By Jessica Kerwin
NEW YORK — What could possibly hinder a procession of pretty girls wearing pretty clothes and walking to and fro? They stroll; they change; they repeat. But as those familiar with the behind-the-scenes circus of New York’s show week know, seamless is never as simple as it seems. Six month’s work is distilled into a 12-to-15-minute sequence responsible for simultaneously disseminating a creative vision, showcasing a brand and entertaining the world via live broadcast. For designers, who serve as the week’s directors, producers, costume designers and stars, the night before the show can be simply harrowing.
“The night before there are just all these little things that you didn’t notice,” says Daryl Kerrigan. “It’s so terrible when a mistake goes down the runway and you say, ‘Oh, why didn’t I notice that?’ You have to make sure that every little thing is under your control. Of course, things do happen, but you can at least try so you don’t have to kick yourself for sitting around and laughing it up.”
It’s unlikely any designer spends the night giggling, let alone laughing, but stress aside, some do thrive on the pre-show electricity. “The night before there are the three Cs,” says Donna Karan, “calm, crisis and creativity.” She’s not kidding. In her studio, models and seamstresses come and go, while the evening, she says, “bleeds into the morning.”
“I’m sure in some companies they plan to do a press release on Tuesday night and fittings on Wednesday,” says Patti Cohen, Karan’s executive vice president of global marketing and communications, “but we do a press release while we’re doing the music and 10 other things.” That’s why there’s always a masseuse on hand to tend to Karan’s crew.
Some on Seventh Avenue, Oscar de la Renta for example, bring in a chef for the evening. Michael Kors’s studio, on the other hand, is full of pizza, candy and chips. “I rearrange Polaroids for the 90th time, do a full music check and get lint-obsessed,” he says. “I try to eat healthy, but I always end up eating junk food.” According to other tenants of 550 Seventh Avenue, however, nothing beats the spread at Ralph Lauren, where lobster tails rise from a grand buffet — although a Lauren spokeswoman claims that the real preshow highlight is the home-made profiteroles that a retired employee brings to the design staff each season.
It’s not the time to stick to your diet, says Alice Roi. As they work through the night, the designer, her friends and her design staff break for a big family-style dinner. It calms her nerves. “We pig out,” she says, laughing. “I feel so nervous the night before the show that I just want to eat steak and creamed spinach until I can’t move. I like to divert with food.”
This season Nian Fish, creative director for the show production company KCD, will participate in not just one night-before frenzy, but 11, while producing shows on both sides of the Atlantic. She counts on Emergenc-C crystallized vitamin C and a little peace of mind to carry her through. “I go into the bathroom and lock the door and meditate,” she says. “I focus all my energy on having a good show.”
But that’s only one measure Fish takes in her crusade to prevent errors. “The season when Calvin Klein introduced the ‘New Length,’ we called every girl back the night before and saw 24 girls between midnight and 5 a.m. so we could recheck the length on each one,” she says. “Calvin is all about precision, and we wanted it to be exact.”
Alex de Betak, of the show production company Bureau Betak, also promises his clients precision, including real pyrotechnics for the recent Dior couture show. “I quit smoking 10 months ago, so I eat these little mints from France and I make sure my pockets are padded with them,” he says. “You can start a rehearsal at eight and be done in 30 minutes and go to your favorite restaurant for dinner, but sometimes it’s 4 a.m. and you’re still there trying to get the lighting you want.”
It all goes to show why Betsey Johnson refuses to participate in any pre-show hype or hysteria. “We don’t do craziness anymore,” she says. “The night before, we bag the show. We very quietly whisper, ‘belt, G-string, stockings.’ When the last garment bag is zipped up, we bring in the champagne. I insist that everyone is gone by midnight, and I go home and go to bed. I don’t believe in the craziness. It’s not facing reality.”
Though he probably won’t leave for home by midnight, Narciso Rodriguez will reap the benefits of sleeping in his own bed this season, after showing in Milan for seven seasons. “In one sense, it’ll be more difficult to be back in New York. I’ll be obsessing a lot more,” he says. “But what’s fantastic is that my masseuse is here, my apartment is here and I don’t have to stay in some strange hotel.”
Diane Von Furstenberg, for her part, needn’t ever leave the comforts of home. Not only does she own the cavernous West Village space she shows in, but she sleeps next door on the top floor above her studio. “It’s easy for me,” she says. “It’s always homey here, but let’s just say that the night before it gets a little homier.”
Wynn Smith has no such luxury, but when he flies in from San Francisco to show his Wink collection each season, he does bring a little piece of home along. “Usually I’m really stressed out because there’s always some model who can’t make it at the last minute, and somehow we never have enough shoes,” he says. “I bring my portable rocking chair there with me, and it relaxes me. I rock so I can think and try to picture things and prepare myself mentally. It’s therapeutic.”
But a quick massage, a plate full of comfort food, or even a good rock aren’t the only ways to ease preshow pressure. Though it’s certainly not for everyone, sometimes the situation calls for a visit from the folks. “My parents always come in from Detroit the day before the show,” Anna Sui says. “They go down to Chinatown to get my favorite things to eat, and my goal is always to get home early enough to eat it.
“One time just when I was leaving for the show,” she continues, “my mother said, ‘You are going to wear high heels, aren’t you? You know you’re very short.’ You spend months getting your way and having them there keeps things real. It just puts everything into perspective.”