What It's Like to Be a Front Row Fashion Photographer at New York Fashion Week
For a few minutes, as models strut down the runway in the season’s most glamorous creations, a fashion show becomes a scene of breathtaking perfection. But those who call Fashion Week work will tell you that the lead-up and aftermath can be chaotic, mundane, and downright absurd. We’ve asked industry pros, from a front-row photographer to a fashion house intern, exactly what the week is like for them.
Here, Front Row Fashion Photographer Clint Spaulding details his typical New York Fashion Week day. Come back all week for more insider perspectives.
7-8 a.m. – Time to Wake Up
I’m an early riser, just in general—I don’t get a lot of sleep. I like to get a few hours in here.
9 a.m. – Arrive at First Show
I like to get there an hour before the scheduled start time, because you have to get in line, and there’s a lot of checking in. There’s a lot of red tape to go around to get into the show, so you need to get in early, you need to know who you’re going to talk to. Sometimes it’s not always clear. You’lll be standing in a line, and get to the front of the line and they go, “No, you need to go talk to that person over there…” There’s a lot of miscommunication and things happen all the time during fashion week. I really try to make sure—like ask a few people exactly where I need to go. So yeah, it can be early in the morning.
It was either last fashion week or the one before—I was shooting and Kylie Jenner came. I’m there waiting with a group of photographers, and she comes and she stands and poses, happily. Some people don’t seem to be comfortable or like it, but I think Kylie’s good at taking pictures—she seems comfortable taking photos. She’s very calm. I can only imagine it must be crazy sometimes for people, but she handles it very well. So anyway, I take her picture, and as I’m standing nearby she asks to see it, I show it to her, and she’s very happy, like “Oh, it looks great”—that’s the main interaction I seem to get.
10 a.m. – First Show Is About to Begin
Once you can see sort of the makeup and hair part is wrapped up, and they’re moving and they’re kind of talking about everyone getting into first looks, all the outfits—that’s when I move to the front of the house—where all the guests are and the runway, and basically you just see who’s sitting in the front row, and then you take the pictures of the notables, the editors, socialites, the “bright young thangs.”
At some point, security will come and basically tell everyone, “Leave, show’s about to begin.” And you can kind of linger, if you still need to. Sometimes a big name will come late and they’ll kind of keep holding the show, but they’ll try to make the press leave.
It can get really crowded on the runways, and it can make it seem more like a thing than it is—especially because of social media. I started shooting front row maybe 2006 or so, and now fast-forward 11 years to today and there’s just so many more people on the runway trying to get photos—clearly for social media. I think that puts the organizers and security in a weird position, because they need to keep the runway clear, but you can’t really—it’s harder for them to telecast, “please go to your seat,” than it is to move press around or tell press to leave or whatever. It’s a hard situation. Some places are just really, really crowded.
Once they’re ready to start the show, I just kind of duck off into an aisle way. Sometimes I get to sit in the front row—if there’s an empty seat I’ll usually just sit down and shoot from there. So it’s like a side angle—it’s not right down the runway. I try to be very conscious of everyone’s eye-line—I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. I’m usually sitting, on the floor even, not really in anyone’s way.
Meet-Up with a Runner
I have editors, so I don’t have to edit during fashion week, which is a huge help. For a long time I didn’t have any editing so it made it that much harder, because in between shows you’d have to edit your photos and you wouldn’t even have time to eat, but now I meet up with a runner—who will literally meet me, grab my card, and take it to the editors. So I meet up with them, and I go to the next show.
Lunch—If Time Permits
If I can, I’ll grab something quick. I usually just eat some sort of trail mix, try to store up on energy on that, drink a lot of water. There’s not always a ton of time, but some days are different. I might only have two things that day, and some days I might have four. Some days I’ll start at like 10 and I’ll be done by 3 p.m. and I just go home.
Back to the Grind
I just try to approach every single day with a few things—it doesn’t always work, because I’m human, but I say Today, I’m going to be calm, I’m not going to get upset. I’m going to be polite even when people are extremely rude to me or difficult. I’m going to eat food. I really try to get a lot of cheap food in me, and water, because I know how cranky anybody can be when they’re hungry or dehydrated or extremely tired—which is like so many people who work fashion. It can be a testy place—especially in the front row of a runway. And you’ve just got to cut people some slack.
That’s a big part of my mental prep—just to remind myself of that—and be calm. If I need to get something, like access mainly, I’ll fight for it—but I’ll try to do it in a way that’s not like too demeaning or disrespectful. You should see the things that go on backstage and in the front row with the media.
5-7 p.m. – Dinner
If I’m not doing a show at that point but I have an event later, it’ll probably start around 8 or a little later. So around that time I’ll eat some food, let it digest.
8 p.m. — After-Party Time
I’m there to document, so I just give our take on who’s there and when or what they’re doing. I’m just always looking, always searching—sometimes I’m talking to people but my eyes are constantly scanning the room. I like moments and things, and I like to not have to force people to do certain things. Like if there’s person of interest A and person of interest B—I want a picture of them together, but who do I ask? Who would come to the other side of the room? But wait—they’re probably going to talk at some point, so I’ll just wait. You have to be patient; you have to be very observant.