Dressers, Stand By Your Racks!
I wouldn't have bothered attending at all had I not been given an opportunity to work backstage as a dresser for a few runway shows. Unless you're invited, it's really hard to attend otherwise. My first and last ones were both in the tents at Bryant Park, and the rest were scattered around in art galleries or other open spaces. As a volunteer, I was to help a model get into the designer's ensemble without mishap, which includes clothing, jewelry, shoes, and other accessories. Since the clothing pieces were actually prototypes, it was important to make sure that everything got returned. When the show ended, I was responsible for making sure everything the model wore was accounted for and packed up.
The first show was a sudden shock for me when I stepped in backstage, an hour and a half before the official start time. After checking in just inside the back entrance, I was directed to the prep area. It was surprisingly sparse but frantic with activity. The makeup and hair areas were filled with long tables and chairs. Clip lights were mounted and floor length mirrors were precariously propped against tent poles horizontally. It literally felt primitive and tent-like, as all the "pretty stuff" was reserved for the front house or on the models themselves. A high profile show, the designer's crew had ordered food from Balthazar and there were even tiny bottles of champagne (which were popped and tossed back with enthusiasm way before the show even started) mixed in with the soda cans. Most of the models hadn't even shown up yet at this point. I learned afterward that most shows start late and the models usually were scurrying in from another venue's runway. Shows started late either because they were waiting for key audience members (buyers, press, celebrities) or for models.
The backstage experiences blended together for the most part. It is always busy backstage. Make-up, hair, and nail artists had to prep the "girls" and sometimes men as soon as they walked in. Dressers were usually fussing with the loose threads, but mostly lounging about till "first look" was called a few minutes before the show started. Shoes were tried on and were sometimes switched up or shared. Photographers with backstage passes stalked about, snapping up shots left and right, usually getting in the way of the preppers. If the press or non-preppers were preventing us from doing our jobs, we were given permission to practically shove them out of the way, as the timing for these events don't allow much flexibility once the show starts. The designer(s) alternatively hurried about with last minute tweaks and fittings, chatted it up with friends or staff, or was giving full blown interviews to TV crews.
When the clothing arrived and was hung on wheeled clothing racks, everything was still bagged and needed to be inspected and unwrapped. "Looks" were tagged separately and were numbered in the order that they were to appear on the runway. An oak tag sign was included with each look, listing the clothing, jewelry, shoes, and other details that were part of each ensemble. A photo of the full outfit was included so we knew how to dress the models, and the first name (if necessary, last initial) and a picture of the runway model was attached to the tag. We delinted and unbuttoned/unzipped at this point so that clothing could be slipped on as quickly as possible. Once we were assigned an outfit or outfits, we were reminded to stay by our rack and be available to the models whenever they needed to get dressed.
I was always assigned to pretty easy outfits - most of them were just one piece dresses with few accessories. The other dressers, mostly women, were usually from FIT. Some of them were also new, but others had been doing this for years. Most of them also seemed to be interested in becoming stylists. They usually came prepared with a delinter roller, tiny scissors, and other tools. I came empty-handed but usually borrowed if I needed to.
The models were usually prepped by hair, makeup, and nail artists before they changed. Models remained dressed in street clothes until they are asked to change into their first look. This is to minimize damage or creasing of the clothing. Linen was probably the worst in this regard. Shirts had to be carefully slipped off as hair and possible hairpieces and hats needed to remain undamaged. Sometimes, this wasn't possible as they sometimes showed up with tight necked shirts - you'd think that they'd make sure to wear button-downs or wide necked items! Women did not wear bras under any of the outfits on the runway, and always came wearing a nude thong. Men showed up in whatever standard clothing they had - which was sometimes problematic.
Male models didn't really need our help, as they practically dressed themselves. Pretty much our only responsibility with them was to make sure their clothing got back on the hangers after the show. Zippers, hook and eye closures, ties, buttons, shoes, and jewelry were more plentiful amongst the women's outfits. Most models wanted their high heeled shoes strapped on as tightly as possible so that they could walk securely during their aggressive runway struts.
Most of the shows I did had very few models that had to walk down the runway with more than one outfit - except for the very last show. This was a blessing, as otherwise she literally would have a minute or two to strip and reclothe in the new outfit, change shoes, and possibly have hair and makeup retouched. Probably the most problematic items were women's shoes, as they often had to be wrestled on and were sometimes difficult to latch, tie, or otherwise manage. And even though shoes usually stayed the same between looks for a model, shoes needed to be off so that the first outfit could be removed. The clothing for the second outfit was slipped on quickly, and as zippers buzzed and buttons were buttoned, shoes were again strapped on. A few models had to change into three different outfits!
Once every model is in his/her first outfit, they are lined up in order and the music starts pumping. The crazy period is very short and is concentrated to those ten or more minutes that the show is actually running. If a model has to change, there is a mad rush of makeup artists, hair stylists, and dressers towards the model as soon as she steps off the stage to get her prepped for the next look. For the last show, I was responsible for helping with the shoes for changing models. Because of the onslaught of so many bodies, it's actually hard to try to, say, get her shoe off when she's hopping around on one foot to get the tight pants off and the makeup artist and other dressers are pressed close and are in the way. Somehow, I managed and she's sent out again in the lineup.
Once every look is presented, most shows end with a finale - but not always. If they do it, every model is again paraded onstage for a sweep before the designer goes out and greets the audience. Because of this, it was important for the models not to step out of the clothing before the end of the show. Backstage helpers join in with the audience by clapping and congratulating the designer on a successful show.
At this point, the show is over and it becomes very crowded behind stage. Tons of people from the audience pour in. Interviews are being conducted and the noise gets rather loud. The makeup, hair, and nail artists pack up and leave as soon as possible if they don't have to do anything else with the models. The models toss off their last outfits as quickly as humanly possible so they can hop over to their next gig. Dressers must rehang each garment and account for each accessory. Looks are rebagged and condensed onto as few racks as possible. Everything accounted for, we are thanked and dismissed, and usually wander into the front of the now eerily empty house and make a beeline for the tent lobby, which allowed entry into all the tent venues (it's one giant tent that is compartmentalized). Trade publications are stacked up, ready to be grabbed, and it's now time to snag a complimentary drink and relax!
And that's the whole crazy process, more or less. Pretty straight forward but insane! My next entry will be about my impressions and feelings about the experience, so check back soon!