Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


A backstage pass to New York Fashion Week

Valerie McPhail

(3/2015) The Lifetime television series "Project Runway" is not a waste of time because it provides an inside look into the fashion industry. The show conveys a world that is much more than expensive clothes and beautiful people. Rather, it is an industry where creative minds work diligently in order to succeed at communicating their point of view through fashion design. This ideal carries my sentiment for the industry. I love the opportunity fashion offers for different perspectives, both the consumer and for those who are interested in the careers within the industry. My weeklong internship with a New York entertainment agency only advanced these feelings. This was an experience that brought me right to the heart of the Fall 2015 Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week.

I love "Project Runway" because I think that it truly exposes the reality of the industry— the stress, the fast-paced approaching deadlines, and the late nights followed by early mornings that navigate the fashion world. I am also interested in the show because it attends to the creative perspectives of new designers. I believe that this interest makes fashion an extremely practical field. "Project Runway" extends the fashion industry to the public viewing. After all, whether you are the designer or the customer wearing the clothes, there is an inherent necessity for fashion design that automatically makes fashion accessible to everyone. The show contributes to this understanding of fashion.

The fashion industry reaches the public various ways. Television shows and documentary film become a disclosure to making this over-glamourized industry a comprehensible reality. All in all, "Project Runway" is a great resource that reveals this side of the industry. However, I also feel that in life, some things can only be explained through experience. My week in New York City was memorable in this way: I found that there is nothing more real than living life and encountering things in order to understand them for yourself.

My anticipations for my experience were weak. I was ready to work hard, yet when leaving the studio on day one, I was shortsighted. After running around trying to manage model castings while catering to the needs of my boss and the designers, I felt almost defeated. As the week progressed, I found that in both the studio and backstage the runway, expectations were high while time was minimal. Despite the high stress around me, creative style and innovation encompassed every space. This is simply the nature of the work.

"The Big Apple" is a city where you make things for yourself. I find that this is the best asset of any city life; anything can happen and in every circumstance, Tim Gunn’s words, "Make it Work," ring true. Work—particularly in the fashion industry—is not easy for anyone. Designers are on the hunt for the faces that will exact their creative minds and models are rejected. Subways go under construction, making people late for appointments, and printers jam, consequentially delaying production of schedule lists and look boards. To compensate, coffee runs provide interns with an opportunity to grab "pick-me-ups" for the faded minds.

Through all the hard work and long 10-something hour days, I learned a wealth of knowledge and I am forever grateful for the people I met and the experience they allowed me to have. I love New York and my experiences every time I visit. This trip was unique to the others because it was my first business trip.

For all the fun of fashion, the reality of this world involves a lot of hard work. I interned with a casting agency that worked alongside various production teams, designers and models. Each held a unique work style and fashion sense. Despite their differences, everyone attentively worked behind the scenes to produce the designer’s vision. All of the sensitivity and remorse I initially felt was eased once I mentally removed the idea that I was personally hated and inadequate for the work I was assigned that week. I think I had misunderstood the perspectives with which I was working. The nature of fashion is demanding, and in order to reach the runway, there is a lot of detailing that is worked through in the days before the show. Therefore, work needs to get done and the pressure is on as the clock ticks. Aside from the mind of the collection, nothing else is personal.

Below is a rough idea of my work schedule from the week:


5:00am—Wake up in New Jersey

6:07am—Take the 20 Coach Bus out of New Jersey and commute to Port Authority NYC

7:15am—Arrive in New York City

7:30am—Grab a quick coffee and breakfast with my sister before taking the subway to the work studio

8:30am—Call time, to be at the studio

9:00am-1:00pm—Castings/fittings. This work included signing in models, taking head shots and looks for the show, organizing these photos on iPhoto and printing them so that the designer could use them for a frame of reference while developing their show


1:00pm—Lunch break, although it was more of a balance of eating and working simultaneously

1:30-10:00pm—A combination of coffee runs, running errands, signing models in for casting/fittings, taking digitals and looks for the shows and then printing these photographs. As the day of the show approached, work hours became longer.

11:30pm—Take the latest bus out of NYC to New Jersey

12:45am-1:00am—Bedtime…and then start all over again at 5:00am!

The three things I learned during my internship would be that fashion is a difficult industry, it is a small, well-connected world, and all opportunities are learning experiences. All you can do is try your best and grasp opportunities to learn.

I. Fashion is hard work.

I find that my schedule shyly represents the difficultly of my week. I was emotional, rushing around the city and the studio trying to make everyone’s jobs easier. As the days passed, hours quickened. I was perpetually exhausted, however, the expectancy of the show and the opportunity be a part of this iconic, annual event kept me awake. I was also happy to meet new people and make connections within an industry that I am passionate about and hope to pursue for a career one day.

Fashion shows and presentations showcase a designer’s collection. Not only do the clothes themselves carry a perspective regarding a lifestyle of dressing, but also the elements of the show—casting, hair, make-up and the line-up of looks—carry this perspective as well. There is a team of people who work together to make each show successful. Casting directors work with model agencies, alongside designers and production staff, in order to reach a final product. This atmosphere brings together a group of people with different areas of expertise. Therefore, just like in any situation where group work is required, elements of the project become stressful and time becomes your worst enemy. I think the disposition of the lifestyle makes the work difficult; deadlines appear in a blink of an eye and the hours quickly turn into days, therefore requiring instant results from even the smallest favors.

II. "It’s a small world."

Because of the various collaborations and teams that work together throughout the industry, the fashion world seems expansive. However, the reality is that everyone knows everyone and from day to night, connections are constantly being made. The fashion industry is almost like a big family; people are aware of, personally know, and always accept one another for who they are. Strong personalities and dismissive attitudes carry regular interactions; they are understood as normality. And yet, there is an unspoken rule to the necessity for this type of behavior. In some places it is appropriate and in other circumstances it is not. For example, on the runway and in high stress situations, this behavior is inevitable. However, there are moments where royalty treatments become overwhelming, even though it feels obligatory. This behavior is accepted because the industry is built on hard work and respect. I understood this internship as an opportunity to give respect to every aspect of the job, not only because it dignifies the human being, but also because I was working in a new environment with new people. Plus, both qualities are within my nature. Like a family, the industry accepts every member. The creative personality relates to assertive work aesthetic. In the fashion family, behavior never goes unnoticed because it is a world where attitude is unreserved. I learned that this knowledge is the best way to become a part of the family.

III. "Do your best and forget the rest."

After all the long hours and demands, I learned that one can only do one’s best in each situation. This type of mentality eased the pressure I felt when expectations seemed unreachable and requests began to pile upon me. This lesson was a small reminder in the back of my mind throughout the week. I think there are moments in "Project Runway" that embody this work aesthetic. Things move quickly in fashion; runway shows last minutes and then everyone carries on to the next task ahead of them. Therefore, hard work and dedication serve to advance the industry. The nature of the city is that it never sleeps; fashion is a product of this personality.

I left New York City with a greater understanding of the fashion industry. Fashion is active; it continually engages with all aspects of life. Whether it receives inspiration for design or extends insight to the interested television audience, fashion is available to everyone. This reality explains the difficult work associated with the industry and the mindset of the small group of individuals who devote their vocations to making the luxurious obtainable.

Read other articles by Valerie McPhail