We love social media. Not only because of the pretty photos on Instagram, the handy tips on Pinterest or even the immense support all over the digital world. We love it because social media turns the entire world into a village of uber-talented, like-minded people who soon become friends. That's how we've met Cynthia Anderson of Style Wylde - a multi hyphenated photographer, editor, blogger and so much more. We were thrilled when Cynthia agreed to share her experiences from Tokyo fashion week!
People always get the same look on their face when I tell them I have shot Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo for the past seven seasons. They go all wide-eyed and then fire off a million questions. It usually sounds like “Oh my god Tokyo? How cool! What is that like? Is it crazy? Is it really different from New York?“ To which I reply “Yes, very, amazing, yes, very.” But the truth is, a day in the life of a photographer at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tokyo is a lot less glamorous, and a lot more grueling than one might expect.
My days usually start at somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 AM. That’s the first time I roll over in my hotel room bed, look at the clock, and begin cursing jetlag and the fact that I realllllyyyy need to sleep and realllly can’t. I usually send my husband (and business partner) Simon (if he isn’t traveling with me) a text that says something like “OMG I CAN NOT SLEEP, WHAT’S UP WITH YOU?” to which he responds, “I am not talking to you until it is at least 5 your time, GO BACK TO SLEEP.”
I usually pretend to sleep for about 2 more hours, which really means lying in bed staring at the ceiling. I then get up, take a shower put coffee on and then Facetime my husband to plan the schedule for the day. Simon is also a photographer, but he tends to be the more analytical /organized half of our team so I always like to check in with him in the morning so that I know what I am doing, especially in Japan where the colossal jet lag (there is a 16 hour time difference between Tokyo and Berkeley California, where I live) often makes me forgetful. So we spend an hour or so going over the schedule, what are my commitments, and what are the “I’d like to shoot it” shows.
After that I finish getting ready and head to Hikarie Hall, the main venue for fashion week. If I am not shooting backstage with one of the labels or beauty brands, I go directly to the press/photographer line-up area. In Tokyo, there aren’t as many pre-determined spaces on the riser as there are in New York (where nearly 100% of the riser is marked out for particular photographers) so that makes it more of a free-for-all, which means photographers arrive at the venue and line up for spots one, two, sometimes three or more hours ahead of time. I think for the Westerners, well at least for me, it’s a bit maddening as it makes for a lot of waiting around. I always stay in the same hotel in Tokyo, which is very near Hikarie, so frequently I go super early, put my step down (a little step stool I use in case I am blocked by a taller shooter on the riser) and head back to my hotel.
If I am shooting backstage I meet my contact at the designated area, head backstage and shoot for an hour or two before the show, and then head for the riser, usually before the other photographers are let in, which allows me to snag a much better spot on the riser.
Once the photographers are let in there is a mad scramble for spots, which is actually really funny to see. In Tokyo it is not done as aggressively as it is in New York, where I have seen literal fights break out over riser spots, instead it’s like a control run to the riser (think championship walkers, hurrying but not actually running) and a wild slapping of boxes and steps down. There is usually a little bit of negotiation in a blend of English and Japanese and then everyone settles into place.
At that point we wait in a dark hall for anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours, the first part of the week everyone is very serious and quiet, but by the end we are all so tired there is a lot of comedy selfie-ing and general goofiness going. (People who followed my instagram this past March saw it.) But regardless of what goes on before the show, the minute it really starts we are dead serious. The Tokyo shows are always super creative, and often things like lighting, runway formations and even walking patterns are completely unexpected, so everyone needs to focus and pay attention.
Shows usually last about 15 minutes, and then we all scramble to get out of the space before the audience. (Which is seriously a death-defying experience when trying to run with tons of expensive camera gear.) It’s important to get out ahead of the audience because photographers usually need to make it to the other hall at Hikarie to be on another riser, which may already be filled with people who skipped the first show. The shows in Tokyo tend to go off in pairs ie. 1 at 10AM the next at 10:30. This closeness in proximately makes it really hard for photographers to move, especially when the audience slowly trickles out in a calm and patient manner, but shows no interest in stepping aside to let the photographers through. This can also be maddening, and by the end of the week a lot of photographers are (cough, cough) raising voices and maybe getting a little agro with the audience asking them to step aside. Something I would never do of course, and something that one of the European Elle editors IN NO WAY busted my chops over publically on social media last season (whoops!)
Ok, so we run to the second space, bang our way on to the riser, argue in multiple languages, shoot the next show, and we’re done. Except not; I am always on a tight schedule to get images up and loaded in a reasonable time frame for the US audience, so the second I can break free (again hopefully ahead of the audience) I race out of Hikarie hall, cut through Shibuya Station trying to look like I am not running when I am totally running (I have found a way to go directly from Hikarie to my hotel without going outside, which means I never have to bring a coat or umbrella!) I’ve timed it, I can usually do this in about 7 minutes, and then it’s up to my hotel room to upload photos to my server in the US, scan for quick edits, recharge anything that needs recharging, then head back to Hikarie for the next set of shows.
I do this entire process 3-4 times a day depending on where the shows are, what time they are, and if I have backstage. Backstage throws everything into chaos because it usually takes out all the downtime in which I upload photos and recharge batteries, so backstage days mean I have to carry tons of spare cards and chargers with me.
The days usually end between 10-10:30 PM, at which point I am exhausted but also totally excited about all the beautiful fashion, elaborate hair and amazing staging I have witnessed, so I find it IMPOSSIBLE not to do a little photo editing and at the very least drop some teaser images on to the Style Wylde Facebook page, or again on my instagram. I usually fall asleep somewhere between midnight and 1, and start the whole thing over a few hours later.
This is a normal day for me in Tokyo. Of course, eating has to happen, which usually consists of fruit and yogurt in my hotel in the morning, followed by Kombini sandwiches midday, and mind blowingly gorgeous take out sushi bentos from the Tokyu Department Store at night. I also love Japanese candy, especially Japanese chocolate that tends to be less sweet than American versions, so I eat it often throughout the day.
None of this mind you is great for my appearance. I am always so exhausted and haggard in Tokyo from lack of sleep, physical exertion, and yes tons of candy. I am also usually dressed in the most boring basics imaginable like dark slim fit pants from the GAP and a light summer weight black cashmere sweater from Uniqlo with Converse low tops or black Vans. I think I mostly dress like the stagehands at your high school play. It’s not cute, but it makes all the running through the subway station, and sitting around on dirty risers doable. And lucky for me, I am super blessed with some of the nicest most loving friends in the world, who work for Japanese publications and forgive me for my horrible appearance, and swoop in to rescue when I am totally lost!