What Fashion Week Is Like for a Production Director

Shows don't happen by magic, you know.
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Tyler McCall
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Shows don't happen by magic, you know.
Rodarte spring 2015 show in action. Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Rodarte spring 2015 show in action. Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

While it's often the designers, models and street style stars that get the lion's share of the limelight during fashion week, there's an entire industry of people who work tirelessly to put together the shows every season. In a series of short profiles, we'll shine the spotlight on those behind-the-scenes talents.

It's not just the clothes that make a fashion show memorable -- the staging and atmosphere play an equally important role in expressing the direction of a collection and creating an experience that will keep the industry talking for months to come.

Those kinds of shows don't happen without some serious help, though. Production company Bureau Betak, run by Alexandre de Betak in Paris, has put together some of the hottest shows this season, including Rodarte, Jason Wu and The Row. The company's production director, Barbara Fourneau, hopped on the phone with us right before Fashion Week kicked off to tell us what it takes to make those magical moments happen.

When do you start preparing for the shows in September?

It depends on the designer, because some designers have a more precise idea of what they want to do quite early in the process. Generally, we start in July. We'll start the venue search three to four months before the show. The venue search is the most difficult part, because there's not that many big spaces available, and now that people are going away from the Lincoln Center tents, all the other spaces are filling up fast. We always want to find the new, special venues no one has shown, so that's a challenge.

How do you find those venues?

We have a good team in-house that does location scouting for us, and they just scan the whole city through their connections. They're ambitious and have character, they go to knock on doors and try to find empty spaces through many different ways.

How do you prepare?

We go to the designers and they give us a brief on the theme of the collection and what they have in mind for the collection, and that directs the type of venue that we're looking for. Other designers have a venue that they like to go for every season, and some others definitely want to change every season, which is always challenging because it's always kind of nice to work in the same space and to change it every season. The challenges are different for every designer. It's brainstorming at first, then we come with a brief for the sets that we're going to do, meet with them and have a brainstorm with them.

What are the steps for getting the space ready?

We propose different locations to the designer, we go visit them and decide which is going to fit better the number of guests they're going to have and what they're going to show in that space, and then we come to the space. It's always tricky because sometimes you have challenges to get the space you want. When we get the space, we can really work more realistically on the set.

When is the busiest time for you guys?

It used to be three or four times a year, but now it's all year long. We have the big crunch time of fashion week, but we do a lot of different events during the year, so we never really have a break anymore. Which is fine! It's better to be busy than not busy.

Barbara Fourneau in action. Photo: Courtesy

Barbara Fourneau in action. Photo: Courtesy

Is there a typical day for you during fashion week?

This season, to be honest, we have a very good team that is extremely organized so we're trying to save ourselves and not be so exhausted at the end of the week, trying to minimize the damage. But the hours are 6 a.m. to sometimes 3 or 4 a.m., depends. I compare it to a marathon, and we have to prepare like we're going into a marathon -- just trying to be as healthy and prepared before as possible, to be mentally strong to handle the pressure and physically strong to handle the long hours.

What's the worst thing that can happen?

That's part of the challenge of this job, you control as much as you can and you prepare as much as you can before, but there's always some unknown factor that comes into the game. I don't know what the worst thing is, because we have such a good team and we all prepare to handle the worst situation, and we all have our backs to be able to help each other, so I don't think there is a worst situation. It's in our job and our role to be ready for anything that can happen, and that's the interest of this job -- there are always challenges and we have to accomplish them. Sometimes we compare ourselves to firefighters, and we just put out fires everywhere and try to make it better all the time and make it happen. In the end, it happens the best way it could -- it's kind of magical.

Is there anything you think people misunderstand about what you do?

I've been doing this for 20 years now, so I don't really realize how people see it from the outside, if they really understand the amount of work that this represents and the details that we put into it. Sometimes, I feel people think it looks so easy, that it doesn't look like so much effort, that they don't realize the details -- but I think it's a good thing that they don't see that, because you want it to be the smoothest possible. I think it's much more work than we think it is from the outside.

When are you officially done with fashion week?

Well, we're done with fashion week after Paris. We're not really done until October, but then we have plenty of other projects which come right at the end of October, so we don't really get a break. While fashion week is happening, you're working on the next projects, so you're always working. We have a break at Christmas when other people have breaks, so when other people are not on their emails we can have a break. We try to take a break in the early summer to be able to charge our batteries and be ready for September, maybe at Christmas to be ready for February, but we have a lot of projects. It's really exciting, it's the good thing about this job, there's always new projects and challenges. Alex [de Betak], the president of the company, is always coming up with crazy ideas and crazy challenges that make us go forward and want to do more. I've been with this company for 16 years, and if it wasn't fun or a great job I think I wouldn't be here anymore.