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What It's Like Backstage at NYFW

Well-oiled madness, in short.

The phrase may be trite, but there's no better term to describe the backstage area of a fashion show than "organized chaos." If you've ever taken a biology class, think of it as the mechanisms by which a cell in a human body operates: There are a lot of players with hard-to-pronounce names shuttling back and forth, but the end product turns out all right when they stick to their assigned tasks and work in concert. 

Backstage begins hours before the show does. A 10:30 a.m. presentation, for instance, might open to press at 6:00 a.m. — and the production teams arrive well before that. Thanks to Fashion Week's unrelenting show schedule, it's not uncommon to see a fleet of models arriving directly from another show suddenly descend upon the room, clutching small plates of catered food they'd grabbed on the way in. At Altuzarra this week, most of the models were well into hair and makeup when a host of major faces rushed into the room, still wearing their sleek ponytails from Alexander Wang.

When a model arrives very late, she might find herself sitting in a chair with hair, makeup and nail techs all going at it simultaneously. Ideally, that's not the case, and the girls move from makeup to hair at a normal pace. You'll find models sitting on the sidelines with their hair pulled back in clips and paper — that's to prevent creases from the pin — munching on food, chatting or reading before a member of one of the beauty teams whisks them off again.

To debunk a popular theory, the likelihood of seeing a fashion person throwing a tantrum backstage at a fashion show is basically nil. Nobody has time for that. The closest thing I saw to that this season was a particularly foul-tempered PR manager who (completely unfairly) lashed out at an intern while checking in reporters. But that's the exception. Efficiency is the driving principle, so don't get in the way and it'll all be fine.

As a first-time backstage reporter last February, my main paranoia was that I wouldn't have any idea where to go or how to approach makeup artists and hairstylists. I needn't have worried. Just as models get moved along to hair and makeup, the various beauty PR teams ferry reporters around to do group interviews with the lead hair, makeup and nail artists. 

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There's usually time before they'll start taking questions, during which you can break off and grab some photos. It's easy to know when the interview is starting: A horde of well-dressed ladies will have suddenly encircled the lead artist and thrust tape recorders toward his or her face.

At some shows, reporters' time backstage is limited and enforced. Sometimes you're given a 20-minute period of time after which you need to GTFO, but the backstage window can also be a leisurely two hours. The size of the space is variable, too. The area can be so small that only a few people can pass between the hair and makeup stations at one time. In other cases, backstage is a large studio space, making it easy for photographers to pull models aside for close-ups. 

Speaking of, here are some pro tips for documenting models' looks. If you're going to take a close up picture of a model getting her makeup done, ask before you do. Often the makeup artist and model will nod at you like you're crazy for even asking, but I've had people thank me on more than one occasion for politely inquiring first. I also had one famous supermodel give me the chilliest look of death imaginable for taking a stalker shot of her unannounced. So now I ask.

As you might imagine, it's nice to give models their space at early morning shows or, you know, when they don't look like they're in a great mood. There's always someone else who's down to have her picture taken. Human empathy goes a long way.

Backstage can be fun, too. Some beauty leads are down to chat and take all of your questions. Makeup artist Tom Pecheux, for instance, is a delight in general and has a wonderfully relaxed attitude toward runway shows. Some models are down to chat, too — just this week our beauty editor-at-large Cheryl discovered that one catwalker had just earned her master's in social work.

At Maison Kitsuné, one of the male models arrived with his feet coated in yellow paint and black toenails (another show). It proved to be a particularly tough removal process, so the nail artist plunked him down in a chair and went at it with another nail tech. Sure, you can get frustrated at the inefficiency of it — or you can laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. They went with the latter.