Long before Insta-baiting became a tactic for fashion designers, Rachel Antonoff was already staging creatively themed, experiential and truly delightful New York Fashion Week presentations — from a murder mystery at boutique hotel Lafayette House for fall 2010 to a prom for fall 2011, to a spooky Addams Family-inspired affair for spring 2012. She then took a couple years off from showing, producing equally entertaining short films instead, but since fall 2015, she's been back on the schedule and clearly has not come close to running out of ideas. On Thursday evening, she'll follow up last season's "Troop Beverly Hills"-esque Plaza Hotel aviary camp with a "big musical performance" involving a live band, choreography and professional dancers.
We caught up with Antonoff last Friday — at which point rehearsals hadn't started and she'd only just confirmed a venue (she's currently looking for set help if you're free). Read on to find out what Fashion Week is like for a designer who pulls off some of the most impressive shows with a tiny budget, while also, you know, designing clothes for them.
In your case, you're both designing a full collection and executing a show in a unique venue with lots of moving parts. How do you juggle those things?
The clothes happen first because the prep time for a collection is three to four months: it's designing prints, ordering fabrics, having the patterns done, sampling... it takes quite a while. Then we often have the idea for the show while we're designing our line because the collections are so heavily themed. We've had [this season's idea] for a long time because we've always wanted to do a musical theater performance, but in terms of the actual show prep, for some reason it always ends up happening really last-minute. We'd just confirmed our venue on Friday of last week, and then on Monday we found out it fell through, so we confirmed our new venue, like, yesterday.
This past week, what were the biggest tasks you had to get done?
Finding the venue was a big one. It's not like we're really showing at studios that might be easy to obtain; we really like for the venue to represent the idea, and feel special and different, so that can be a bitch to find. Casting is usually a really big thing in the two weeks before, but we're working with all dancers so it's kind of a different ball game. It's not easy but they're not running around to a million different [castings], so their availability is totally different, so that was actually easier than normal.
What's left to do before Thursday?
I know we still need to cast one dancer, rehearsals start tomorrow, the entire set needs to be constructed and erected and then it needs to not snow next Thursday or Wednesday. We're doing a live band instead of a track... a lot of what you would assume takes months and months needs to happen between now and Thursday.
How do you find people — in this case musicians and dancers — that one couldn't just reach out to modeling agencies for?
One thing I find really fun about the way we do shows is every season I get a mini education in a subject or an area I know little about, so we started with who would be a great choreographer. I got some recommendations from friends and then we found this incredible guy Charlie Williams, and he knows a lot of dancers. He recommended our musical director. I don't in my normal life find myself researching... like I could tell you where you could get pink princess phones in bulk.
I think it's pretty easy to put these things together if you’re working with an unlimited budget, but we like to get creative and have as much donated as possible, so that's kind of a fun game in itself. Like, how do I get 1,700 square feet of blue carpet donated? And why would the company want to do that?
So... how do you do that?
One thing I found is sometimes if you just ask that's weirdly enough because people think, 'oh that'll never happen.' Also, who's calling and asking for that much blue carpet anyway? Sometimes people are great, they like the idea, they're down with it. Sometimes they need a little bit of a name on the program, name in the press release to grease the wheels, and sometimes they need a little bit of human begging, which I'm not above.
No shame in that. So why is it important for you to do more than a typical presentation in a studio space?
I do think that's also great; I don't want to poo poo that. I think for us, the collections are always designed around a story, and this really is our twice-a-year opportunity to say, 'here's the story, this is the story come to life,' so that's really important to us — and also really fun.
Do you worry about reviews or how people will receive the collection?
Not so much because I usually really back what we're showing and feel good about it, and proud of it. I don't really give too much of a shit about that. But one thing I feel a little nervous about this time is just that we're doing something new that we've never done before. Usually whether we're doing a presentation that's, like, the set of an outdoor aviary society or a prom, it's still charted territory for me. Doing a live performance is new, and it feels like higher stakes because I know less about what to expect. So naturally I've had the very on-the-nose anxiety dreams about, like, I don't remember my lines, that kind of thing.
What happens when the show is over?
There's always more of a strike than we anticipate. I think the mindset beforehand is very much, let's just get through the show, let's have it be a success. Then it's over and it's like, oh right, how do we dispose of 4,000 branches? Then there's usually dinner, but this [show] is at 8 p.m., so I would imagine, sleep.
What makes it all feel like a success?
I think literally having it go the way you imagined it going is what feels like a success.
This interview has been edited and condensed.