SIMON TUTCHENER AT LONDON FASHION WEEK
Louise Stickland Follows the progress of Lighting Designer Simon Tutchener and his crew as they prepare for another eventful week with the beautiful people...
As the whole industry rises to the challenge of managing manic schedules, diaries and workflows, and perfecting the dexterous tasks of juggling and balancing multiple projects, lighting designer Simon Tutchener’s London Fashion Week 2007 schedule makes even the most frenetic workaholic look slothful.
Pushing the boundaries of mental efficiency and exploring new realms of creative sleep management are just two of the many challenges taken on whilst wrestling some mind-boggling lighting logistics in one of the most demanding and high pressured production environments... all the while retaining an essential sense of humour. Meanwhile, Tutchener still secretly hopes that he might discover the black art of cloning himself!
TPi caught up with Tutchener amidst six hectic days at the last LFW in September, during which — in his 25th season with the event — he lit over 30 different shows working for a variety of different designers and producers, both in the official British Fashion Council (BFC) Tent at the Natural History Museum and at various ‘offsite’ shows and events.
Achieved with the help of some seriously A-Team crews and lighting rigs from Bandit Lites UK (BFC Tent) and Entec (various offsite venues) plus his famous ‘Superbike’ location hopper, Tutchener also kept on top of the then imminent Take That tour rehearsals — the largest UK rock‘n’roll touring show of the autumn.
He’s the first to admit that LFW has contributed dramatically to his renowned diplomatic skills over the years, fine-tuned his time management to new levels of anality and enabled him to balance the physical and psychological demands of several clients simultaneously. Never mind honing runway lighting to a fine art!
When Tutchener first lit the show in the early 1990s, the tents were smaller, the lighting rigs were largely PAR can-based, the photography and video utilised films and tapes, and the hyperbole surrounding the event was nothing compared to its current proportions. Now, the unforgiving world of international fashion media descend like vultures for their slice of the action — the stakes and the money are high and everything has to be spot on.
Tutchener is the first to admit that he couldn’t do it without the incredible teamwork and camaraderie of his various crews to help crunch the logistics and deal with all the physical changes needed to keep shows together. Up to five shows a day can be staged in the BFC Tent, and all of them can have specific and very different lighting (and set) requirements in addition to the standard tungsten rig that is supplied.
Lighting equipment for the BFC Tent was again supplied by Bandit Lites UK for production team S2 Events, led by the unflappable Tom Brunsdon. Offsite, Entec returned to service the diverse demands of Tutchener’s six site-specific shows throughout the week, plus various others. There were also certain overlapping elements of kit needed in different locations at different times, for which the two rental companies collaborated to ensure Tutchener had exactly what he wanted when he wanted it.
Sunday, day two of LFW had already commenced at 7am when Tutchener arrived bright and breezy at the BFC Tent, from an off-site pre-rig the night before. With LFW itself kicking off on the Saturday, this had allowed the BFC crew, led by Mick Freer, to get a head start in pre-rigging ballasts for 35 MSR light sources needed for Amanda Wakeley’s show, which was second on Sunday’s schedule.
Wakeley’s team wanted the crisp blue tint of daylight as opposed to the softer orangey glow of tungsten, and this is currently very much an alt.fashionweek trend.
Sunday’s first BFC show of the day was PPQ, utilising the standard generic lighting rig, which was very helpful. Rigged on to a flown box truss, complete with three 100m sub trusses, was the ‘generic’ rig — a standard Source Four Profile and PAR rig containing approximately 200 fixtures, and supplied by Bandit for the BFC Tent.
‘Specials’ — anything from a whole moving light rig to neons, LED fixtures, mirror balls, follow spots, etc — are normally added to this as required by each individual show. Bandit’s CEO Lester Cobrin has been involved with supplying LFW lighting for the last nine years and so is well in tune with the needs and demands of the event.
All the BFC specials have to be rigged and de-rigged in the two or so hour gaps between the shows — injecting a touch of pure rock‘n’roll in terms of timescale, pressure and necessary attitude to an otherwise very theatrical LFW equation.
Lighting the runway itself is a complex, precision task. “It’s more science than art, really,” explained Tutchener. “It‘s basically a case of smoothing and spreading out the light.” He spends a lot of time pacing the runway in classic ‘eyes down, glued on trusty light meter’ pose and is possibly one of the most photographed models, with numerous snappers using him for their test shots.
The ultimate aim is to achieve no greater variations in light level than two-tenths of a stop from end to end. Too bright and the designers think it’s too harsh, too dim and no good for the cameras.
Once the optimum light levels are achieved and the cues recorded, Tutchener determines where the models stop at the front end of the runway, giving the unsightly scrum of photographers and camera-people their perfect full body ‘money shot’.
