Being Backstage At Fashion Week, A Personal Experience

FASHION WEEK! So glamorous. So chic. But I'm here to tell you: no, not really.

Once upon a time I was an intern for a fashion PR company, and as a part of the internship I was required to help out backstage at this fashion show. O-M-G, I thought. Models, make up, hair, clothes; this will be amazing. I pictured myself gallivanting around, chit chatting with designers, “Oh, you want ME to try on your $5,000 dress — why of course! It just fits me perfectly. I can keep it!? Oui!? You're too kind.”

If you are thinking about volunteering at Fashion Week so you can get the “in” it's probably a good idea. But if you have similar expectations as I had, here is what you need to know from my personal experience:

– First, you should realize you will probably be required to wear all black. Not like cute all black, not like little black dress, and not like biker-chick-chic — more like black comfortable shoes and clothing you could climb a fence in, because there's a possibility you will have to climb a fence if someone with a headset asks you to.

– Which leads me to my second point — people with headsets rule all. I have no explanation for this, but if you see a headset, obey any and all commands.

– You will probably do a lot of standing around and waiting. Then a lot flustered rushing. And then a lot of cleaning, packing, and organizing. Not to mention heavy lifting, running, ushering, and steaming. Trust me, you will eventually start sweating from all of the rigorous physical activity. GLAMOUROUS.

– No, you will not be in any photos on Vogue. See all of these models posing here? I'm actually behind them. You can't see me. You're not supposed to see me. Hence, therefore, vis-a-vis — you will not be in Vogue.

– You may, however, may be asked to talk about underwear on camera as I was told to do. I held up a pair of panties and explained their functionality. Instead of flirting with famous designers I was discussing how underwear works (and no, I'm not talking lingerie). Again, GLAMOUROUS.

– I hope you comfortable with nudity, as it's most likely naked models will be present, waiting for you to stick pasties on their nipples. (Yes, I did that.)

– Kanye West might be running late. And it will feel like the world is about to end.

– Kanye West might not want to use the designated ‘celebrity' door to exit after the show. And it will feel like the world is about to end.

– And finally, whatever Kanye West wants, Kanye West gets.

Phew! I hope my little “experiences” don't deter you too much — Fashion Week is an awesome experience and it's fun to feel like you are helping put on the show. Just prepare yourself.

[Image credit: Shutterstock]

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29 Responses

  1. Kelly

    Getting experience working on any production set, even as a gopher, can help so much. And as for the black–always true. And never forget deodorant. You’ll want it when you have five spare seconds and get a whiff of yourself. 😉

    If you have a problem with how/what someone in a headset tells you to do, don’t hesitate and don’t think you know a better way. Having been one of those people, even if there is another way to do something, chances are, the headset-people have considered it, and there’s a reason they’ve chosen a certain way, and not another. There’s a reason that they’ve got that headset.

    But working behind the scenes is always a load of fun. Never let what someone says in the heat of the moment deter you from doing something you love.

    Most important thing is to always remain flexible!

    Reply
  2. kd

    You article made me laugh out loud and at myself. I worked backstage years ago and I didn’t know quite what to expect but looking back on it boy were were green. Glad I had the experience especially when I make it there to have my own show I will definitely give the backstage staff something special.

    Reply
  3. Cynthia

    LOL on the black. Yeah, it’s the uniform of all those who work in PR, except, perhaps senior executives (I dabbled in PR for a bit before going into blogging). As for backstage, I haven’t had the experience of being at NYFW, but I’ve been backstage for the much, much smaller Toronto Fashion Week as media, and I can tell you that it can be crazy just trying to get an interview with the designer.

    C

    http://thecloset.delectablychic.com
    http://www.delectablychic.com
    http://www.shorty-stories.com

    Reply
  4. Auie

    LOL! Not surprised with the Kanye West stuff… However, those are just about right.. thanks for the article!

    Reply
  5. Natalia Gutierrez

    So true, last march I worked for a show in Paris Fashion Week, and all of these points are true. You should add… waking up early to clean the place. Oh internships!

    Reply
  6. Emily Ulrich

    You mean to say there’s no chance of a model running late and I just happen to be the only one who’ll fit her dress, having to walk the runway for her? I feel so disillusioned.

    I’ve never interned for fashion week, and while I imagined it to be more cut-and-dry than one would think, your insight was definitely an eye-opener. Thank you for sharing your account!

