to check the names, the spelling, the images and the sponsors. I get the approval from London and forward it to team Delhi, and the look books go into print.
I get dressed and in the process, get told, all 800 invites have arrived and are being sent out, or hand delivered, seeing as they are so late. FTv need my party list, my mother lands in three hours and she has her friends list. Everywhere I turn there are names, numbers, and addresses. I ask my PR team to reach the Kuwaiti ambassador and please invite him, check if Zaha Hadid is back in town, all the while trying to pack as I am moving into the Hemple Hotel.
Lara calls, “Hun, I am trying to confirm all your models but they won’t confirm them until the night before your show, in case something better comes up.”
I literally look at my phone… “What?! Lara, are you friggin kidding me?! When EXACTLY am I meant to fit them and alter pieces? Tell the agency I need an answer.” She calls me back, Hun, tomorrow you have fittings from three to five, and then from nine to twelve”. My show is the day after, and that means I need to be up at 6am on the 15th , today is the 13th, which pretty much means I am going to get about five hours sleep if I have fittings until midnight tomorrow. GREAT.
I go into the office and the head stylist, and this really cute guy who works at Dolce and Gabbana, are both helping me with my line up. Cheryl is putting together line sheets, and Steph’s brother, a DJ, is called in as I have not even bothered to think about the music for my show. I am officially going crazy. My mother has landed and her list of friends is endless. Music, what music am I going to choose… I don’t know, I know… I want Florence and the Machines mixed by Calvin Harris – so song three is Spectrum, song two has to be one of Zahed’s, my brother’s, so I choose one and decide I want to start my show with Usher’s scream. Done. That will be 150 pounds. What? 150 to put three songs on a CD and mix them? At this point I am literally bleeding cash.
I lay the dark glasses out next to the jewelry on the table, line up the shoes and get everything ready for my fittings tomorrow. There are loads of RSVP’s that are coming in for my show, which is a good sign. “‘Harpers Bazaar’ has confirmed,” says Lara. And then it happens. Everyone is looking at me and Steph asks ‘how much’ or ‘if’ I have been eating at all. With all the running around and stress, I have dropped almost five kilos in four days and it’s obvious. I try to brush off the subject but get told I need to leave and go have a proper dinner. I am booted out of the office and told my presence is not required until 3 pm tomorrow. Yay, which means I can sleep in.
Day 4 – fittings, airport and acid reflux hell
I spend the first half of the day at an oyster bar surrounded by friends and family. I have done nothing but work since I got here; I have not seen a museum, a play, a performance … nothing, and I’m beginning to go a bit I-need-a-life-out-of-fashion crazy.
I turn up at my fittings at three.
SMT (Standard Model Time) is clearly different to mine, and every half hour a girl arrives, she is fitted, her pictures taken and put on the wall. This carries on till about six, when I had to run and find belts for the show tomorrow, I had also decided to pick up that very special someone in my life from the airport.
Lara tells me she thinks I’m an idiot as no designer takes time off to go pick up the person they love from Heathrow. On a side note, the seamstress, who is really a seamster, speaks no English so I am communicating all the changes in sign language. I get told my efficiency is scary and I am slightly crazy. Fair enough. I’m not wasting my breath on someone who doesn’t understand me.
I head out, grab a couple of belts from the high street, head to Heathrow (which by and by, I would do all over again – one’s private life is what keeps one sane throughout all of this). I jump on the Heathrow Express and something strikes me on the train; everyone is so nice. The models are not catty as perceived, everyone is so polite and calm and wonderful, not like in the movies. This whole experience, while a lot of work, is not unpleasant.
My heart gets an hour of face time on the car ride back into town and then I am back in the office waiting to fit the rest of the models. As I sit around I decide to try on the heels, the ones with no support in the back. They are surprisingly comfortable to walk in and look fabulous. I feel so tall, and when I take them off, I feel gutted. Life is so much better from way up there towering down at people.
The models arrive, the seamster is given his silent instructions and once skirts and dresses and hems and lengths and jewelry and glasses and shoes have been decided, we suddenly realize, by we I mean my PR team that we are a model short. “No we are not.” I tell them. “Really?” Lara says and points to a photo, “If that’s the case who the (bleep) is she?”
“Huh? I don’t know her name? There are so many I can’t keep up,” I reply.
“Well, babe, if none of us know her name or her agency, and she doesn’t turn up tomorrow, we are screwed.”
By this time, it’s now 1155 pm, all the agencies are closed, my show is in less than 12 hours and we are just standing around stumped. We decide to pack the clothes and have them ready for the venue, and to deal with this model problem tomorrow. I get to the hotel and collapse into bed, my last thought of the evening is, who the f*ck is Tahir Sultan, and what the f*ck has he gotten himself into?
