On the surface, Fashion Week is, yes, pretty glamorous—what with the high fashion designs, star-studded parties, gorgeous models, and all—but for those whose job it is to make all of that a reality (the fashion industry employs more than 180,000 people in N.Y.C., according to the CFDA), it can sometimes be the furthest thing from glam, if not downright stressful. Now that New York Fashion Week is officially upon us, we asked five industry insiders to reveal their most horrific experiences that they can now laugh about in hindsight. From chasing after street-style stars to missing a flight, read their first-person accounts of their backstage nightmares.
Michelle Saunders, Essie Celebrity Manicurist
"There is one nightmare I always dread—the late models. I never know when this will happen (it’s like a bad surprise), so I have to prepare my team for the worst-case scenario. I always keep my three 'fastest polishers' on stand-by for this situation.
"This is what usually happens: We have about three hours before show time to get each model runway-ready, but sometimes the top models have a show during that period, who may have a completely opposite beauty look (curly hair versus straight, nude lips versus red, dark nails versus light). Once we start hearing how many models will be showing up at the last minute, we enter panic mode. We begin paring down the look, and I'll start screaming, 'No base coat!' or 'Paint over the nude [polish] they have!' It’s pure chaos. But somehow that nightmare turns into a dream when you see the models walk down the runway."
Alexandra Elizabeth, Model
"One season, we had to travel from London to Milan, which was supposed to be an easy 2.5 hour flight, but it turned out to be a nightmare. First, our flights were canceled due to inclement weather, and it was impossible to book a new flight (since all the models from fashion week were all doing the exact same thing). I had a Gucci fitting later that day, so it was crucial that I had to be there. When we finally got a connecting flight from Heathrow (we made it to the airport half an hour before departure!), we boarded the flight and sat down with relief—only to be told that the plane had to turn back around to the airport. Others didn't make the flight, and their luggage had to be unloaded. It took an hour.
"When we landed in Geneva, we were devastated to learn that our connecting flight had already taken off. So we had to book another flight. And while we were waiting, I discovered a stye in my eye, which was just fantastic. After another delay, we finally arrived in Milan 14 hours later. Needless to say, I missed my Gucci fitting."
Romero Jennings, MAC Cosmetics Director of Makeup Artistry
"Last season, I was booked for three shows and a makeup test—all in one day! I ran from my first show to my second and realized that my body kit was missing. To get an idea of how important this kit is: It's like a portable mini-makeup kit with all of the essentials—moisturizer, concealer, foundation, brow gel, mascara, lip conditioner, and powder for all skin tones—that you need for line-ups (the moment right before the models are about to walk the runway). That's when I check legs, shoulders, arms, ears, and even fingers for redness, ashiness, or bruising. But the key item was my flashlight from Home Depot, which is crucial when you can't see anything backstage while the lights are down. A line-up before a show is truly when all the elements of the look come together and are adjusted to look uniform.
"Because of my early morning call times, I had to wait two days to run to the nearest MAC store to replenish my missing products. I bought all new items and a Carry All MAC bag. My important backstage makeup flashlight could not be replaced until I returned home, so I counted on my fellow MAC Artists to shine the light for me. Now, I carry an extra flashlight and batteries in my personal luggage, just in case."
Judy Amanda, Backstage Dresser
"I've worked with Barbara Berman's backstage team as a dresser for more than five years. One season, a designer had the biggest gowns you could imagine. When I began to put my model in her first look, I tripped and stepped on the tulle and train of the dress. What a nightmare. I didn't destroy the dress, but I was so embarrassed, and it was a flashback to my first-ever New York Fashion Week show when I was sweaty and overwhelmed by the hectic backstage scene.
"Another time, my model's shoes were extremely small, and no shoe in the collection would fit her feet and the theme of the show. I panicked—until I saw a lady standing backstage, and I asked her what size her shoes were. She said 11, and I immediately told me supervisor. I don't know what she said to her, but before I knew it, her shoes were off, and so was my model strutting down the runway."
Keith Morrison, Photographer
"When I started covering fashion week I had little, well truthfully absolutely zero, knowledge of the fashion world outside of the mainstream brands. On my first day, my client told me I was responsible for two things on top of shooting: getting releases signed as well as compiling outfit sheets detailing what each individual was wearing. Neither one of the documents could be used without the other, so it was a bit tricky. On the first day, I made my way to Lincoln Center and was hit with the reality of what I was entering into. After a bit of hesitation I followed suit with what the other seemingly knowledgeable photographers were doing, only to shyly approach the individual asking them to fill out what felt like a novel. This part wasn't so bad, although many were hesitant to sign.
"What was difficult, however, was fielding the criticism of my colleagues for interrupting their shots as I belted out, "Excuse me, can you please sign this?" to many of the top street style stars, like Miroslava Duma and Leandra Medine. In passing I heard countless individuals talking about me with phrases such as, 'Can you believe he approached (insert street style star name here) with that silly form?' I made it through that season, and then a handful more, but even in the current season I still get razzed from time to time about the time I chased Nicole Murphy (Eddie Murphy's ex-wife) down the street after she hopped in a car.
"I can certainly laugh about this now, especially after realizing how far I've come since then."