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Review: CATWALK 2023

Ben Bagley reviews CATWALK: NEWSTALGIA

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m an extremely fashionable man. I have been told in the past that I single-handedly keep the various corduroy outlets of North-East London in business. It was therefore no surprise to me when I was asked to cover CATWALK for The Saint this year.

I attended the fashion show, annually hosted in the 601, last year and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. It was the perfect layman’s initiation into the world of fashion. As a result, my expectations for this year’s edition of CATWALK were sky-high. A complimentary glass of bubbly on arrival courtesy of the St Andrews Wine Company made the perfect first impression. After all, there is no better way to win a Brit over than with free stuff.

Upon entry to the 601, it was immediately apparent to me that the show was nowhere near as busy as last year. Perhaps the Wednesday night scheduling dissuaded some of the university’s sports enthusiasts, who were likely four Belhaven Bests deep in a pub somewhere. On the bright side, this allowed me to procure a prime runway-side viewing spot with little effort. As I quaffed the last drips of my champagne, I was craving some fashion.

The clock struck half past eight and the first models of the night swaggered onto the stage with all the ballsy panache of Liam Gallagher at Knebworth ’96. I was half-expecting someone to break into a rousing rendition of ‘Live Forever’.

With the theme of ‘Newstalgia’, which CATWALK’s co-director Laura Coffin told The Saint is best summarised as “90’s grunge meets 2012 indie-sleaze – think Nirvana and the 2012-15 grunge Tumblr girl style”, the outfits were expressionist to say the least. Not the kind of thing you’d see on Market Street at 9am, but certainly very impressive. CATWALK collaborated with up-and-coming designers on this event,providing opportunities for young talent such as Skye Lazenby, Kristy Yim and Dylan Hart to showcase their eclectic range of outfits. The intricate choreography throughout the night brought out the best of their stunning designs. The models glided along the runway perfectly in sync, like the inner mechanisms of a handcrafted Swiss watch.

The show was broken up by a half-time auction. A big fan of Dave’s hit series ‘Storage Hunters’, an auction is always a mouth-watering prospect for me. Some excellent donations were made by local businesses for the charity event. I was especially tempted by the offer of a stay at the Fairmont Hotel with ‘unlimited spa access’. I do love a bit of cucumber-on-the-eye action, but I was talked down by my friend, perhaps for the best.

First-and-foremost a fundraising event, this year’s show was run in support of several charities: Médecins Sans Frontières, Bloody Good Period, and Families First. All very good causes indeed, they represent the group’s commitment to international, national, and local fundraising. Moreover, unlike the other St Andrews fashion shows, CATWALK is a Union-affiliated event, meaning that all proceeds go directly (and transparently) to these charities. This somewhat takes the edge off the not-insubstantial £34 entrance fee.

The second half of the show was more of the same and I remained in awe of the models’ ability to maintain a straight face with the baying crowd a matter of inches from their toes. There were some real fashion ultras in the crowd: you could tell many audience members lived and breathed the runway. The best reaction of the night came for the bare-chested gentlemen who emerged from backstage wearing nothing but kilt and sporran: ‘jeezy peeps’, I thought to myself.

After the show, I spoke to one of the show’s models, Milan Wood. This was her sophomore CATWALK outing, enticed back by the friendly and inclusive atmosphere of the show. She described the gruelling yet rewarding rehearsal process, which begins in late September with multiple rehearsals each week running right up until the night of the show. “The rehearsal process is time-consuming, but it does pay off on show day”, Milan recounted. She named Katangoala’s hand-printed blazer and fur boot combination as her favourite outfit of the night. I look forward to seeing her wearing that in the self-check-out queue at Tesco in the near future.

What most struck me about CATWALK was the infectious sense of community of both models and choreographers. There is no pretence to this fashion show, and the CATWALK family seem like a tight-knit bunch. I will certainly be heading back for my third fill of fashion in 2024.

Photos: Alexandra Godfrey

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