In Conversation with Tiffany Saunders of Oxford Fashion Studio
After a mad rush of quick changes behind the scenes of Oxford Fashion Studio’s Paris Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2019/20 at the InterContinental Paris- Le Grand, we chat with Tiffany Saunders, the Runway Director at OFS, while she catches a breath after another successful show!
I always envisioned the backstage area of a fashion show to be chaotic, with the staff in charge yelling strict commands at the dressers to get things right, especially for a show in Paris Fashion Week, a time where the entire world is holding their breath and waiting for a slight mishap to pinpoint and focus on. But if you were to walk in to the backstage area at Oxford Fashion Studio, you’d see a controlled chaos, where everyone knows what everyone is doing, and amidst all the chattering models you’d hear a soft but strong voice giving out instructions in the calmest way possible.
It’s easy to find Tiffany in a room full of models, hair and make-up artists, designers, dressers, and photographers. The Runway Director at Oxford Fashion Studio, Tiffany Saunders had her backstage team in control only with her smiling voice. She didn’t need to scream or bark orders to get things done, her exceptional interpersonal skills teamed up with a beaming smile, that she whipped out for every conversation, always did the magic.
Tiffany began her career by modelling at the age of 15 and continued to do so for 10 years. She modelled for Oxford Fashion Studio, but later pursued her interest and started assisting with shows at OFS. Working her way up the ladder, she co-directed her first runway show in 2014. From being the focus of the camera to handling the chaos behind the scenes, Tiffany is now responsible for sourcing new talent and directing the runways shows at OFS.
Q. How has your journey been so far, from a model to a Runway director?
My journey from model to Runway Director has been quite the wonderfully unexpected one! I was in the modelling world for 10 years and needless to say it's rather a unique career choice. It offers a distinctly unique experience that I liked and that I lightly feared I wouldn't find once I retired, which is partly why I so appreciate the role I have now as it offers that and so much more. I began moving into the producing world in 2011 as a runner, keen to soak up everything I could in terms of experience because at that point, whilst I'd been in the industry for 10 years my experience lay mainly in front of the camera.
Q. Did you always want to be involved in fashion? What were your dreams as a child?
So I have always had a very keen interest in two things - Design and Hospitality. Fashion was a natural progression to satisfy my design interests and led me quite naturally into the modelling world. The other interest I had, especially as a young teenager, was in hospitality which lead me towards the events world. My degree is related to hospitality and was what I was working on at the same time as the latter part of my modelling career. My plan was to move into the hospitality industry once I hung up my modelling hat.
It was when I was first introduced to Oxford Fashion Studio in 2010 that my interest in Events from a fashion perspective really took hold. I had walked in their shows and being a part of the team just felt right, it made me want the main fashion week seasons to be more than twice a year because being a part of the shows and meeting the team was something I thoroughly enjoyed and knew I wanted to continue to be a part of. I've always thought and lived by the notion that you spend so much of your waking hours at work that, to me, it would be crazy not to spend those hours doing something you loved vs just doing it to pay the bills.
Q. How different was the fashion industry when you started working compared to the present scenario?
Ooo that's a tricky one! The fashion world is always developing in so many ways and I think your experience of it is largely driven by those you surround yourself with and the publications you choose to read. The fashion world is huge, and in all areas of it there are different segments - models, design, designers, MUAH, production and writers to name a few. My experience is quite unique as I've always had quite a bit of control over who I've worked for and with, and so I make deliberate choices to work with individuals that share my values, who are kind and who respect the industry and the individuals in it, who work hard, and who enjoy seeing the industry flourish.
The moment I began modelling my respect and admiration for fashion designers, namely independent fashion designers, grew and I feel very lucky to be able to surround myself with them as a normal part of my job today
Q. Can you describe a typical day as a Runway Director?
Interesting question! That very much depends on the time of year. From the designer side of things, I spend a lot of the year managing our Designers Success Team based in London and New York, in discovering and consulting with independent designers, and reviewing their collections for potential participation in one of our runway shows. When it comes to the shows my attention is very much on my production team, from MUAH's to dressers, to models to designers. Whether that's casting our some 50 models per city, working with our MUAH teams to devise each hair and makeup look and briefing and training our backstage and events teams, the production period is one very much focused on making sure the shows / event runs smoothly and that all parties enjoy Oxford Fashion Studio's hospitality.
Q. Was there a particular moment during your career when you knew that you 'belonged' here - one moment when it felt right to do what you were doing?
Oh yes, I remember this distinctly. It was when I directed my first show for OFS in 2014. Everything just felt right, I found I really loved every part of it and realised here that I could piece together so many different things that I enjoyed into one role, from discovering designers and planning their looks with them, to casting the models, to coordinating with the venue to seeing those seats fill with an excited audience and even to the following day when I scrolled through my social media to find it full of pictures of the show. I'm big on instinct, on how you should continue to do something if it feels right. This was the defining moment for me.
Q. What is your most favourite thing during fashion weeks?
That's easy - show day. That's when everything comes together and the moment that each piece goes on stage is a special moment for everyone, the model, the MUAH's the dresser, the events team, and of course the designer.
Q. What fascinates you, and how does it fit into your work?
Ah, now this could easily be a very long list! If I had to pick one thing I'd say psychology. I find the study of the mind and human behaviour interesting especially when it translates into what I do. The nature of what I do means I see people at different stages of their fashion week journey and how each stage has varying pressure levels. It's those with a strong positive mental attitude that thrive, who see the good and actively seek to make the most out of every step.
Q. What are the three things you've learned while being in the fashion industry?
1. Surrounding yourself with the right people means that fashion is not the mean industry it is sometimes made out to be
2. Design credibility and ability is not defined by a particular financial backing or by confirming to existing norms. The brilliance is in the independence and in the uniqueness and energy of the designer themselves
3. The importance of surrounding yourself with people with good energy (which, in all honestly, I knew already!). The industry is huge, you have a choice as to who you work with and for. Choose good eggs.
Q. One advice you wish you'd known in the beginning of your career.
I love this question. I'd have to say to have more confidence in doing things differently, which I learnt as soon as I started working for Oxford Fashion Studio.
Oxford Fashion Studio introduces creative independent designers to the world through their shows in New York, London and Paris. Every year, OFS puts forth designers with substance and soul and helps them achieve the much-needed international exposure to flourish globally.