Day 5 – SHOW time
I’m showered, dressed and ready by the time the team arrives to pick me up at 645 am. I’m literally running on autopilot, and am carrying hundreds of brochures that need to go into the Tahir Sultan sleeves for the press. God, who knew you could actually get sick of seeing your name everywhere. We get to Vauxhall, and it’s FREEZING. We pick up the clothes and accessories and head to the venue, which is the freemasons hall in Covent Garden.
The building is amazing, the details outstanding and the perfect backdrop for my garments. I head into the green room, and am really relieved that everyone knows what they are doing and more importantly, are doing it. The clothes are hung on the rails in no specific order, the models turn up, as do hair and makeup. Outfits get changed around, I flip out (albeit politely).
“Babes, we have to do this, the other model isn’t here”. Lara is trying to explain. “YES, she is/ She’s over there. What the hell is wrong with you people?!” The arranging and rearranging starts all over again, disaster avoided.
“I can’t walk in these shoes,” blurts one of the models. They happen to be the gold pair with no heel that I tried on the day before and were 3 sizes too big for me. I look at Lara and whisper “What the hell kind of rubbish model is she? If I, who doesn’t wear heels, can walk in them, what’s her problem in life?”
She’s given black heels, and it changes the finely-balanced look I had all sorted in my head – biker chic – fine, I’ll live with that, lets throw on this chunky jade necklace as well.
The photographer I have hired to capture the backstage drama of it all arrives. Jonathen Page gets to work with his camera. Slowly, ten of my friends arrive to help, not that there was much needed. Pallavi, whom I collaborated with for the jewelry is given the task of laying it all out. Nikhat and her boyfriend go through the WHO THE F*CK IS TAHIR SULTAN t-shirt box, and before you know it, everyone backstage has on a WHO THE F*CK IS TAHIR SULTAN. The press packs are being assembled, the brochures arrived from India, the goodie bags are being filled, the models are practicing their walk, Jon is taking photos, a host of my friends are backstage chilling like villains with the models, hair and makeup are almost finished and it’s twenty minutes to the show.
I suddenly realize, no one is steaming the clothes. And the sh*t hits the fan. I can clock this as the only time I lost my cool during the 2-week lead up to fashion week. Finally, my yelling brings on a gaggle of interns who furiously steam the clothes. Joe walks up to me and twirls me around and reminds me I am going to have to walk the ramp, raccoon-eyed, emaciated, tired, and angry and cue… I suddenly realize she has me in a chair and is doing my makeup.
My friends wake from their trance of trying to be ‘too cool for school’ and hanging with the models, they steam my clothes, I’m rushed out to the make-shift area behind the ramp, and all the models are in their first outfits. I suddenly start adding jewelry to looks I was not initially going to – I start fixing the garments. And then the lights come on. The first model walks down the runway. The choreographer is telling me she is glad I kept the show clean in the way the models enter, exit and strut. I’m having an internal they-don’t-love-the-show meltdown as the line up goes out. Suddenly the choreographer turns to me and says, “Mate, there are people standing and clapping. THAT NEVER happens.” “Really? That’s…” too late, she grabs me, “you’re on.” I walk into the spot light, go up, take my bow, it seems like an eternity, it was more like ten seconds, if that. IT’S over. I am walking backstage and suddenly, all these bloggers want to take pictures of me holding up a WHO THE F*CK IS TAHIR SULTAN t-shirt. London Fashion Week banned them, and it made quite the controversy. Amidst the congratulations and the hugs, and the severe migraine and the model who walked off with the earrings, all I know is, it’s Drinks o’ clock… I don’t have to do this again till Feb.
“Where do you think you’re going? We have our Ftv interview,” says Lara. I had forgotten all about that. So we go back to the main hall, and she starts asking me questions. One of them is, “What’s it like to be the first Kuwaiti to ever be in a solo show at London Fashion Week?” My answer is that I hope I inspire a whole lot of people so that they aspire to follow their dreams, and I hope I make my country proud, (as you read this Ftv will have screened this a few times). And as I walked away from that interview I thought to myself, I don’t just want to inspire, I need to educate Kuwaiti people as to the importance of supporting young Kuwaitis internationally. I hope that one day there will be a fund that creative people can apply to and for. I feel my phone vibrating; everyone wants to know where I am, they want to celebrate. I want to take my migraine medicine, I’m raw, I’m tired and my last thought as I leave the venue is, anyone who thinks fashion is glamorous has no clue what the hell they’re talking about. But it was fun, and I cannot wait till Feb.