I have a bit of a fascination with fashion. I love reading fashion blogs, love the challenge of making the most of my tiny wardrobe budget. I’ve even considered adding a weekly What I Wore type feature- New York Starvinging Artist Style?- to New York Cliché. Would you read it? (I see my dude readers shaking their heads adamantly nooooo.) I love New York Fashion Week.
I always get caught up in the madness of these bi-annual seven days. For three years I lived in it. Literally lived a block away from it. The September NYFW moved from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center was the same month I moved to W 64th Street. Any time I left the house, I passed by the tents, by the photographers snapping pictures of attendees, by the back stage entrance where all the front-row celebrities exit their town cars. I even worked many events thrown in conjunction with Fashion Week, most memorably one with horribly bitchy models. I saw so many inside elements of America’s biggest fashion parade, but the inside of the tents remained a total mystery.
I always wanted to get inside the tents, even strategized ways of sneaking in. Gigantic, impermanent, impenetrable, canvas structures: they are the main venue of all the runway shows. You can’t get in with out a press pass or your name on a list. Money doesn’t buy you a ticket to a fashion show, unless your a socialite, but the point is the tickets are not for sale. It’s incredibly exclusive. You have to be “deemed worthy” to attend one of the shows.
This year, I found a loop hole. Volunteering your time will get you in the tent. That is how I found myself backstage for the final show of Fashion Week. Amongst frazzled designers, irate PR people, and dozens of naked models who needed me to help them get dressed.
Oh models. In another time and place, they would be considered freaks: Step right up, folks, and see the Living Skeleton! She’s taller than a man! She doesn’t know how to smile! Today we’re fascinated by their combination of beauty and alien-like features (also because the industry is so expert at delivering standards of beauty). Models and volunteers all arrived at the same time. In some instances, it was obvious which category a person fell into. But for the most part, it wasn’t apparent. Bundled in winter jackets and wearing no make up, they mostly looked like normal girls. After hair and makeup teams poured over them for hours, they’d be unrecognizable glamazons. It was a fascinating transformation to watch.
I started out helping assemble gift bags. Which was great because the woman spearheading this was a real sweetheart. She kept thanking me profusely for my help and even gave me a gift bag with some real nice makeup swag as a token of her gratitude. This absolutely goes against the cliché of the fashion industry where you expect cold ice queens. Which was by far the majority of people I was working for. Sure, I get you are under a lot of pressure, but belittling and barking at someone who is volunteering their time to help you is inexcusable, insane.
We went on the runway to place the gift bags. It was cool to be in a place I’ve seen so many pictures of.
After we placed the gift bags for the first and second rows was when it started to get crazy. Coming up on show time, there weren’t enough models, all the designers had to share them. This was the closing fashion show, a benefit for AIDS research, this was not Michael Kors. All volunteers not wearing jewelry were called upon to help as dressers. The models would come off the runway, they needed to get out of their previous outfit as quickly as possible and into the next one- with different shoes, jewelry, and makeup and hair adjustments. This all had to happen in about 5 minutes. Dressers help them into all those elements. Suddenly I was thrown into a very important position, one I knew nothing about and had no experience beyond dressing myself.
The next 30 minutes was a blur of bracelets, zippers, cramming feet into complicated shoes, finagling armholes, and boobs. So much boobs. The girls would come running at me naked save for tiny nude colored thongs, and I would pray they knew which dress was theirs (I was uninformed other wise) which I would take off the hanger and affix on their body. Most were complicated clothing pieces. I spent a whole 90 seconds my finger at a girl’s butt crack coaxing a stuck zipper to go up. 90 seconds was just enough time to realize how awkward it was.
There were male models there as well. I didn’t dress any of them. They had a much more leisurely job as none of them were shared by designers, they each only had to walk once. Three very distinctive types were present in the male models, there was no obvious pattern with the ladies. We had the brigade gorgeous black men, the commune of long haired, scruffy guys, and then the requisite “pretty boys”. This categorizing was quite an enjoyable analysis.
Were the models bitchy? Some were. Some rolled their eyes when I had no idea how to cram ridiculous shoes on their feet. They would come off the runway shaking: I’m guessing from nerves, stress, and probably lack of protein. You think it’s an easy job- you just walk and do what you’re told. You’re only out their for two, maybe three minutes! Their entire job is less than three minutes! Yeah, but then you realize one tiny mistake is a gigantic percentage of that three minutes. They have to be flawless, and that’s not human nature. Some of them were super sweet, thanking me for my help. Most of them were really young. I over heard one say she was 15! What a strange, strange way to spend your teenage years.
So, did I enjoy my time back stage? Yes, I’m glad I did it. Would I ever want to do it again? Hell no. It was quite the experience. The cliché that people in the fashion industry have no sense of humor is absolutely based on truth. Now I can dress someone else in about two minutes, maybe this will help me never be late to work again. For me the mystery of the Fashion Week tents has been solved.