24 November 2023

Melbourne Fashion Week 2023: Self-Doubt and the Adrenaline Rush

Written by Karoline Wiesenhutter (@grasshouse_hair)

There I was, on a Wednesday evening, the 25th of October, sitting at Auckland Airport, filled with anticipation as I waited to board a plane bound for Melbourne. My colleagues, Ed (an amazing session stylist with years of experience) and Macey (embarking on her first fashion week in Australia, just like me), had already been there since Sunday, creating incredible hairstyles for the shows throughout the week.

I had watched videos and was already a strange mix of excited terror. Was I truly good enough to join them? Well, only time would tell. I was committed now, with no turning back.

I arrived late that evening and received a warm welcome at our accommodation, complete with enthusiastic greetings, warm hugs, and Ed generously covering my Uber bill, as my Kiwi bank card hadn’t quite adapted to the Australian system yet. Ironically, I hadn’t fully adjusted either. The two-hour time difference had a more significant impact on me than I had anticipated, and I fell into bed, exhausted.

The following morning, I woke up at 6 am, still tired from a restless night but unable to sleep any longer. Today marked my first day at Melbourne Fashion Week. Macey, Ed, Andrew (another incredible hairstylist from Wellington, a friend of Ed’s, and the Head Stylist’s right-hand man), and I hopped into a cab to head to the Good Sheds, our headquarters in Melbourne’s Docklands. This is where we would spend the next three days preparing the models’ hair before they headed off to their respective fashion week venues across Melbourne.

We were part of a team of around 20 hairstylists. Some had been there for the entire week, like my “flatmates,” while others were just starting today. There was palpable electricity in the air, and the anticipation of what the day held for us was nerve-wracking. My hands grew clammy, my body felt cold, and I couldn’t sit still. At that moment, I wasn’t sure if I liked this feeling. It had been a long time since I’d experienced such doubt. I eagerly awaited the start of the day, hoping to stave off the creeping self-doubt. Could I really create these styles, or was this the moment when they would pull me aside and say, “Sorry, you don’t belong here.”

After an inspiring pep talk from Mark Thompson (Thommo), the head of Redken Australia and the organizer of our hairstyling team, we were introduced to the man himself: Richard Kavanagh, a world-renowned Head Stylist with extensive experience in worldwide fashion weeks, shoots, and as a global Redken artist.

Richard’s calm demeanor as he explained our expectations and demonstrated the hairstyles we were to create reassured me. It made me feel well-supported and united as a team. As salon stylists used to creating perfectly coiffed hair for guests, we had to learn to let go of perfection and allow the hair to embody a character. We tackled the challenge, crafting an effortlessly undone look for the Strateas Carlucci show and creating big bouncy blowouts for the underground runway shows.

Amidst the nervousness and self-doubt while working on our models in pairs, a new feeling began to emerge—confidence. I could do this; I was doing it right now! This realization washed over me as we worked through model after model and faced challenge after challenge. No one told me that my work wasn’t good enough; instead, they encouraged and motivated me.

As the hours passed and models transformed one by one, adrenaline, excitement, and a sense of purpose permeated the room. When the final models were ready and set off to their respective venues, we gathered for a debrief with Richard. Afterwards, we headed to the venue—an old BMW garage. Here, we fine-tuned the hairstyles, ensuring they had withstood the bus ride and the brisk, stormy Melbourne air.

We sat and watched the show rehearsal, in awe as the models flaunted their impeccable style in clothes, makeup, and yes, our hair! The feeling of seeing “my hair” strutting down the catwalk was indescribable. Backstage for the underground show, I and the others ensured the models’ hair survived countless clothing changes, hat-wearing episodes, and meticulous attention to detail. After a few rounds of makeup touch-ups and a final inspection by Richard, the models were ready to step back onto the runway.

Time seemed to warp as seconds turned into hours. When we finally finished and headed back to our accommodation, it was 11 pm. Lying in bed felt strange and almost unnatural as the whirlwind of nerves, amazement, thrill, and adrenaline kept me awake until past midnight.

Like clockwork, I woke up at 6 am, eager to experience it all over again. Upon returning to the style headquarters, familiar sensations of sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, and nervousness returned. I couldn’t wait to start working on hair once more. This time, for the Student Collective runway show, we created a striking wig wrap, with sections of the hair plaited and pinned at the crown, while the remaining hair was tightly brushed and wrapped around the head. It was a statement look, accentuated by Richard’s application of clay paint as the finishing touch. The room buzzed with adrenaline and excitement as a community of creatives came together to do what they loved.

That afternoon, Macey, Megg from Brisbane, and I took some time off to explore Melbourne’s vintage shops, enjoy an early dinner, and soak up a few rays of sunshine before heading home at a reasonable hour, anticipating the challenges of the final day (day 6 of fashion week), which we knew would be a big one!

On Saturday morning, Ed and I arrived at headquarters a bit earlier than the others to create voluminous, wild, curly hairstyles for the models who would grace Melbourne’s streets in a pop-up event. The nervousness had dissipated, but our eagerness to create, learn, and collaborate was stronger than ever.

We styled only a few models for this look before they were sent to the location. Once the other stylists arrived, we received our brief for the 101 Collins show—a wet look inspired by the ’50s, with hair combed back for an effortlessly cool appearance. Initially, everyone struggled to bring the look to life, but Richard’s vivid storytelling—imagine an old biker from the greaser era, gazing at his reflection in a shop window, taking a comb from his back pocket, and sweeping his hair over his head James Dean style—brought clarity to our vision. With this narrative in mind, we found it easier to replicate the look.

After preparing all the models, we arrived at 101 Collins, a grand iconic landmark in Melbourne, featuring beautiful stone floors, walls, and massive stone pillars, creating a breathtaking scene. We watched the models rehearse and then headed backstage to ensure every single hair was perfect before the two shows. The shows were a great success, and by the time it all concluded around 11 pm, we returned to our accommodation, heading to bed around 12:30 am. In just three hours, it was time to wake up and head to the airport for our journey back home.

Weeks after being back in the salon, the sheer excitement and organised chaos that was Melbourne Fashion Week has turned me into someone more calm and confident. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone has shown me that I can achieve my dreams. And I know the hunger for the rush isn’t going to go away anytime soon…so watch this space because I will definitely be at Fashion Week again as soon as I can!