September is here and with it comes that magical time of the year where street styles take over and a special electricity fills the New York City air, signifying one thing: Fashion Week is upon us. Unfortunately, this year due to the pandemic, things will look a bit different than usual. However, this won’t stop us from offering you all you need to know about Fashion Week, past and present, as well as a behind the scenes look into the world of fashion during the frenzy that occurs twice a year.
A Quick History Lesson
Did you know that the first ever Fashion Week took place right here, in New York City in 1943? According to Fashion Week Online, the incomparable Eleanor Lambert (if you don’t know who she is and all that she did for the fashion industry, stop what you’re doing and look her up!) had the ingenious idea to group shows together and present them to very select members of the press in an effort to reinforce American fashion during the occupation of France. She called it “Fashion Press Week” and organized shows by specific times, not yet placing them all in one set location.
It wasn’t until 1993 that shows were featured in one location and even then, the show season was not referred to as “Fashion Week” yet. At the time, these bi-annual shows were actually called “7th on Sixth”, after the event management company founded by the CFDA.
Since then, the locations and the title sponsors have changed various times over the years, but the excitement, energy and overall fantasy of these shows has always remained the same. Fashion Week brings with it a curiosity of what iconic styles and trends will be featured, an air of exclusivity as many of these shows continue to be by invitation-only and a promise of new and exhilarating things to come.
But what exactly goes on behind the scenes at these shows and who is responsible for all of the moving parts that make them the productions they are? In this article, we will break down the key roles that help bring a designer’s vision to life and make its way onto a runway during our two favorite times of the year.
Fashion Week Backstage Roles
THE PRODUCTION TEAM
Many times, designers will hire a production company to create their vision and piece together every single aspect of the show. The producer is the person/team who works closest to the designer, ensuring that every decision made reflects the brand’s aesthetic and the vision of the show. They are the glue that holds the entire event together and usually are in charge of overseeing every detail down to the lighting, sound and even the color of the benches guests will sit on.
Behind the scenes on the day of the show, the producer will oversee model timings, choreography, music and lighting. The production team is also in charge of setup and breakdown, knows the show space the best and therefore is usually the team you will see wearing headsets and controlling traffic backstage during the madness. If you’ve ever worked backstage during Fashion Week, you’ll know that they are the people you go to with a question and also the ones you clear the way for anytime you see them running (they are always running!).
THE PR TEAM
Depending on the size of the brand, the Public Relations team may have different roles before, during and after a show presented during Fashion Week.
Some of the most important responsibilities a publicist has include: inviting press for show day coverage, managing editors backstage, arranging seating charts, overseeing RSVP lists and communicating needs for VIP accommodations and green room interviews. They are the keepers of “the guest list” and have the power to admit or turn away anyone at the door.
Some PR teams are known to work closer to designers on the actual layout, production and timeline of the show while others are in-house teams that know the brand aesthetic and can easily relay the narrative for the season’s collection statement to the press.
Stylists + Collection Coordinators + Model Dressers
While these roles don’t fall under the same team, they do work together very closely behind the scenes and are vital to the success of the show.
Stylists are usually hired in-house by the brand and/or designer and will often have their own small team with one main stylist that is in charge of the rest. They work hand in hand with the designer long before Fashion Week to select the looks – from clothing down to shoes, jewelry and any additional accessories.
Many images are taken and a board, known as the Run of Show, is created with each look numbered and listed in various areas backstage. Once final looks are selected, the Collection Coordinators create small, individual boards – one per look. On each board, they list out every single item the model will wear for the look, specific styling instructions and any additional notes. These mini boards are placed strategically on racks with their corresponding looks backstage for dressers to reference when dressing their model.
Model dressers are oftentimes volunteers whose only responsibility is making sure the model(s) they are assigned are ready with their looks during the show. A dresser could sometimes be assigned multiple models to dress or have 1 model with multiple looks, called quick changes. Usually, these responsibilities go to seasoned dressers who can handle the speed and demands this role can have.
If you’re looking to get your foot in the door at Fashion Week, this is one of the best ways to do it.
Hair & Makeup (HMU)
No fashion show can go on without the incredible work of the hair and makeup teams. Similar to all the others, these teams also have a lead and various assistants for each area of work. By working closely with the designer and lead stylist, hair and makeup teams are able to create the show’s overall visual aesthetic that is cohesive with the collection.
Various rounds of tests are done in the days leading up to the show, sometimes even on the day of. From there, the leads create a similar board of information that breaks down all the details for the stylists that will be working on models backstage the day of the show. The types of styles and colors used can be outrageous and time consuming, making the stylists’ jobs stressful if models arrive later than scheduled due to delays from other shows they’re coming from.
Designers like the late Alexander McQueen were notorious for using hair and makeup as an integral part of the show and an unmistakable element in the fantasy he produced season after season.
IN THE END, the production of a fashion show, especially during Fashion Week, takes an enormous amount of organization, flexibility and teamwork to successfully execute. Every single person that is working behind the scenes has a job to do and is essential in the hierarchy of responsibilities – from producers to runners to volunteers.
Have you ever worked backstage during Fashion Week? What was your favorite part?
From the Founder
To me, the world of fashion shows (especially backstage) will always carry with it an air of magic, suspense and lots of adrenaline. My first encounter with Fashion Week was early on in my life – I was a teenager just starting out my college career at FIT, when I found myself backstage at a Rodarte show as a volunteer model dresser in the tents at Bryant Park. Every single aspect of the madness that went on behind the scenes was euphoric – I was hooked, and to this day, still am. Fast forward almost 20 years later and I am now in charge of these teams, including the dressers I once used to be, at Fashion Week.
There is something about watching it all unfold that mystifies me. Every person is valuable and absolutely necessary backstage. When done right, the back-of-house team is like a well oiled machine that comes together and produces the most exhilarating 5-10 minutes of a designer’s vision possible.
However, for those of you who dream of being part of these events, it is imperative that you understand the level of work that is put in and the level of exhaustion you will feel once the week is over. Working on shows during Fashion Week, at any capacity, is not by any means glamorous. Sure, you will see or sometimes even meet some incredible people – sometimes even celebrities, but your job above all is to maintain professionalism.
Whether you are a freelancer or part of a team, you must always remember that you are a representation of a company. And honestly, if you’re doing your job right, you won’t have time to even ask that celebrity for a picture.