Designers will present their fall/winter 2017 collections during NYFW, which runs from Feb. 9 to 16. (Credit: Getty Images / Matteo Valle)
Credit: Getty Images / Stuart C. Wilson
You only see a slice of the collection on the runway
Designers produce more than 100 samples per collection, but only about 25 make the final runway cut, New York City-based designer Babi, of Sachin & Babi, said. If you have ever seen a show, you will understand why. A team of about 15 models can walk the runway in as little as seven minutes. A few of them will have up to three outfit changes, leaving no time to show off hundreds of styles. Choosing what makes it onto the runway can be a challenge. The designer needs to make sure the final pieces stay true to the vision of the collection in its entirety.
"You want to make sure the audience understands the messaging of your entire collection in those 20 to 25 styles," Babi said. "You have to go through the editing process to see what resonates with your initial point of view and what was in your head when you started this creation."
Credit: Getty Images / Wayne Taylor
Designers pick models based on seniority
With the designs ready to go, there's still one key part missing: the models. Agencies bring models to show castings at least five weeks before NYFW begins, according to Babi. Designers like Vera Wang and Ralph Lauren get the first pick, based on seniority, she added. Then younger brands get to select the men and women who mesh well with their line.
"The variables [involved in choosing models] are not just my own," Babi said. "These girls get picked up by the big brands too, so I have to ask if there's a conflict on the same day or if she has an exclusive with the brand."
Credit: Getty Images / Wayne Taylor
Designers can see more than 140 models before choosing
A designer can work with as many as four different agencies to find models that match their vision for one runway show. That can translate to more than 140 models walking a mock runway during the fittings, Babi said. About 15 of them make the final cut.
Credit: Getty Images / Ilya S. Savenok
Models can switch looks in as little as 20 seconds
The backstage dressing area during a fashion week show can only be described with one word: hectic.
A team of five to 75 dressers (depending on the size of the show) are quickly and efficiently slipping high-end styles onto models and sending them out to the runway. In a well-produced show, dressers are given a few minutes to get models out of one look and into another, Barbara Berman, owner of BB's Backstage, said. Berman has been working backstage at fashion week since 1994 and now teaches "Everything You Need to Know About Fashion Shows" at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Sometimes, the model will be due out again within 20 seconds. "In that case, we have to have tremendous pre-planning and rehearse like a Broadway show," she said.
Credit: Getty Images / Ilya S. Savenok
It takes up to 30 minutes to do the first model's makeup
A team of 10 to 20 makeup artists will prep the models before they slip into their runway looks, according to Romero Jennings, M.A.C. cosmetics director of makeup artistry.
It can take an artist up to 30 minutes to do their first model's makeup, according to Jennings. Once the look is mastered, that time can be cut down to just 10 minutes, depending on how intricate the designer's request. For Alexander McQueen's March 2007 show, a complex Cleopatra-inspired look required one artist to pair with each model, Jennings recalled.
Credit: Getty Images / Mike Coppola
Backstage essentials: Carrying a flashlight is key
A backstage dresser needs to carry double-sided tape (to prevent outfit mishaps), small scissors, black safety pins, threaded needles, a lint roller and a headscarf (to keep makeup off the clothes), according to Berman.
A makeup artist's list of must-haves is a bit different. Aside from the desired nail, eye and face products, an artist needs one key item.
"Carrying a flashlight is key to be able to preview your makeup before it hits the runway," Jennings explained. Makeup needs to be intensified or it may appear washed out under the bright runway lights and camera flashes.
Credit: Getty Images / Matteo Valle
If a model shows up late, it’s a big ordeal
It's not unusual for a model to show up late to a show. Especially if she's caught up in NYC traffic running from one booking to another. When this happens, it's an all-hands-on-deck type reaction from the backstage crew. The crew will tag-team to get her makeup, nails and hair prepped simultaneously.
If a model shows up with waterproof mascara, false lashes or glitter on her face, it can take artists an extra 20 minutes to remove and complete their new look, according to Jennings.
Credit: Getty Images / Rob Loud
Shoes may get sacrificed in the name of fashion
Designers and backstage crew members are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure a show runs smoothly -- even if that means making sacrifices in the name of fashion. If something does go wrong during the show, it can typically involve the model's shoes, Berman explained. Mostly, issues arise with improper sizing or slippery runways. At the Spring 2007 Jason Wu show, dressers prepped the pumps by scraping into the fresh soles with scissors (pictured) to help create friction between the shoes and the runway.
Credit: Getty Images / Jason Kempin
Designers help out backstage during the show
The models are lined up, the audience is seated and photographers are ready -- so where's the designer? Backstage. Before live streaming, designers used to peek through a side curtain that separated the runway from the dressing room to watch the show, Babi said. Now, they're often watching on backstage TVs, she added.
Designers may also be helping dress and prep models before they step out, a practice which Berman said is tricky depending on the number of changes their show requires.
"Designers have started to realize that the more a model changes outfits, the less time they have to properly style the look," Berman said. "The trend is going toward one look per model with beautifully executed styling."
Pictured: Jason Wu makes adjustments to a model's dress before she hits the NYFW runway on Sept. 9, 2009.
Credit: Getty Images / Robin Marchant
There isn't always a runway (sometimes there's a kitchen table)
Babi compared runway shows to weddings: You have to decide who gets to sit where, choose who you cast in your "bridal party" and select a key location. After months of planning, the show can end in seven minutes. All that fuss isn't for everyone. Many designers opt for a presentation instead, which Babi described as "more of a cohesive exhibit, or installation" of a collection.
Alice + Olivia, Sachin & Babi, J. Crew and Kate Spade are just a few of the many designers who display their collections during presentations instead of traditional runway shows.
Pictured: The Sept. 2015 NYFW presentation by Sachin & Babi, which was themed as a mock brunch and took place in a downtown townhouse.
Credit: Getty Images / Dimitrios Kambouris
There’s a front row leg debate
If you're sitting in the front row at a NYFW show and your last name isn't Wintour, then you're probably a Kardashian, "Housewife," actress or very prominent blogger. Not one of the latter? Then you might not know about the whole legs crossed/uncrossed debate.
It's common practice for a photographer to ask all front row attendees to uncross their legs right before a show begins. When Blake Lively refused to do so at the Michael Kors show in February 2016, it caused a social media storm.
Page Six reported that photographers ask for legs to be uncrossed so people's feet don't show up in shots. In a 2012 New York Times article commenting on the crossed legs of front row watchers, a photographer commented on the lack of space for shots on the runway, but didn't necessarily say that he requests legs to be uncrossed to accommodate his shots.
"The seats are usually pretty tight," Don Ashby, a runway photographer, told the Times. "And if the models are walking close to the edge, maybe people are thinking 'I want to make sure my legs are really in.' It's about taking up as little room as possible."