How To Become A Fashion Show Choreographer With Vikki Burns

In fashion, the focus is on the model. But behind the camera, there’s an army of skilled people working on the job. In this series we’ll be talking to different roles in fashion on the other side of the lens. First up, fashion choreographer, director and producer Vikki Burns, who worked on the staging of the Elite Model Look World Final in 2012, and has masterminded projects for Kenzo, Adidas and Elle Magazine.

From the age of 11, I knew I wanted to be involved in performances and events.

Each year, my dance school would put on a big show at the local theatre, I used to come home after rehearsal saying to my Mum ‘the costumes should be silver not gold for this number’ - I had a vision even at that age! As a fan of Vogue magazine, I always wanted to work on fashion shows. In 2005, I worked at London Fashion Week as a runner, and it escalated from there. You start out as a choreographer and take on anything that comes your way as it takes a long time to become established

For the Elite Model Look 2012 World Final, there was a narrative or ‘story’ for the entire show so everything had to work together.

The creative team was split over 4 offices in Shanghai, Paris, Brussels and London, so part of my role was to oversee that the styling still worked through all of the changes - so for example we didn’t end up with a red ball gown in a scene that was ‘utility chic’! The event was 5 months in the making and I flew out to Shanghai 2 weeks in advance to work with the models on their catwalk training. We also had 12 dancers in the show and 3 performances from Jessie J, all of which needed staging and choreographing. It was a mammoth job and very interesting to work on!

Most people don't know that fashion shows are choreographed.

It takes a lot of work to create a runway show, especially if it is in an unusual setting. I am often involved in site visits in the run up to the show, we have music meetings with both the designer and composer to get the tempo and feel right so that everything marries with the collection. Once the set has been built it’s about getting the lighting right. Last week, myself and the team spent about 6 hours plotting the lighting for one show to get it just right.

Photo © Mary Katrantzou

The bigger the show the more preparation is required.

I’m currently working on a job that will have taken a whole year to prepare for by the time the event actually takes place. EML was 5 months preparation for London Fashion Week I usually have about 6 weeks of meetings. There is a lot of creative preparation - making mood boards, set building, music editing, video content, rehearsal schedules, creating or hiring costume, props hire, lighting plots - the list is endless! I am currently involved in creating a private event which will take place this summer with a Studio 54 vibe. We have everything from roller skaters to drag queens performing throughout the course of the evening.

I’m a director and producer as well - sometimes I am booked to choreograph and sometimes I am required to just direct.

The director’s job is to pull every aspect of the show together and run all on stage rehearsals. Every show will have a director of some sort, the show simply would not go ahead without a director in place. A Show Producer oversees everything both creative and logistics – one minute you may be dealing with the dancers travel arrangements and accommodation. The next minute you maybe sourcing a specific costume. The next three jobs I have lined up I will be working as Producer, Director and Choreographer.

If you want to be a fashion show choreographer, you really need to have some theatre training.

My advice would be to get involved in an amateur dramatics society or local theatre and ask to work behind the scenes in every department. You need to understand basic staging and how a stage performance operates. I trained at Laban to be a professional dancer - choreography, costume, lighting and production was a big part of my course.

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