New York City’s Fashion Week is a collective of runway shows featuring top designers and their latest collections. The runway shows are where famous and up-and-coming designers bring their garments to market. The shows are no more than 20 minutes of models walking the catwalk to music that underscores the collection’s mood. According to Fern Mallis, Vice President of IMG Fashion (the producers of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week), “It’s an exciting eight days, morning till night, of all things fashion and fashion-related.” Fashion Week sets the trends for the season to follow and prompt boutiques and major department stores to place orders.
This year the tents are sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, so the show is now referred to as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. For more information about Fashion Week, visit www.mercedesbenzfashionweek.com.
Where is Fashion Week held?
Twice a year, in September and February, huge tents get erected in New York City’s Bryant Park, located at 42nd and Sixth Ave. These lavish tents are heated and contain an assortment of sponsored kiosks centered on the Bryant Park Fountain. Each tent is equipped with a runway, seating, backstage dressing area, lighting and sound equipment. Not all fashion designers choose to stage their shows in the tents; some, such as DKNY and Ralph Lauren, have their collections shown off-site or in their Manhattan showrooms.
Who attends and how do people get invited? Can you sneak into the shows?
Fashion week runway shows are invitation-only and attended by celebrities, editors, journalists, stylists, buyers from department stores and boutiques, socialites and the media. According to Richard Renda, a fashion week veteran, “The way you get in is to contact the P.R. firm that handles any particular designer and make a request for an invite and a seat.”
IMG Vice President, Fern Mallis says, “The designer invites the guests. We have 77 shows and in order for a guest to be invited to every show they need to get 77 invites.” Space is limited and designers are very particular about their guest list. It’s more important for a designer to fill their seats with media members, buyers and celebrities than with fashion students, reporters from local papers or friends. According to Mallis, “Shows were originally created for press, and the second audience is retailers, and the balance of the audience is people in the industry that forecast to clients, good customers and great celebrities. Everyone in the industry is a V.I.P.”
The public relation firm representing the designer makes certain that only invited guests enter the show. Roger Padilha, creative director of MAO Public Relations, chuckles as he explains, “We had a very funny incident: Someone said they were a stylist’s son and wanted entry without an invite. The stylist happens to be a lesbian and has no children. We know her very well. So between the security at the tents and the P.R. companies, we know who belongs and who doesn’t.”
When did Fashion Week start?
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is produced by IMG Fashion, which originally was formed by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in 1993. Before that, top designers showed their collections all over Manhattan, from showrooms to hotel ballrooms. According to Mallis, “There were 50 fashion shows in a week and there was no central location. In 1991, I was the executive director of the CFDA. Michael Kors was having a show and chunks of the ceiling were falling—landing on seated press and models on the runway. The audience was looking for exits and it was in the media the next day saying we live for fashion but we do not want to die for it. We addressed the issue of a safe place for designers to show together.”
How do the P.R. companies determine the seating charts?
The runway is centrally located in the tent, and surrounded on each side by rows of tiered seating.
The public relation firm representing the designer plans the seating chart. According to MAO’s Padilha, “Seating for the show is very important and there is almost a rank system in doing the first row. It is the most important row, comprised of fashion editors from the top magazines and buyers from the top retail outlets.” It’s a publicist’s responsibility to make sure the celebrities are seated in the front row and the media is alerted: “Celebrities really help draw attention to a designer’s show,” Padilha says. The closer you are to the front row the better. At the very back is a space referred to as “standing,” an area that can include anyone from publication associates to friends of the designers.
The seating charts are made as soon as the RSVPs are received. “Of course, the seating charts are never finalized until almost the day before the show,” Padilha says. “It’s just like doing seating for your wedding. There are certain people that can’t sit near each other.”
What does it take—and cost—to get a show up and running? How long does it take a designer to prepare for a show?
Runway shows can cost a designer from $26,000 to millions. The price tag is steep, yet the sales and interest generated from the media attention is priceless.
“Seats, risers, security, marketing, the runway, the backstage area with mirrors and lights—everything that people need to run a show is included with the price,” Mallis says. Getting a show up and running takes several months of planning, from creating the collection to hiring the runway staff. According to Nanette Lepore, designer/owner of Nanette Lepore, “I have several people—from the music director in the sound booth [and] the choreographer who calls the show to the hair and makeup team of about 20 people.”
