"If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard." That sums up my day at DC Fashion week September 2010. I had hoped to expand on the fun, camaraderie, and brand recognition by taking my triumphant Baltimore Fashion Week show to Washington D.C. What I got was a train wreck of a show that did not do even one of those things.
The DC show was incomprehensibly model-centric, never mind that it was the designers laying out $500 (or more) each to showcase their work. There was an unbelievably strange show-opening promenade wherein all of the models walked in their own store-bought, black clothes. What in the world was that all about? This weird opening model walk forced the first few designers (of whom I was second) into a totally unnecessary quick-change scenario for ALL of their models. We all know that some of our models will be used in the collection before us, but it's never ALL of our models. We can at usually get 15 out of our 20 dressed and ready to go, and they buy the time as they walk the runway for the other five to dress. As it was, I had about five or ten minutes to put 20 models into my multi-piece looks (many with corsets and other time-consuming laced pieces).
As a novice to the DC fashion show, I had been in contact with the organizers on a few points so that I could be sure that things ran smoothly. One of these points was the availability of the models. I went to the first fitting and had my clothing assignments and fittings all pretty well in the can at the end of that day. A few days before the show, I emailed this question:
"Well, is it up to the models to know when I am showing? How do they find out? (thank you for being so on top of this)"
The reply was:
"We will have a show line up them back stage and u will know on Sunday which position/number u are. They all know u are showing on Sunday"
Okay, so I took this to mean that I could count on my models showing up on Sunday. I have worked with some of them before, and indeed pulled some of them directly from my successful Baltimore Show, because they were so wonderful there. I like to be on top of things, so I arrived at the French Embassy at 1:00 anyway for the 6:00 curtain, even though I didn't need to fit models.
So curtain time is looming, and no one has the order in which the designers will be showing on the catwalk. We can't dress our models until we know who is going first. We DO have the organizer, Ean Williams, bellowing at the top of his lungs that it's desperately important that the models have NUDE lips. NO color. He wants them all redone. At this point I am getting pretty nervous. I need to get my models ready. I need to see as many as possible dressed, so I can see who it is that I am sharing from the first collection.
Then I find that all of the models were told to get into the black outfits they were asked to bring. I ask some nearby models why they need to do this. They say that all they know is that they were told to bring a black outfit. I blink a few times and wrinkle my forehead when I find that they are to open the show in these ready-to-wear retail clothes in a bizarre mass-model walk. I am told by an organizer when I ask about it, that "each year we try something new." I say to myself, "Hmmm. That's so odd. What will be going on in the half hour it takes to get the models back here and into the first few designers’ clothes? Ean has the models that are to walk in the first two collections (they posted the show order at 5:45 for a 6:00 start) get at the head of the line. Okay, that's a good thought to move things along, but still really strange.
The show opens, they do their odd gallop. Soon models trot over to me, and I am pulling looks off my rack, dressing them as swiftly as I can, and then I hear MY music playing. Could they be playing my music for something else? I'm not nearly ready. It's been mere moments since models even appeared at my rack to be dressed. Then as I see some of my models called to the runway, and my heart sinks. I suddenly realize that I am supposed to get all 20 of my models dressed in mere minutes. There was no break between the model walk and the actual fashion show.
I don't really ask for lot. I could not care less if the models have nude lips or green lips or no lips. I don't care a whole lot about shoes. I can even get around the outrageous hair chosen for us that limited me in my looks and headpieces. I like a nice walk, and confidence. This is where beauty is born, and it's the driving force of a good model. I do, however, expect to be able to have time to dress my models properly, be sure that they have all the pieces to a look, are wearing them right side up and frontwards, and to be able to put them in some semblance of an order to tell a story. Thank God for Marques and one other gentleman (I am so sorry that I did not catch your name) that came over to help as dressers. To my horror, I found that I was missing at least 4 models, and as my music played, and models went out missing crinolines, or blouses, or wraps, I was shouting for bodies, and bless them, they appeared.
It was the models that pulled my butt out of the fire and got what was possible to get, out on that runway. They were all worth a price above rubies—and they do not even get paid for their work. Even with those lovely women saving the day, the unprofessional nature of the show's organization surely showed. It could have been so very much more.
