The fashion weeks of the ´big four´ set the worldwide precedence for fashion, as we know it today. The offerings of New York, London, Milan and Paris are landmark events within the industry and a result of the perfect storm of trend forecasting, talent, career development and a response to the world at present. Even if you work behind the scenes, or you are simply an admirer, you can certainly relate to the thrill of it all.
It´s always the final and highly polished result which is presented to the public and streamed to billions across social media channels worldwide. However, behind these high-definition pan angles, there are a dedicated group of individuals whose job is to plan and initiate each and every detail to ensure the success of the ´runways show.´ Many of the visuals that you see cascading down the runways would, quite simply, not exist without the talents and skills of the hairstylists, makeup artists, casting directors, producers and publicists, to name a few.
In order to present a more detailed understanding about the execution of these live fashion events, we spoke with five experienced industry creatives who are involved, deep behind the scenes, on some of the most revered runway shows of the fashion calendar. This is what they had to say.
Gia Kuan, PR
What is your role in a fashion show?
In the context of Fashion Week, the PR’s role is multifold: depending on the size of the brand and level of involvement, I work closely with my designers on anything from advising the most opportune timeline to show, assessing any competitor conflicts, scope of show (catwalk, presentation), size, thematic and sometimes I also contribute to the general aesthetic and layout of the show while working in tandem with a production team. I work closely with the designer on their collection statement and release language for the season so we’re able to relay the right narrative to the press.
What are some typical challenges that arise for you during Fashion Week?
Being able to multitask and manage your workload and your resources during a very fast-paced week. The key word during this period of time is to anticipate; we start the prep work much earlier in advance so that it doesn’t feel too overwhelming during the week. Another challenge is to manage people’s feelings and expectations: everyone is stressed and running from one place to another. There is little waiting time and patience – a little honesty, compassion, and understanding of people’s situations during this time can go a long way.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working in PR?
For me – everything! PR is not a job for everyone but it is as much about the process as it is about the result. Most people are rewarded by the outcome: when that celebrity finally wore your look, when you get that feature you’ve been working so hard for. But for me, it’s the process of it, pitching and strategising, that is all really fun and rewarding on its own.
What are some of the best ways to leverage a brand’s visibility during fashion month?
Big doesn’t mean better. And sometimes, it might not make sense to do anything during Fashion Week at all. The best way is different for every brand I work with, depending on the brand’s ethos and its audience as well as the designer’s goals. Perhaps doing a small, focused dinner with top editors and friends of the brand is the most effective way to get your message through. For another brand, it might be a 1,000-person concert. Being able to understand and access the best strategy for visibility is my favorite part of the job.
Clare Rhodes, Casting Director
What is your role in a fashion show?
I do a pre-casting with my team, seeing the new faces that have come to the city We meet them, take their photos, and see how they walk. Then we make edits and select girls for certain shows pertaining to our client’s aesthetic and vision. Then we will do castings from these selects with our clients and the stylist. Once we are at the confirming stage with our clients, we then negotiate the girls and their rates. Then come the fittings and the run of show, where we decide where the girl should be in the lineup. This can be organic, but we also do consider where the girl is in her career. Come show day, we check girls in, we help the hair and make-up team check them to make sure they have all had beauty done. Then it’s first looks, line up, and the show begins!
What are some general things that you look for in a model when you’re casting them for a show?
It really depends on my clients at the time and the vision of their brand. I do like to connect to the girls; we see each other a lot over the week and having a laugh and conversation makes a world of difference. I like to know how they are doing and to make sure they are feeling okay. As it gets later into the week, they are getting tired and I think it’s nice to see a friendly face. They work very hard.
What are some challenges that would arise for a casting director?
CR: Cancellations and girls being pulled for money jobs when they have been fit and the look has been altered. This season I had a girl who was sick and we had to replace her at midnight with a call time the following day of 9 a.m.
Diversity and inclusion seem to finally be on their way to becoming pillars of the fashion industry. How important are both of those aspects to you in your casting process?
Very important. It is a continual conversation with clients and agencies. It is very important to everyone that I collaborate with and always has been.
Can you speak to some of the misconceptions of your job?
I think that it appears a very glamorous job, which of course it is, but I think people don’t realise how hard everyone works. The model’s days are long; there are so many people involved in putting on a show, from the casting team to the design, styling, model agents, the beauty teams, set designers. It really does take a village and everyone works so hard to make the magic.
Raisa Flowers has walked in shows like Gypsy Sport and Savage x Fenty, done make-up for magazine editorials in Garage and Paper, and assisted Pat McGrath’s team on runway shows like Coach, Calvin Klein, and Tomo Koizumi.
As a make-up artist, what prep work do you have to do before a fashion show?
Well, as I do this interview I am now preparing to go to Fashion Week in Europe. I really focused on getting my kit as small and light as possible this time, and that is really hard because I’ve used a lot of different products in my work and I never want to leave anything behind. I spent a lot of time de-potting and moving things from bigger packaging to smaller ones. I feel the difference in the weight first off, and also I can now have access to things that were taking up too much space in my kit. So I would say it’s all about the kit organisation.
Do you come up with the looks in collaboration with the designer and stylist(s)? Or is it left to your discretion? If so, what is that collaborative process like?
If we are talking about shows, yes, that is a major thing, especially if you are keying a show [leading the make-up team]. I have only keyed about two shows and I worked with the stylist, hairstylist, and designer to make sure the looks were really on point and it all married together as one. That goes for shoots as well. Everything has to reflect off each other to be a proper shoot.
