The Real Stars Of Fashion Week Are The People Behind The Scenes

Meet the underdogs who get shit done

Photos by Dia Dipasupil, Zunino Celotto, Andreas Rentz/Getty Images.

Fashion shows are a spectacle. For a month, people gather to see models wear the clothes everyone else will be wearing in six months. The individual shows only last around 10 minutes, but getting those clothes in front of you (and the hair and the nails and the makeup) takes months of preparation, time, and energy—and not just from the designers, but often hundreds of other people as well. There are a lot of moving parts going on backstage and before the show that don’t make it onto editors' Instagram stories.

And who's responsible for all those moving parts? Well, there are the photographers who capture beauty, street style, and runway shots. The directors who work with the designers to put together an exciting show, complete with music, casting, and logistics. There are the event coordinators who find the venues, coordinate permits and lighting, and hire dressers. And the hair and makeup people who work hand-in-hand to create a cohesive look. Together, they help bring a designer’s visions to life.

The purpose of fashion shows has come into question over the past couple of seasons. As exhausting as it can be for those involved though, it’s hard to deny that a certain energy takes over the city when the event inevitably rolls around. “NYFW is the fuel that drives American fashion for the next six months,” event director Dario Calmese says. “There’s such an outpouring of creativity and freshness that, although stressful, brings the whole fashion community together. As a creative, I enjoy running with all my engines firing, and I aim to create show experiences that you can’t get via Vogue Runway… you just have to be there.”

Now that fashion month is coming to an end, we decided to chat with the people who help curate these experiences, for the insiders that attend the shows and the fans watching via social media. The clothes may be the center stage, but the true stars may never touch the runway—even though they probably helped create it.

Dario Calmese, event director
Dario Calmese has been working NYFW for a little over six years. He started out with Public School and, this season, directed the Pyer Moss and the LaQuan Smith shows (the latter thanks to a recommendation from André Leon Talley himself. “You can’t say no to André,” Calmese says). He enjoys working with emerging brands or brands that, he says, are “in need of a revamp.” His duties include everything from casting models to finding singers and sometimes producing shows. He says it was “a bit overwhelming” in the beginning, but has gotten easier over the years. “As time goes on, you forge relationships with agencies, producers, designers, etc., which totally smooths out the process,” Calmese explains. “It’s still hectic, but I now anticipate it, which helps with the sometimes-paralyzing level of stress I felt in my early years.”

Outside of fashion week, Calmese has his own fine art photography practice, he gives lectures, writes, and works with clients to help with direction. “For Fashion Week, I switch into ‘live-action mode,’” he says, which can start months before a show. “You’re helping visualize someone else’s creative idea, which requires a lot of conversations with the designer and team, which on the show day can be upwards of 150 people.” 

If there’s one thing Calmese wishes people knew about the work he does it’s that, well, it’s a lot of work. “What I don’t think people realize [about fashion shows] is how many decisions one has to make—from the casting to the lighting to the music, even down to the color of the benches you’re sitting on is intentional,” he says. “My job is to ensure that entire experience is cohesive, brand-aligned, and supports what you see on the runway.”

Jenna Marie Shafer, hairstylist
Jenna Marie Shafer has been working during NYFW since February of last year, after moving to New York City from London. This past season, she assisted backstage with hair brand amika for the Christopher John Rogers and Maki Oh collections. Each season that I work NYFW, it gets a little easier because I learn something new, and that helps me to be more prepared for the next show,” she says. “The first time I worked backstage, I had no idea what I was doing, I was super-nervous and even scared to do the hair, but now I'm able to just jump right in there and know what to do.” At the same time, though, she says the more experience you have, the more shows you book, “so NYFW gets busier and busier every year for me.”

Explaining her duties, she outlines:

When I'm the first assistant for the lead hairstylist, I'll accompany them to a test with the designer prior to the show. The makeup artist is there as well, and the designer will discuss the creative direction they want for hair and makeup. Sometimes, we'll try several different hairstyles before we agree upon a final look—and even then, oftentimes the stylist will make minor adjustments before the show until it's just right. 

Then, I usually take photos of the look and write up a "how-to" with steps and products used to send out to the hair team so they know how to create the look. In some cases, where a lot of prep is involved, we might need to shop for accessories or custom color hairpieces.  

On the day of the show, as the first assistant, I'm responsible for arriving early to pick out the best station for the lead hairstylist, helping them bring their kit into the studio, setting everything up for them, keeping track of the models so they stay on schedule, making sure the team knows how to execute the look, and going backstage before show time for any last-minute touch-ups—and that's just the bare minimum!

“Working during NYFW energizes me as an artist,” Shafer says. “I always learn new techniques with each show I work, and am always so inspired by the styles created by the lead hairstylist, and I usually end up incorporating them into my future work. I also love the teamwork that's required to get 20-plus models runway-ready in three to four hours, that's just something you can't find anywhere else, and I find it exhilarating.” But with the good often comes the exhausting. 

