What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the words, “fashion week”? Maybe you picture models prancing down a runway in outfits you would never consider acceptable in everyday life. You might think of desperate rich ladies who have nothing better to do than gawk at a designer’s newest collection. Or perhaps, like me, you’ve watched The Devil Wears Prada a few too many times and all you can picture are ruthless Miranda Priestly types. But no matter your opinion (or lack thereof) on fashion week, after you get over the fact that most outfits cost more than the average college tuition, it is without a doubt an important cultural event.
I’ve always liked fashion, and by “like” I mean I like fashion in the same way I like working out. I go through phases. Sometimes I will feel the urge to run (or shop) but then I notice people who are way faster (or more stylish) than me. I might try to keep up, but eventually I run out of energy (or money), so I get tired and quit. It’s a cycle that occurs regularly so, while I’m no self-proclaimed stylist, I still get a kick out of occasionally observing the world of fashion.
I have never worked with fashion before (unless you consider a three week stab at retail “working with fashion”) but I was recently invited to work backstage at New York Fashion Week. My friend has been dressing models for the past couple of years, so when I got a text asking if I wanted to help, I happily accepted. Ignorant to everything that goes on backstage at a fashion show, I figured that if I ended up having a horrible time at least I could get a story out of it.
To begin with, it wasn’t at all as stressful backstage as I thought it would be. My three friends and I arrived at the venue in plenty of time before the show started. After signing in and stowing our belongings, we stood in the back and watched the buzz of dozens of people all doing their different jobs in one room. There were models, hair stylists, make-up artists, photographers, bloggers, show coordinators, sound people, and people whose job I couldn’t identify. Everyone just looked as if they were supposed to be there. They reminded me of the snow outside: graceful and cool.
After being briefed on what was expected of the dressers, each of us was assigned a model whom we would dress. I found my model’s clothing rack and discovered that she would be the first and second to last look in the show. The first outfit was made almost entirely out of jean material. The high heeled shoes were zippered to the bottom of the pants and the latex gloves were attached to the jacket. Her final look was a gorgeous and complicated-looking tan velvet dress that I was ordered to touch as little as possible lest I get fingerprints on the one-of-a-kind gown.
In the time between getting oriented with the outfits and waiting for my model to arrive from hair and make-up gave me space to survey my surroundings. The large venue was drafty with an almost tangible excitement lingering in the air. The conversations circling around were centered on fashion tips and after-parties as I made small talk with other dressers around me. The designer, a slim, thirty-something Taiwanese woman, stopped to talk to each dresser while motioning to the outfits. Slightly touching my first outfit she smiled and said, “Please be careful of the lipstick,” and that was all the instruction I got from her. I was relieved she made me feel welcome rather than inferior. As she walked out of the room I decided I could refute my presuppositions that these fashion die-hards were all pretentious. I’ve seen nastier coffee baristas.
Finally it was getting close to show time. Models started getting out of hair and make-up and walking into the dressing room one by one. My model ended up being one of the last to arrive so I quickly got her dressed in the wild jean outfit with barely any time to introduce myself.
Within minutes the show was ready to start. After a quick beauty fix my model got into line, but no less than a minute later she was already back and rushing to get into her second outfit. With my model standing a good four inches above me, three of us had to try several times to get the extravagant dress situated perfectly. After fastening all the clasps and applying self-adhesive to keep the black tights in place, I was off to find the heels that were supposed to be handed to me after look twenty-three; after I finished buttoning the sky high heels with shaky fingers my job was over.
When the show ended everyone backstage cheered. After saying goodbye to my model, I packed up the outfits in dry cleaning bags, took a few pictures with my friends to commemorate our time together and walked out of the venue.
During my subway ride home I contemplated the day and realized I had not felt so content in a really long time. I was energized. Grateful. I don’t look at fashion the same way anymore because perhaps there is more to it than whatever meets the eye. People don’t get excited about intangible ideas, they get excited about art. I had a tiny part in realizing a designer’s creative vision and that felt like something worth remembering. I suppose I not only got a story this fashion week, but a new perspective.