The Beast of Runway
2009 was the year of my Senior Collection at Cazenovia College. The presentation was given to my class, the younger students and faculty, and a panel of professionals within the industry including the president of Tommy Hilfiger at the time, Betsy. Unlike my fellow graduating class, I had taken the past semester to study abroad while they diligently worked on their own collections. While I learned a lot during my stay at Canterbury, England, I had missed out on free luxury materials donated by a benefactor. When I arrived back in the US I spend the following semester working from home, as my senior collection class was the only credits I had left.
Still, without distractions of college life I was working until the morning of the show. Looking back my collection was completely ridiculous. I was inspired by the freedom of designers like Betsey Johnson and Anna Sui. Bold colors, silhouettes, details. When I watched the video recording of the show I was (...maybe unnecessarily) humiliated in my own efforts. Miraculously, I received a wonderful grade and sincere approval from my peer review.
Since then I have shown work in over 14 runway shows. Every time it seems like the same ritual.
- Design a set of looks.
- Create something different than what I originally designed.
- Throw an homage to the original design in there somewhere.
- Work last minute to add something better than what I think the rest of the collection is (which generally turns out better than everything else conceptually but lacks in construction).
Sometimes I am able to have more control over the presentation with song selection, staff, and model choice. These are my favorite shows. Usually they are smaller, but the freedom to express the collection is available and I find this extremely important. As a designer we are vessels to the experiences our bodies have in this world. The downside to these small, expressive shows are that you have to manage the entirety of the collection on your own (or hire someone to do it).
Here is the process:
- Contact 30-50 girls. Cross fingers that ten of them are the right size, going to show up, can walk. Usually having an agent or involved parent means they'll show.
- Work with Hair and Makeup to create a look that fits. This can often mean several trial meetings and shopping trips. Although it is fun (very fun), HMU takes a huge chunk of time out of the schedule.
- Find a song that works with the collection and also fits the timeframe. Find out the time frame f you can. For the show pictured above (RAW Brooklyn) I had asked a favor from KOPPS.
- Send song to DJ and Models. Pray models listen to it and practice walking to the beat. Encourage them often. Ask when they arrive to the show "Did you practice to the song?" Expect "No". If a model says yes, she/he is a keeper. Reach out to them for the next show.
- Do a final fitting. When you find out the model is not size 2, or 4, or 6, but like, a 12 put them in a knit dress. Always. It helps to have several backup pieces that fit any size. Do it with kindness so they don't feel ashamed (
I have to say that even RAW was not a one man show. Sometimes you get lucky and have models that are encouraging and really interested in helping. They are THE BEST. Having an assistant or dresser is very helpful. So is catering lunch. Everyone is happier when they're nourished.
A runway show can lead to a big sale. Sometimes you get awesome photographs. And sometimes you get nothing except the experience. I have learned that there is really nothing you can do when starting out to estimate the outcome except understanding the demographic visiting the show AND the producers. Production reminds designers that they are merely a spec in this universe, and unless you fight for the rolling rack by the window you're going to be stationed in the dark corner where you can't see shit.
The alternative is producing your own show... which I will write about another day.
- Smile gracefully and be firm, yet kind to everyone involved.