“Working each show requires you to give 110 percent, with little room for a break or for error,” she explains. “So, when you're going straight from one show to the next, your day can get kind of stressful because you're operating at such high-energy levels all day long. But, to be honest, I kind of love the adrenaline rush that comes from working backstage amidst all the craziness and watching all the models walk down the runway, so, for me, it's totally worth it.”

Franey Miller, freelance photographer
Franey Miller has worked fashion week on and off for the past three years. Her job outside of NYFW typically involves taking photos, editing them, sending emails, and location scouting and casting. For fashion week, it involves taking and editing photos every day… for seven days straight. She can mostly be found backstage, but she’s been known to do street style every now and then. The latter, she says, isn’t her favorite. “Shooting street style is visually stimulating to me, but I’m at the mercy of the weather, the crowds of people who aren’t invited to the shows, and the available bathrooms in close proximity to the venue, which I’m not allowed in to,” she says. Whereas backstage, “I get to see a sneak peak of the makeup and clothes before the world does, and there is something special about that.”

When photographing backstage, she likes to follow a couple of rules. First is, get your photo and get out. “The backstage hair and makeup areas are often tiny spaces filled with a lot of anxiety and a lot of people trying to do their jobs on top of each other,” Miller explains. “The sooner I complete my task, the sooner the show can go on and everyone can go home.” Second is to not ask the models to stop eating for a photo. “[They] get like four seconds to eat and drink water backstage at each show.” Last, she tries to avoid getting iPhones in her shot. “The appearance of technology dates an image, and although NYFW is an event, I want the quality of the image to be as timeless as possible,” she explains.

Though she’s become an almost-regular backstage, Miller says working NYFW hasn’t necessarily gotten harder or easier over the years, “I’ve just learned how to deal with it better, so the crazy becomes second nature.” Some of that crazy involves navigating hair stylists, other potentially disrespectful photographers, and editors like ourselves to get beautiful shots like these for sites like ours.  

The biggest source of exhaustion for Miller over the week? “The pressure to party after working all day every day. Who has the energy to party?! I barely have energy to work toward the end of the week.”

Brittney Escovedo, event producer
Brittney Escovedo has been involved in NYFW for nine years. She has her own event production agency, Beyond 8, which involves a lot of different duties, but her job two weeks out of the year primarily involves producing shows and coordinating with different vendors and venues. “We begin planning shows around three months out, with loose discussions with the designer about their vision, their inspiration, the colors and fabrics of the collection, and what they may want the atmosphere to incorporate or look like,” she explains. “Everyone is involved, from the designer, the design team, the PR team, creative teams, and production to nail down how guests experience the show in the end. We think from a big picture standpoint about brand awareness, their inspiration, the budgetary implications, and the overall execution.”

She’s produced almost every Pyer Moss show over the years, including the past one which took place at Weeksville in Brooklyn, one of America’s first free black communities (she also produced LaQuan Smith's and Greta Constantine’s shows this season). Every aspect of the show, down to the location, was thought-out. “Guests were greeted by beautiful brown-skinned kind-hearted security guards, the show location and history in the soil was new knowledge to many, the music, sound, and song choice, the food served after the show… Every detail was created with intention, thought, and purpose,” Escovedo explains. The purpose was to show “black excellence, grace, love, and the beauty of black people”—which is exactly what they did. “There is a fine balance between the experience, the clothing, and the political message,” she explains. “Guests typically don’t realize the significance of all of the small details till the show is over… that’s dope to me.”  

Escovedo says her main goal is to produce something memorable, and one way she makes sure she can do that is by being selective about who she works with. “Designers are constantly seeking new, interesting, un-used venues and creative concepts to bring their vision to life in a unique and powerful way,” she says. “You’ll see young designers, with limited funding, making the most noise by doing thought-provoking creative work. They are thinking out of the box, rather than spending over a million dollars on a set, which doesn’t move the needle. I choose to work with designers that I’m inspired by. It makes it easier to bring their vision to life when I am fully committed to them, their vision, and what we are creating.”

Lindsey Adams, public relations manager
Lindsey Adams has been involved with Fashion Week for over eight years, first as an editor and now as amika’s public relations manager. This essentially involves, she explains, “Working with my team to select our shows, securing lead stylists—whether it’s our global artistic director, Naeemah LaFond, or working with an agency to collaborate with their stylists—inviting press and managing editors backstage, and pitching the hair looks to editors post-show to be featured in their NYFW coverage.” It also might involve carrying all of the hair products and tools to the show: “We definitely get our exercise in.”

Even after taking part in fashion week for as many years as she has, Adams still sees being involved as a privilege and often has those “pinch me” moments, “whether it’s meeting an iconic hairstylist and hearing him divulge stories about ‘90s supermodels during the test, spotting a celebrity backstage, or having a major publication write a dedicated story about one of our hair looks. “

At the end of the day and at the end of every season, teamwork is the key to making the dream work. “While everyone sees the finished product once the models walk down the runway, there are many long hours and countless intricacies behind the scenes that not everyone is aware of,” Adams says. “The work that my team does for Fashion Week takes a lot of flexibility and even more organization to make it all work.”