Any show producers/designers can choose to mess with these meticulously calculated levels if they wish, but this entails signing a disclaimer. Needless to say, Tutchener can count the times on one hand that this has happened over 25 seasons!
Back to the Sunday listing, and as soon as PPQ’s show came down and the excitement evaporated, the crew were straight into action hanging the 15 MSR lanterns on the centre truss. Wakeley’s daylight rig was completed with the addition of a new truss above the photographers’ pens, along with another eight front MSRs at the front end of the runway.
Simultaneous to this operation, Tutchener had another offsite daylight show in action for Armand Basi at Victoria House, an office block in Holborn, which started at 10.45am. This was for another client, Inca Productions. Lighting for Basi was supplied by Entec and the show had been pre-rigged and tested the previous (Saturday) night, once Tutchener was free from Unconditional, the final BFC Tent show that night. So all Basi needed was a Sunday morning switch-on.
He’s designed lighting for shows in Victoria House before, often using long runs of Kino Flo fixtures with diffusion filters to maximise the incredibly tight 2.7m headroom. This time around, after examining many daylight options, he settled on mounting the Kino Flo tubes in white plastic electrical ducting lined with reflective material, in turn rigged to a white scaffolding structure running vertically for 30m either side of the catwalk. The front-of-catwalk position here was a goal-post truss, complete with MSRs — very simple and sexy!
Tutchener arrived home late on the Saturday night/Sunday morning, conveniently in Fulham, only a stone’s throw away from the action.
We fast-forward again to late morning at the BFC Tent and the PPQ show was running late. This is absolutely de rigueur for LFW which exists in its own temporal universe, so no one is the slightest bit phased by this! The rigging for the Wakeley show due on at 1.15pm was steaming ahead, the MSRs (part of a ‘mobile’ consignment totalling 105, supplied by Entec) were in place and the crew were now working on back lighting effects and additional drapes, while Tutchener was striding the catwalk engaging in some additional ND experimentation.
As soon as the Wakeley colour temperature levels were declared and set, and the crew happy, he Superbiked it from the Natural History Museum down the road to the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane. Here, another Entec crew installed Vari*Lites, confetti cannons and six follow spots for that evening’s Julien Macdonald show.
Tutchener stayed to rehearse the spots and set the cues for the Macdonald show and instructed Entec site crew chief Andy Keightley about what to do with the V*Ls before zipping back to the BFC Tent and doing the Wakeley show. Like all the shows, after a huge build up of energy and anticipation, it was over in a flash.
He then oversaw the BFC crew as they started to set up for the next show (Gareth Pugh) with the standard tungsten ‘house’ rig. As with all shows in the Tent, he discussed all the options carefully with lighting operator Graham Feast along with the next show’s designer and crew.
At that point in the afternoon, there was a 30 minute window in which Tutchener had time to draw breath... and be interviewed for TPi.
Gareth Pugh started his show — full of fabulous, highly dramatic, funky, post-punk black outfits which you’d never wear to the office or on the tube — and finished. Then it was all action stations again for the last show of the day by Eley Kishimoto.
In this gap, the last of the MSR kit from Wakeley was still being de-rigged, and as soon as the Kishimoto light levels were set and the specials (several metres of village fete bunting) were rigged throughout the trusses, Tutchener rushed back to the Hilton. By now it was nearly 7.30pm and he had to call spots for the Julien Macdonald show, which theoretically started at that time.
After Macdonald — one of the buzziest and most media-attended shows of the week — it was home time, a rare pre-midnight occasion in a week that any sense of normal time forgot.
On the Monday, it was back into the BFC at 7am where the crew were installing six flown follow spots for Jasper Conran, the first show of the day. The BFC crew were Mick Freer, Graham Feast (programmer/operator), Brian Wilson (rigger), Ewan Cameron (dimmers) and Tom Crosbie (lighting tech). All the power requirements of the site were provided by Richard Hinds of RH Electrics.
The week continued along these lines until the Friday. Tutchener’s other offsite shows included Paul Smith at the Royal Horticultural Halls on the Tuesday morning, Matthew Williamson at Eton Square and Giles Deacon at the Rochelle school in Shoreditch, both on the Wednesday, and the Fashion Fringe in the Piazza, Covent Garden on the Thursday.
After the final BFC show on Thursday, Tutchener collected his own grandMA lighting console (one of the two used at the BFC site) and his suitcase, and was zoomed directly to Elstree Studios to start programming for the Take That tour.
Apart from physically keeping up with the schedule, the challenges which he also finds inspiring and energising are dealing with “a constantly changing theatre where you have to be alert and on your toes continually”.
The most essential item for a London Fashion Week survival kit — apart from an ace crew — is a good sense of humour! He has all the responses ready for the usual round of jibes involving ‘superstar’ status and seeing him up the ladder and focusing, which he does actually do with great relish and dedication.
Mr. Tutchener, thank you for the close-up!