The early stages of fashion show production are always the most exciting, meeting the client, understanding their needs and desires, collaborating on concepts and getting the creative gears moving.
If it’s an established fashion house like Prada or Givenchy there are usually highly recognizable global signifiers to play off of, like logos, trademarks or patterns, such as Chanel’s diamond shaped quilting or Burberry’s ubiquitous plaid. Examples would be using Burberry’s plaid on the runway or as a backdrop or as seat covers, for example. But even with global brands the designers have unique visions for every collection.
Think of the astounding fantasies created by John Galliano for Dior or Alexander McQueen for Givenchy and later for his own label, or the budget-busting productions of Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel.
Sell Them on the Creative
Chances are you’ll be producing a show for a smaller brand or individual designer, maybe even a newly graduated, fashion loving friend. Let the creative juices flow and make lists of ideas without editing. Ideas that will make the collection pop, create a social media buzz and best compliment the designer’s vision, no matter how absurd or impossible the ideas may initially seem. From these lists you will cull the best ideas and come up with two or three cohesive and impactful themes for presentation.
I remember a show in New York for the label Imitation of Christ, that was held on a subway platform. It was all kept a secret until the last minute when guests got a text telling them where to go. Everything happened – music, models, mayhem, before the cops arrived to break up the crowd. Another show for the same label took place in an empty car showroom. The models walked around vacuuming the rug. So fun!
Presentation is Everything
The initial meeting with the client is where you’ll have this do-or-die opportunity. This meeting will usually be attended by the fashion designer and their business partners, a marketing and public relations team and a slew of interns, lackeys and wannabes. It’s important to do your homework, familiarize yourself with the designer’s past work and really prepare for a killer presentation.
Something that will convince the designer and his or her team that you understand and love fashion, have experience in live show production and are a professional. In other words, wow them!
Like Pieces of a Puzzle
The first stage of production, after landing the gig and getting a budget approved, is to look for the best people to work with. Who will you need? Front and back of house show runners, a head dresser and crew, an expert seamstress, key hair and makeup professionals, a crack audio visual company, a lighting company with prior experience doing fashion shows (essential), a sound designer who will work closely with the designer’s team on creating the perfect soundtrack, set fabricators, a great graphic designer and printing house, a social media expert (more important than ever), and, if the designer doesn’t already have one, a public relations and marketing team.
The Big Picture
Once you’ve assembled this team, start preparing for the big day by designing the set, presenting it to the designer and getting him or her to sign off on the design so it can go into production. Work closely with the venue you’ve chosen to coordinate load-in and out schedules, union rules if applicable and any other venue restrictions that may apply.
Most importantly be sure your set design will look great in the room and will scale properly, meaning, the set will fit comfortably and be impactful in the room, remembering to leave room at the end of the runway for the press pit – an area with stepped platforms for print and electronic media.
The Fashion Show Flow
You’ll work closely with the public relations and marketing team on advance press and the guest list because your team will be responsible for accommodating the crowd and setting up the press. You will also create the “show-flow” – a chart of what will happen when, who is responsible for what and general logistics for the entire day. The head seamstress and head dresser should attend model fittings with you, which usually happen well in advance of the fashion show. This allows them to see the clothing and how it is assembled with accessories, how the clothing fits the models, and any other things they may need in order to be prepared.
Remember, fashion shows last 17 – 20 minutes during which time the designer will present up to 70 looks, so depending on how many models are hired, it could mean up to three changes per model – a very difficult feat. This needs to happen at lightning speed so the more prepared, the better. I usually never have models make more than two changes per show, and prefer the best case scenario – one model per look. Unfortunately, this rarely is the case since it means hiring up to 70 models! Couture shows usually do it this way, but they can afford it!
Before any production happens you need to land the gig. So make an impression, don’t be afraid to use humor and most importantly, know the who’s who and the what’s what of the fashion world. Budget accordingly and hire the very best in the industry. A great team is your key to success. I’ll go into more detail about the responsibilities of each of these important players in another post. So, do your homework, let your imagination run wild and create something unforgettable. Getting the job is the most important factor – it’s the Max Factor!
Carl George is an event producer and consultant to luxury retailers, major fashion houses, spa and hospitality destinations, museums, corporations, restaurateurs and philanthropic organizations. He was the Director of Special Events and Entertainment at Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles, home of the Kodak (Dolby) Theatre and worked on events and live show productions such as The Academy Awards, American Idol, ESPY Awards, Daytime Emmy Awards.