This odd unprofessionalism permeated everything and as such, was also found in some of the designers: Outrageously rude designers that were my neighbors in the terribly cramped backstage space. One came in and took over twice as much space as anyone else with her great pile of shoes, pushing other racks out of her way (all the rest of us designers let the models use their own shoes.) She lined those shoes up on the floor right up to and against my rack, 4 deep. When I asked her to please leave me space there so I could get to my work she simply said "Oh, are they too close?" but made no move to make any room for me. Later, before we took the runway, her partner was literally LEANING over my silk shantung and Alençon lace wedding dress (lovingly underlined with pink silk organza, I may add) with his cocktail slanted at a precarious degree in his hand and when asked to move, again replied with "Oh, am I too close?" but would not move back to his huge space to hang over his wife's clothes. I actually had to put myself between him and my work.
Imagine the designer’s outrage when I had to sweep those shoes out of the way in all the chaos of dressing and undressing. Then imagine the scene as we came to fisticuffs over it. Heaven help me, we actually came to fisticuffs over it. Would have made absolutely riveting footage had it been on Project Runway (you reading this, Bunim-Murray?).
Which brings me to the topic of backstage food. My designer/neighbor on the other side sent her hubby to go get her some food, and he returned with a tiny cocktail plate piled high with saucy noodles. My husband, who in an effort to be considerate of the other designers, had made our footprint as small as possible, and was sitting up against my rack with the wedding dress behind him, found this gentleman passing this plate of messy, sloppy food BEHIND him directly over my silk wedding dress which I had carefully laid out so that it neatly fell into its box, such that not an inch of it would touch the floor and mar its great expanses of creamy oh-so-subtly-pink silk confection-like fabric. Can you tell I love this dress?
This gentleman then had the nerve to be angry at ME when I got upset at his unbelievably disaster-ridden move. EVERYONE knows what happens to white clothes when tomato sauce comes within spitting distance of them. There was no reason to not simply walk past my rack (a total of 3 steps), and SAFELY pass the plate to his wife, NOT passing it over MY work. Then again, it would be no skin off her nose if I had had to cut that dress from the show because of his wife’s food stains. Another surreal, made-for-TV moment burned into my brain (Bunim-Murray. Hello!).
To make an even longer story short, I was appalled at the whole evening. I emailed Ean, telling him how horribly the evening went, and what a disaster that model's walk was, and asked for my money back. It took a few days, but he did ring me up. Things got pretty heated. It was clear that he was not going to refund anything, nor admit that things were mishandled. He said that all he heard was great things, and all the press was wonderful. Odd thing is, try as I may, I see very little press. There are several pre-event articles or articles stating that it happened, but almost nothing beyond that (try it! Google “DC Fashion Week 2010” and read all about the show in February … but only the Georgetown Patch seems to have covered this show on line. Unless you count the Anti DC (which is good for a laugh if nothing else).
When I told him this, he said it was all my responsibility to get press to the event. Soooo...what was it that I was paying for again? Models? No, they work for free. Press? No, apparently I was supposed to get that myself. Was it the venue? Well, the French Embassy might sound posh on paper, but it's woefully too small a venue both in the front of the house and backstage. They had a few seats near the runway, but most of the seating was in the adjoining rooms. Facing the runway. Through the open doors that housed the runway.
Ean tried to tell me that I was the first designer ever to be unhappy with his show. Odd, because the folks in the fashion biz that I called both during and after the show said things like "OMG!! What Happened.. I Have Gotten Soooo Many Texts About It. What The Heck Happened?" and "I had no idea it was like that until everyone started calling and emailing me."
So I told him I was finished arguing, I'd write my own article (since there were no others), and I hung up. This is where it got really like a trip to Munchkin Land. The man called back and threatened me with lawyers "If I write anything unfavorable or inflammatory" about DC Fashion Week. I was flabbergasted. I was sure that I had "arrived." My goodness! I was actually being threatened! “Anything unfavorable,” huh? Thank goodness for the First Amendment, eh, Anti DC?
When his bluster failed to scare me, he then said "I am the most powerful designer in DC. I know people at the Washington Post." You may take a few seconds to read that over if you wish. Yes, it sounded as hysterical over the phone as it looks in print.
Don't get me wrong. The man makes pretty clothes. He's great at marketing himself. For my money, he's not so great at planning such a huge event. Really, though, can anyone spread himself so thin that he can get his own line ready to show AND plan a huge event for other designers? Doubtful. Designers, if you want a supportive show that celebrates designers, has wonderful make-up and hair, a top notch runway, and good press, put your money (and $200 less of it, to boot!) on Baltimore Fashion Week.