An Interview with Pamela Chapman

I’ve worked with Pamela Chapman quite a few times on shoots and backstage. She does everything from backstage management to tailoring. There are so many different jobs in the fashion world and Pamela told me a bit about her work.

How did you get into fashion?
PC- My mother worked for a fashion house in central London and, twice a year, they had a six week long selling season. My first job there was as one of the six models showing the new collections to buyers in the showroom. I quickly realised that I am not a “front of house” person, as did the owner of the company. She, however, saw some potential and, keeping me on as their fit model, moved me over to the factory where, for the next three years, I learned all there is to know about the wholesale fashion industry.

What type of work do you do?
PC – Now I work in our little family business, basically providing dressers and seamstresses to the fashion industry. Personally, I work as a seamstress on fashion shoots or commercials doing alterations/steaming and pressing. Also I work as backstage management/wardrobe mistress at fashion shows. Oh, and I dress real brides, spending the day looking after the bride and her immediate family on her wedding day, which is a marvellous job! In fact, we will tackle anything to do with clothes or making things, hopefully finding the perfect person for the job amongst our team. And we work all year round, not just during Fashion Weeks. Coming up in London, for instance, is the 40 year celebration show for Kenzo, as seen in Paris a few weeks ago. Really looking forward to that!

How many people work with you?
PC – We have a team of about 20 dressers/seamstresses who work all year round and, during London Fashion Week, when we work on as many as 30 shows, the team swells to around 60. Our agency, inherited from my mother, Joan Chapman, is now being taken over by my daughter, Emily Burrell, so we are going into a third generation! Joan started in the late Sixties and I took over from her 24 years ago, when Emily was one. The freelance nature of the business suited me with a young child. My husband Edward does the accounts Emily now does all the bookings and quotes although this is shared, especially when she is off on a job. Emily has some background in Events and is extremely good at running things. She co-produced her first London Fashion Week show in September and ran all the shows at the recent Vintage at Goodwood. We are watching with interest at how the company will grow under her care!

You work on fashion shoots, fashion shows and commercials. What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
PC – I love a challenge! So, personally do not find my work challenging in a negative way. Stamina is essential – sometimes jobs are very long and you have to work under difficult circumstances. One thing I do not like is to have to do seamstress work in a small space with bad lighting (on the stairs in a creeky old pub doing alterations on designer gowns, comes to mind!!). And sometimes you have to work too quickly to feel completely happy with the result. But it is so rewarding when you can deliver – or, even better – create exactly what the client wants.
Backstage at fashion shows is challenging sometimes. We have worked on so many, and know how to do it backwards so it can be very frustrating when badly organised. Having our team round us is the best! But, as I said above, the challenge is what the work is all about and we like to finish a project, save the day, and feel the pleasure of a job well done, both for ourselves and the client.

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