Confessions of a Fashion Industry Insider
Fashion Week brings glitz, glamour and Champagne-fueled parties, but there is a side to the pageantry that most folks never see—from model tantrums to outfits so dangerous that they can’t be worn safely—here is what goes on behind the scenes
From the outside, the fashion industry and its grand production, Fashion Week, looks like one big party, an endless parade of beautiful clothes on beautiful people. But behind all those A-list parties lies the truth – long stressful days leading up to the main event: A runway show that lasts all of 10 minutes. To get the dirt on what really goes on behind the scenes, we talked to two designers and a fashion PR maven who know exactly what goes into making a collection and all the drama that happens behind the scenes. In the words of one designer, “Fashion Week is way less sexy than one would think.” You won’t believe what we found out …
… four months of work for 10 minutes of glitz.
Twice a year, designers gather to present their collection for the next season to editors, buyers … and the world at Fashion Week. Needless to say this takes a lot of preparations, with work starting three or four months before the next show. But even with that lead time, there is always a mad dash as show date approaches. And things get tense. “We start work at 9am and don’t leave until 9pm, and we do not have weekends for one month before the show,” says one designer. “Who wouldn’t be sensitive in this situation?” And forget holidays. “Designers, patternmakers and sewers all worked this past Labor Day,” she dishes.
… and backstage on the day of looks exactly like it does on Project Runway.
The day of the show is when the intensity reaches its height — not helped by last-minute changes. “We cannot finish it if the design director changes his mind a day before the show,” one designer says. As the clock ticks down to show time, the madness continues. “Sewers are sewing right before the show opens,” she says. “We prepare for the show for four months, but it happens all the time. I do not know why.” Our PR insider concurs. “Backstage is insanity at a fashion show,” she says. “You’d be surprised how many outfits you see on the runway that are safety pinned on the inside or taped to the model — anything to just get it down the runway in one piece.”
… the models are just as bitchy and underfed as you’ve heard.
Designers are pulled in a million different directions in the days leading up to Fashion Week, but that’s nothing compared to the models who, if they are lucky, walk in multiple shows. But that overscheduling leads to problems. “We know it is the busiest time for models, but models do not come on time,” says one designer. “Sometimes they do not even show up for fittings.” This is a democratic perspective compared to how our PR contact feels. “It’s a constant negotiation,” she says. “Like dealing with a three-year-old who won’t wear matching shoes. And drinks too much Champagne.” And yes, the stereotype that models leave the craft services tables untouched is true. “We prepare food when we need to fit and photo-shoots all day,” our designer says. “They just do not eat.”
… but the models also deal with some really uncomfortable (and dangerous) footwear.
But, of course, while everyone is huddled backstage, hoping the safety pins hold, the models are the ones taking center stage and tottering on high heels on slippery runways. “We sent a girl out, and about 10 seconds later we heard a giant ‘thud,’ followed by an audible collective gasp from the audience, and then total silence,” a backstage regular says. “Even the live band that was playing had stopped. Two beats passed, and the girl picked herself up, strutted back into line, and the band picked up again. The audience actually cheered for her.”
… you will feel fat, even if you’re not.
Being around glamazons can take its toll. “I am just a normal person, but I am just a small, big-headed and fat one in front of models,” says one designer. “It definitely effects me. I always think that I need to lose weight to fit into smaller dresses.” Staying on the cutting-edge is important and reflects on your success. “If you try to eschew fashion during this time you will regret it,” she says. “Trust me.” Another designer takes the exact opposite approach. “I personally care less about the way I look, the longer I work in fashion,” she says. “I take it way less seriously than I used to.”
And while the celebs in the front row are dressed to the nines, when you are working the shows, you have to remember that you are not the main attraction. “I’ve learned to wear super-functional outfits. Flat shoes only!” says one designer. “I also learned to wear outfits with giant pockets, so I could stuff them with safety pins, lint rollers and double-stick tape as I rushed to make last-minute fixes.”
… even if you’re at Fashion Week you rarely get to see any of the shows.
One big downside is that the only show you’ll likely get to see are the ones involving the clothes you created — and are probably sick of. “Working for a designer means you don’t get invited to other shows,” says one designer. “Why would you give precious show invites to the competition?” There are ways to sneak in, though. When one designer was in fashion school she says she “went to the Lincoln Center and walked around to a backstage entrance. If you ask [a staff member] and smile, they would let you in with them. It sounds foolish, but it works.”
… the benefits are fleeting.
The fashion industry isn’t known for its high salaries, so unless you come from money you likely won’t be able to afford to buy the clothes you created. But brands want their employees looking their best when they are in front of the editors and buyers, which means the sample closet doors are open for Cinderella moments. But don’t get too comfortable in that $1,000 dress. “My co-workers and I look through the closet for the outfits the day before the show day,” says one designer. “Of course, it is just for a day and we have to return them.” And don’t even think about “forgetting” to bring everything back the next day. “The current season samples are precious, and often one of a kind, so they are never given away!” warns another designer.
… but you at least you get to party and take home favors.
There are some bonuses that don’t have to be returned at the end of the night. According to our brand developer, who attends many parties over the course of Fashion Week, “perks include invites to parties, name-dropping so you don’t have to wait in lines for those parties, welcome goodie bags, goodbye goodie bags, just-because-I-want-t-kiss-your-ass goodie bags …” And what is in all those goodie bags? They are typically overflowing with designer perfumes, sunglasses, makeup, spa gift certificates and sometimes even scarves or T-shirts from the collection that just passed you on the runway.
… though you may feel too tired to even attend that super-cool after party you got invited to.
Once the last model has stomped the runway and all the samples are packed away, it’s time to party at Meatpacking District spots like Le Bain in the Standard, but sometimes the people who make fashion tick are too tired to even party properly. “We are all stressed out before the show starts, but our stress is gone right after show finishes,” says one designer. “I just want to go to bed early, cook and eat healthy on the peaceful, not working, weekend.” By the end of Fashion Week, our brand developer has also had enough: “I will RSVP to six things in one night and blow them all off, admit defeat and order a glass of red.”
Of course, they should be resting up since tomorrow begins the prep for next season, when it all starts over again.