How do you manage to work on 20-plus models?
I have only keyed like two shows, which to me is very questionable because I feel like I should be doing more — but everything in due time. I did get a team together, and I made sure that the team met the standard of what I needed from them to work as a unit and get things done. If I feel like I need a really strong team then I will use some of my really strong make-up friends. If not, I have a group of young make-up artists that are really talented. I would have them hustle together to see how they work with one another and to see how much confidence they have in themselves.
A big concern among black models in the past has been working with make-up artists who don’t know how to do make-up on dark skin. Is that now a requirement when being hired as an artist on a show?
For most teams, I would hope that would be the case, but a lot of the time that is not what I hear. I know the team I work on is super elite, so knowing how to work with black skin is really important. I haven’t branched out and worked on any other teams so I can’t speak to that, but I know that doing make-up on black skin is something that a lot of people cannot seem to master and it is heartbreaking because a lot of these models get put in uncomfortable situations.
Jawara Wauchope, Hairstylist
What is your role in a fashion show?
Before every Fashion Week, my process starts by taking a holiday and doing some research in libraries. I watch a lot of movies or films even before talking with the designers or stylists so that my mind is fresh with ideas and I’m already inspired by something.
Then, as shows come in and I start speaking with designers, I get in their minds and what they were thinking of before they put their collection together, and I speak to them thoroughly about their inspiration. After that, I have meetings with the designers and look at their inspiration board as well as any pieces that are finished. I send them references that I feel will go with the clothing, and then we come up with a few styles that we think could go with the collection. After we come up with those styles, we do a hair test with the make-up and the designer and then it’s showtime!
What is the difference in styling hair for a shoot versus a runway show?
When it comes to styling hair for a catwalk show, you have to think about movement and think about what the person sees. The shows are pretty quick, so you have to be able to convey a message between 17–20 minutes. I’m very big on details, however. If I feel like there is something that will be grander or more noticeable when seeing it from afar, we will sometimes do something like that. Whereas for a shoot, there’s more time to come up with ideas; there are different shots, angles, and hair changes. Trying to do a hair change for a runway show is crazy. For a shoot, you don’t have to think about the movement of hair and how it’s being styled unless the hair’s movement is being captured in the picture.
What types of challenges arise in styling hair for fashion shows?
Models coming late from another show and arriving 10 minutes before having to go on the runway for the show we are working on. Hairstylists not following directions, designers changing the whole look before the show. Doing the hair and setting it a certain way and then the model coming back with it completely unraveled and disheveled — you name it, I’ve seen it all! Some sponsorships can be funny, but it’s been great since working with Dyson.
What types of things do you make sure to prioritise in your work?
Definitely the details. I really, really, really try hard to preserve the integrity of every model’s hair; I’m very big on hair care. Fashion is fun and it’s amazing and I love to do certain looks, but if it’s going to damage or hurt someone’s hair, I try not to do it at all or do it in a way that won’t hurt it. I also want to prioritise a certain level of craftsmanship in what I do and present my work in the best possible way I can. And then I always prioritise treating everyone ethically. I try to treat everyone nicely, fairly, and kindly. As far as my team is concerned, I don’t tolerate any harsh behaviour. On our team, we are laughing and joking, and I try to always keep that going with myself and in my work.
What is your role in a fashion show?
Generally, the producer serves as the glue that helps hold the project together. They are the ones responsible for ensuring that all the teams are on the same page on where a show will happen, how a project is going to look, who is responsible for what, and making sure things run smoothly the day of. More specifically, I’m generally involved with the client on sourcing locations, walking them through how I see the space being utilised, the advantages and disadvantages of each space. From there, I work with one of our architects and guide the design and layout of the show. After that I work on model timings, choreography, music, and lighting, and come up with the sort of run of show that makes sense for our concept.
What does preparation for a show look like for you and when does it start?
Preparation usually starts 4–5 months ahead of a show. The first thing is location, location, location, and oftentimes we’re in discussions with venues for up to a year before we book a show in the space. We’re always on the hunt for new and unused spaces, as well as nontraditional venues that some other production companies might not go for. Once the location is locked in, it’s months of creative exchange, budgeting, and coordinating logistics to pull together all of the right elements on the right day, and within a certain budget.
What are some of the biggest risks involved with what you do?
So many things can go wrong! Our primary job is being the risk-mitigators on the project, and knowing how to go about working in a way that achieves the concept without putting the project at risk. Of course, with the proper planning, the primary risk just becomes the guests. When there is an unpredictable crowd, that’s when things can get intense.
What’s something about production that many of us might not know?
Often, people think of producing fashion shows as a super glamorous job. While there is definitely some glamour to it, in the end when we are in the middle of the show, the majority of our job is hard work with real-world deadlines, budgets, lots of technical equipment, and leading teams of 20 to 40 people to pull together the dream.
One important thing that lots of people don’t necessarily think about in production is the sustainability aspect of what we do. In focusing so much energy on a 10-minute event, lots of times the environmental impact of what we do gets forgotten. I try to work closely with clients on extending the lifetime of the materials that we use in our production, using as little plastic backstage as possible (if any at all) and reducing the amount of transport necessary for all of the elements. We’re certainly not perfect, but I think it’s more and more important to make an effort.
Article: Charles Daniel McDonald
Photography: Credited To Each Individual