    Reply
  7. ramblingrealities

    I totally know how this feels like. I also interned for a PR company that was responsible for Philippine fashion week and man, it’s definitely not as cool as it sounds. 75% of the time, you won’t even get to watch the shows you wanted to watch because you are working behind the scenes. I know a lot of people say that working in the fashion industry isn’t all that glam, but I honestly think that no one will understand just how unglamorous it is, except when he or she gets first hand experience of all the stress brewing behind the catwalk.

    http://ramblingrealities.wordpress.com

    Reply
  8. Jpg

    Oh dear… Even though it’s a hard work looks like Its worth it. Love your article and your view. We all set high expectations when it comes to fashion etc but there is a lot of work backstage. I’m a stylist and so many of my friends says how glam your job is… In reality… It’s a hard work! You meet great people and it’s fun do But i guess no pain no game 🙂 x

    Reply
  9. Akaleistar

    Love your account about what it is like to work backstage! I dress fashion shows in the Midwest and think the best part of working a show is getting to touch the fabulous pieces 🙂

    Reply
  10. Lucy

    This sounds utterly hectic and unglamorous, but, call me crazy, I’d still love to intern behind the scenes at a fashion week! I’ve been applying for internships for LFW for weeks now, and it seems that even though I’m offering my services for free and have a first class degree no one replies!

    Thank you for your account 🙂

    Love Lucy x

    http://lucyvictoriajackson.blogspot.co.uk/

    Reply
  11. The Curvy Socialite

    I’ve worked on and off for about 9 years at New York Fashion Week for the Ground Crew (a backstage production company based in Manhattan) and have had the pleasure of working some of the biggest shows including Michael Kors, Donna Karan and Vera Wang. I had to smile because everything you say here is true. i can give you some stories on models having to be chased down for “borrowed” shoes, unfinished garments that had to be sewn on to the model, having to dress dogs to join models on the runway and more. Great experiences and amazing chances to people watch and see the collections before they hit the stores. If you get the chance, you should definitely do it.

    Reply
  12. Kritti

    Thank you for publishing! I to have worked at many a fashion shows here on the west coast. Some big, some small, and lots of hard work, but I made a lot of good friends and we made it fun backstage.

    Reply
  13. HauteFrugalista

    You are so RIGHT! Is not Glam at all! Not only doing the backstags part but also for those attending for work (not just to show up there and get you pic taken). This is something I repeated on my blog because ppl get so excited about press covering a major event like MBFW and it is! But its not all fab as they might imagine.
    I had to change a couple of times, for press and pic purposes, and had to ask the valet everyday to bring my car so I could change. Now, those precious goody/VIP gift bags, not as amazing as you might think when youre carrying 5 of them at the same time. Between heels, purse/clutch, camera and bags, it can get pretty heavy and annoying.
    Now, the chance to see the clothes up close (backstage or front row) is one of a kind! Thats why we go to watch it, cover it or volunteer, to get the chance to see unique and couture pieces with our own eyes. Nothing resembles the feeling of holding a garment handcrafted and designed but somebody you admire.
    Xoxo,
    Dee!

    Reply
  14. Kholá

    Love this! Its definitely an honest account of what happens backstage. Been there, done that….and loved every hectic minute!

    Reply
  15. Karina De Jesus

    haha, Chelsea, this is great! Most likely a VERY ACCURATE description. Most of us are pretty crazy though so we would probably do it anyway 🙂

    Reply
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    Reply
  17. Cami Silva

    Absolutely agreed! My first experience as a volunteer at NYFW was very similar!
    Looking back, I believe I was more prepared to work hard (in anyway that means), than some other high-heels-girls that were in the same group as I was. Funny enough for not being on heels, the “headset people” would come to me more often, almost as if they trust me more for being ready to “jump the fence”.
    I even had to scrape a huge white sticker from a glass after the shoots in the backstage – believe me Glamour was a far, far away land!
    But overall it was an amazing experience that really prepared me to the industry and it’s non-glamourous face.
    Truly recommend it!

    Reply
  18. Emily

    Seems crazy, but slightly fun — in the craziest of ways! Awesome article 🙂

    Reply
  19. Jade

    Haha this is great! I always expected it wouldn’t be as glamorous as I’ve imagined but at the same time, I always HOPED it would be as glamorous as I dreamed. This article puts that dream to sleep (unfortunately!). Great article, very funny, but you can definitely tell it’s so very very true (damn it).

    Reply
  20. TheAsiaMonique


    …..
    I LOVED this post. The honesty behind all the expected beauty.
    Great post!

    Reply
  21. moiminnie

    Hahaha you’re so right about everything!! I did my fair share of working backstage, the last one I did just yesterday, it was a big hot mess, and like you said – no glamour whatsoever. I was prepared for it, of course, but people who only read about fashion shows in magazines don’t really understand what’s it like 🙂
    http://www.moiminnie.blogspot.com
    xx

    Reply
  22. Jess Pardy

    HOW do you go about volunteering within PR or seating at Paris fashion week? Me and my friend are dying to volunteer next year but can’t work out how! I need to know really what PR companies to contact and ask to volunteer for!
    Help!

    Reply
  23. Rau

    wow. thank you so much for sharing your experience, i’m blessed. haha. for so long, I’ve been wanting to be a part of a backstage runway fashion show, and you just did it! idk, but i think working behind the scenes even the simplest job is amazing~

    Reply