When models step onto the runway, they're the picture of poise — or youthful buoyancy, or pouting angst. Whatever mood the designer is trying to project in a given season, it all comes together in a fast-paced frenzy backstage in the hours and minutes leading up to showtime. And while everyone from the nail techs to the hairstylists are working quickly, nobody has to do his or her job in quite so compressed a period of time as the dressers, whose sole task is to get the models in and out of multiple outfits over the course of a single show. We're talking a turnaround of about 15 seconds here. These ladies walk fast.
Who are the men and women who make this backstage magic happen? I talked to a host of dressers to find out how they landed this intense (but sweet) gig and what they've learned in the process. Some are just trying to get their start in the industry, while others want to address models' "spiritual needs." Read on for their anecdotes.
Eva, backstage at Creatures of Comfort: "I interned for a different company, for VPL by Victoria Bartlett, and she's very close friends with Jade [Lai, the designer of Creatures of Comfort]. One of her interns asked if I could show up here and help out with the fashion show. Some of us are students, some are past interns, some have graduated already and are working our way up. I probably want to design. I just graduated last year, so right now I'm going back to New York — I took a year off in Europe. You have to start somewhere [in fashion]. As soon as the opportunity comes in, just take it, whatever it is."
Sounya, backstage at Creatures of Comfort: "I've done a lot of backstage work back in my country. I'm from India. I've done women's and men's. The basic [advice] is not to get panicked. If someone is new, they often get really panicked. You have 10 seconds, 15 seconds [to change a girl], and that's where you get more nervous. Don't do that. And don't assume that the models don't help. They're also human beings; they help you."
Alissa, backstage at Karen Walker: "I've been doing this for about three years. I'm from the big island of Hawaii. I just came out for this for the week. I'm a mom of two, so I'm a full-time mom.
"I got really into dressing through some friends of mine who come down to New York each season and dress. When I started, I worked with an organization called Models for Christ. It's a nonprofit organization that works to serve both physical and practical needs of fashion professionals, as well as their spiritual needs. [Dressing] is a practical need that we serve. Then on the spiritual side of things... as we connect with people in the fashion industry, we're willing to pray for them or connect them to a local church, that sort of thing. We connect just through our personal relationships, as we meet people, as they express interest. It's not really a pursuit so much as people coming in our path."
Mareva, backstage at Karen Walker, also with Models for Christ: "I'm from Nebraska. I'd love to work in fashion one day. It's really cool to see the dressing aspects, the hair and makeup, the modeling. I don't really know what area I'd like to go into, but something in fashion. I work at a brain and spinal rehab facility, so it's completely different from fashion, but it's a really humbling job. I just flew out for fashion week. I'm doing Diesel Black Gold tomorrow, and I'm doing Rebecca Minkoff; I've done this one a few times, and I really like Karen Walker. I think this is my fifth season.
"I think it's really good to encourage the models. You'll get a lot who are going to multiple shows in a day, and you can speak truth into her and tell her that she's beautiful and does have purpose. You [also] have to be really quick and focused. [Changing has to happen in] probably 15 seconds. You'll have two or three dressers sometimes."
Nisa, backstage at Proenza Schouler: "I've been doing this for close to 15 years. I originally worked on Broadway as a dresser and for some reason there's a great turnaround from dressers who work onstage that connect with the fashion world.
"All the dressers have a meeting with the supervisor, who explains along with the design team the looks and the way we are to handle each garment and each model. We are very particular with how the designs are to look and how they are to go out on the runway. Once the models have walked and they come back, we want to make sure that the fashions that go back to the showroom look as beautiful as they did on the runway in the showroom. It's a wonderful experience to see these designs up close and to work as a team.
"My main point [of advice] would be to research the designer and see their previous looks so that you can become familiar with their aesthetic and their overall look.
"I've done eight shows [this week]. It's crazy, but I enjoy it so much. I am an aspiring fashion illustrator, and seeing the designs up close is just a real treat."
Homepage photo: Imaxtree