There is no such thing as a typical runway show. The mood of the show varies according to designer and their current collection. Some of the more outrageous shows have ranged from heiresses Paris and Nikki Hilton gracing the catwalk at Heatherette to front row bistro tables with cupcakes at Betsey Johnson, complete with post-show cartwheels by Johnson herself.
The runway is a culmination of months of work, from the design of the collection to the production of the show. Once the collection has a theme or inspiration, the designer sketches ideas of the garments. “There is this huge lay out of ideas, patterns, colors, fabrics, and it takes up to six months to get the collection ready,” Lepore says. “Everything comes down to this one-month crunch before runway.”
Designers and their staff of pattern-makers and sewers first create sample lines. The samples then are fitted to the models. In Lepore’s rush to the runway, she says, “We do 90 percent of the work in the last weeks before the show. It is like cramming for a test. I am better off making decisions on silhouettes as it gets down to the last minutes. Colors and fabric prints get laid out early.”
Months of sketching, sewing, and fitting garments lead to the runway. Lepore says, “Right after the show my designers are flying to Paris to start to look at fabrics and patterns for the new collection,” Lepore says. There is no time to waste when designing and preparing for the next season—which, after all, is only months away.
Are all of the clothes on the runway available for purchase?
Not every garment seen at fashion week remains the same or even makes it to the stores. “The garments definitely get changed,” Lepore says. “Often times [the clothing] goes on the line exactly the same as the show and they get rejected by buyers because they are too fashion forward. I will take some items I really like and make them available only at my store.” If a garment isn’t well-received, there likely is no market for it and it doesn’t get made.
The opinions of the media and the department store buyers dictate what will be bought, changed or dropped from a designer’s collection. “The good thing about the runway show is that it forces you to think in a new direction,” Lepore says. “It challenges us to think ahead and in a new way, since we are working seasons in advance. I have gone through some of my past shows and put items in the showroom a year later because the customer gets used to the idea of the design.”
What goes on backstage at the shows?
The atmosphere backstage is incredibly high-paced, with models, dressers, hair stylists, makeup artists and producers all on the go. The models have to be styled, dressed and rehearsed all before the start of the show. “When the dressers arrive there’s a lot of down time, then 20 minutes of excitement,” says Barbara Berman, owner of BB’s Backstage Productions. “Typically when we arrive, the dressers are assigned to a model. Each dresser has a brief meeting with the stylist to make sure the look is executed properly. Then the dresser will begin prepping the garments, which could include steaming, removing lint, or cutting stray threads.”
Clothing racks, makeup and hair stations, and everyone running the show all are packed into the backstage area. “A Polaroid of the model wearing the look, and a number are hung on each rack,” Berman says. No matter the chaos backstage, the show is timed to music and has what is called a “run of show”—the specific order in which the models, in their assigned garments, take the runway. “It gets hectic but I try to stay really calm,” Lepore says, “because at that point there is nothing you can do. No sense in panicking.”
Jess Alpert-Goldman is a writer and the owner of WorldAccordingtoJess.com, an online store. Jess’s world includes her daughter Willow, husband David, a baby on the way and dog Sammi. “My life’s a constant adventure. There are more journeys to be had and I’ll never be satisfied till I jump up and down on Oprah’s couch”.
When Fashion Week began there were two tents at Bryant Park and an indoor venue at the New York Public Library. Over time the two tents became one huge tent located in the center lawn of Bryant Park.
How are the designers selected for Fashion Week? Are they juried?
Designers at the tents range from industry veteran Bill Blass to new faces like Zac Posen. Fashion Week is the pinnacle of American runways, and designers are eager to show their collections. But not everyone can show under the tents, as time slots are limited.
IMG's Mallis explains, “It takes talent to show in the tents. The shows are in a sequence. We do not double up shows. We have 50 percent of our schedule grandfathered in since day one of the tents being erected, from designers like Michael Kors, Carolina Herrera and more. We know when they show, and they have shown for years. And there are people that are constantly calling to show in the tents. We have seen a lot of names shift through the years. If there is someone we do not know, the professionals here ask for the designer’s reel and press clippings so that they can see if the collection is legitimate.”
Many of the designers at fashion week are well-established brands. Famous designers such as Carolina Herrera, Nicole Miller, Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan, and Betsey Johnson all have their shows at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.