NEW YORK — Imagine this: Row upon row of fashion editors, sitting in a darkened theater — and just like the movie audience in the 1950s Life magazine photo, they’re all wearing 3-D glasses.

That will be the picture at the Celeste Bartos Forum of the New York Public Library on April 12, when Escada launches its first major runway show in the U.S. in five years.

Now imagine a studio on West 15th Street, filled with all the usual trappings of a fashion shoot — photographers, hair and makeup artists, dressers, models, caterer and clothes. Lots of clothes. Except there are also a director, producer, cinematographer, lighting and sound technicians, and assistants. Lots of them.

It’s the filming of the Escada movie that will open its show and later be converted to video tape for promotional use in stores.

Co-directed by Robert Leacock [who also filmed Madonna’s “Truth or Dare,” and “Christy Turlington Backstage”] and Gerry Feil, the movie is about how crazy it is backstage just before the start of a major runway show. Through a new film technique called trompe l’oeil — similar to 3-D — audience members will feel they’re in the midst of the madness.

Organized in five weeks by Marc Balet and Rick Albert of Balet & Albert, and producer Chris Rouchard, the movie took one day — albeit a long one — to shoot. Filming began at 7 a.m., when Leacock and Feil, with master lists of the day’s shooting schedule in hand, rolled film on the actual construction of the set. A production assistant swept the floor, wardrobe racks were brought in, shoes and accessories were put in place, makeup and hair stations were angled just so, and the caterer began setting up the food.

At 9:30, the “cast” of models — Dreena DeNiro, India Hicks, Phoebe O’Brien, Lana Ogilvie and Helena Baraquilla — along with hair stylist Max Pinnell and makeup artist James Kaliardos found their way to the studio. “Then we just filmed what happens when models are together, getting their hair and makeup done,” said Leacock. “It’s the same as backstage before a show, except in a more controlled environment.”

Leacock and Feil are efficient and precise, stopping the cameras when Leacock feels a shot “looks too blocked and rushed,” and deciding to focus on a close-up when Feil thinks the full view shot is not going to be “very beautiful.” Leacock explains they will edit the film to capture the frenetic pace of pre-runway. As much fun as it is for an outsider to watch the actual filming, there were long stretches of time when each model has to wait for her turn. “Oh, this is so boring,” said Baraquilla. “I brought every newspaper with me to read, and I’ve gone through them all. But it’s no different than most shoots.”

Just maybe a bit more expensive. While no one would state how much the Hollywood experience was costing Escada, sources said such a venture could run into several hundred thousand dollars. “This is not an inexpensive venture by any stretch,” admitted Escada president Ron Frasch, who joined the firm in February. “It’s not an issue of money, though. It’s making sure we have the appropriate place in the designer market. We’re major players and it’s important to be top of mind in the industry. This sort of show will do that.”

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