The scariest launch I’ve ever styled!

Bricking it at the OrbitBricking iI’ve done quite a few press launches now and I would say I’m a pretty calm and collected person. I’ve been a stylist for over 16 years so not much really phases me. I’ve waffled my way through magazine planning meetings and dealt with missing props on big Christmas shoots but nothing really prepared me for the launch I took part in back in September last year. I was asked to style a launch at the Acelor Mittal Orbit at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park in Stratford for DeLonghi.

The client was Clarion Communication and this was the third press launch I had styled for them. The product being launched was the Avvolta breakfast range consisting of a beautiful toaster and kettle. The design has the effect of ribbons beings wrapped around each appliance and they really are stunning.

Each appliance is a solid colour – black, white or red and then has a clear band of acrylic wrapped around them giving the item depth and a deeper colour band. You have to see them up close to see how gorge they are. 

The reccy

The Clarion team behind DeLonghi arranged a meeting at the Orbit and I have to say it’s such an amazing structure. I had seen it from the A12 on my way to shoots north of the river many times but had never seen it up close before- let alone gone all the way to the top! If you get the chance – do it. It’s spectacular.

We met with the Orbit event organiser and the aerial artists. Yes. aerial artists! That when I started to feel queazy. When I arrived I didn’t know anything about the event. I didn’t even know what the launch was for or what their plans were. Their plans were big!

As it unfolded the idea was to create an art gallery feel at the launch on the viewing platform and the aerial artists were to be doing a performance hanging high up in the centre part of the Orbit on silks – 374 ft up. That’s when I started to feel a bit queasy.

Bricking it at the Orbit

We went up in the lift and the view as you step out at the top is incredible. You know that you’re going to be high up but it’s truly spectacular. There are two giant curved mirrors which are works of art and turn the view upside down depending on where you stand. We later found out that the mirrors are worth £1,000,000 each and the phase “Don’t touch the mirrors” was soon used by the whole team- regularly! The room is round and it has a square hole in the middle with floor to ceiling windows so you can look down at the twisting structure below. That’s where the artists were going to be dangling. OMG!

My task was to hang a curtain in front of the windows in the centre that would be dropped down and reveal the products and the artists. I was going to have to somehow secure a curtain pole to the ceiling of this amazing structure!!!

The props

When it comes styling a launch like this you have to make sure you answer the clients brief whilst making sure that the products take centre stage. After the reccy I went away and drew out what I thought the room should look like. Around each window in the centre would be two plinths to display one colour toaster and kettle. The main colour theme for the whole launch was red so we had red twice.Bricking it at the Orbit

Along the far wall I devised a stream of ribbons hanging from the ceiling and some criss cross ribbons at two windows which were going to be situated behind two easels showing off Avvolta inspirationsBricking it at the Orbit

The big job

The hardest part of this launch for me was the curtain. How do I attach a curtain pole to the ceiling and how do I make the curtain stay up and fall down when needed and not pull the ceiling down at the same time?

The Event organiser for the Orbit said it was fine to use plaster board raw plugs and screw into the ceiling but I wasn’t so sure. What if I break it – it’s a national monument after all! How would I do that anyway? And how do you make curtains fall down on cue?

I had a good few sleepless nights over that curtain pole I’ll tell you – and I usually sleep like a log!  I have a background in product design so I tend to see these sorts of problems as completely solvable. Team that with a husband who has worked in builders merchants for years and knows all about all sorts of tools and equipment. I could do this. Couldn’t I?

Well it turns out I would have to! As soon as I decided that maybe I needed a set builder to help I couldn’t find one who was free. After a conversation with one who told me that this curtain set up is called a Kubiki curtain where it drops down and he could do it for £2-3/k. Two thousand pound! For a curtain!! Turns out it is done electronically with a remote and you simply push a button and the curtain pole releases the curtain. That was out of the question. I had to do it.

THE curtain!

A Kubiki curtain is when a curtain pole is used to support a curtain which has ringlets at the top. Each ringlet sits on a spoke and when you’re ready the pole moves forward and the curtain drops off the spokes and gently falls to the ground. Easy right?

Did I mention that the curtain had to be four meters wide to hide the whole of the front window? I managed to make a very light weight curtain pole in four sections using a thin piece of wood with pipe clips holding it in place. The curtain pole was made using a thin white plumbers tube. I knocked nails into the tube at regular intervals then matched the rivets on the curtain to the nails. Then all I had to do was set it up.

In the end the ceiling didn’t need any screwing at all. I just used wire threaded through the holes in the ceiling  to secure the wooden boards in place then popped the curtain pole into position. The problem came when I did a test run the night before the event. The curtain kept dropping down before I’d put the last panel on. Oh SHIT!

The solution

I worked out that if I placed a piece of ribbon over the nails and attached them from behind we could cut them to release the curtain for the drop down. The only worry was that we weren’t going to get a trial run. To say I was stressed out would be an understatement. I didn’t know if it was going to work. No – one could talk to me while I was setting up the curtains and at one point I said to the client “I really wouldn’t talk to me right now!” as I was up a ladder fiddling with ribbons and curtain poles. – Sorry G!

Launch day

The plan from the pr’s point of view was to gather up the guests at the base of the Orbit, bring them up together in the lift and give them coffees and breakfast canapés then do the speeches, watch a short video then drop the curtain to reveal the products on plinths and the arial performers. All the guests were standing right next to the curtain. One person’s shoe could have sent the whole thing down! 

The guests stood around chatting for much longer than expected. My lovely and very calm assistant Kasia and I were positioned behind the curtain ready to cut the extra ribbons and give the curtains a tug if they did’t fall. The PR’s were positioned along the front of of the curtain to stop anyone from touching it. It could have done at any moment. I was bricking it!

One of the PR’s was standing behind the curtain with us with a walkie talkie to ensure the music for the arial artists and the curtain drop was perfectly timed. It felt like ages that we had to wait to drop that curtain and all the time seeing peoples elbows poking the curtain. I felt sick. When we finally got the go ahead Kasia and I cut the two central curtain ribbons and then the outer before I had to give the curtain a gentle tug for the whole curtain to drift elegantly down. It worked! Pfew!Bricking it at the Orbit

I’m not afraid to admit that I actually shed a tear of relief once we had pulled it off.

Here’s the video of the event.

After the curtain came down everyone stood and watched the artists who were mesmerising. I can’t believe they dangled 114m up. So brave!

The guests had the chance to go down the Orbit slide which is the tallest and fasted slide in the world – or so I was told. I was just happy with a fallen curtain.

EmmaMT x

Curtain drop video :Gareth Griffiths

event photography:

Crazy curtain styling: EmmaMT

Assisted by Kasia Borowiecka 

Additional event set up: Emma Fishman & Bethan Reen 

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