Reflections of a Student Fashion Show Director

Image by Brody Nevins

Thirty two minutes—from the first model through to the finale of the Indiana University Fashion Design BA Fashion Show.

131 days, or 3,144 hours, or 188,640 minutes—the amount of time that passed from our first director’s meeting to the day of the show.

I think this was my most shocking realization as I sat in the empty front row, watching the deconstruction process of the DJ booth and the archway framing the runway entrance. A few models were still meandering here and there, searching for their belongings in the dressing room, their friends anxiously waiting in the lobby for post-show drinks. All I could think was, now that it’s over, what will I spend my free time on?

As one of three fashion show directors, the last few weeks for me had been consumed by nothing but fashion show preparation, at the expense of my job search, social life and sleep schedule. Of course, now that it’s over, I’ll pick those things back up again (somewhat reluctantly) and get back on my horrifyingly short path to graduation and the real world. Despite all the struggles of planning the show, it ended up being something that excited and encouraged me, wiggling up into my cool dream jobs that I’ll probably never have listed.

The position of Fashion Show Co-Director was one that I’ve been working towards since my freshman year. The title is appointed by the Retail Studies Organization who present, market and sponsor the show, and I attended every networking event, field seminar and forum in order to earn said title. When I learned I’d obtained the position, I leapt into some serious celebratory dancing.

So now, post-show, I offer some reflections and some, what I hope will be, helpful advice to those seeking to put on their own fashion show, or really any production you can dream of.

Tip #1: Assemble the Dream Team

Being a director was everything I had imagined and more. It was a lot of work, but I’m the type who thrives when kept busy and under pressure. However, I most certainly couldn’t have done it myself. My wonderful Co-Directors and I reached perfect harmony, a fact that I thank the fates for wholeheartedly.

Gabriel Fickenscher is the wonder woman who tackled the majority of liaisons with designers and professors. As a Teaching Assistant for the class and an IU Fashion Show veteran, she brought authority and experience to the table. Rebecca Sales somehow miraculously managed to not only be reliable in her position, but also crack out an entire collection for the show. She brought creativity, support and a constantly positive attitude to our meetings.

I can’t even imagine what the show would have been like without our Co-Director Dream Team. With diverse talents and experiences, we balanced each other out in our meetings and managed to inspire new ideas and perspectives. This made this year’s show truly spectacular.

When seeking out your partners in crime, compile people based on their expertise. Your team should be diverse, yet relevant to the event at hand. For instance, I am not, by any means, a designer. But my background in journalism and marketing gave me connections to dozens of student media outlets. This resulted in partnerships with a videographer who made promotional videos for the show, a newscaster to provide a fashion show play-by-play and several interviews various bloggers and journalists.

You’d be surprised by how many little aspects contribute to a full fashion show. Be sure to tap the undiscovered talents of your colleagues.

Tip #2: Know When to Nix It

No matter what, somewhere in the long planning process something is going to go wrong.

This sucks, I’m well aware. But admitting it is the first step. Your production is not going to be perfect, and rolling with those punches is what is going to keep things running smoothly. Be proactive, not reactive, and brace yourself for the impact. Part of this is knowing when to call it quits.

Sometimes a big dream plan you have in mind just isn’t a possibility. First off, it’s important to think things out in full. What exactly can go wrong with this particular plan? Is the outcome worth the struggle? Do we have time to deal with the consequences?

For the IU Fashion Show in particular, this is where we went horribly wrong. After brainstorming different options for set designs we came up with a genius idea of a suspended installation over the runway. Steel cables would stretch across our triangle lighting truss with Ping-Pong balls suspended in the air via fishing line. The result would be a massive wave of floating baubles reflecting the lights off the runway and complementing the arch. All in all, it was a pretty cool concept.

Dozens of calculations later, we came up with a plan. Gabriel mapped out a complicated system on the dirty floor of the Memorial Hall basement, working through the struggle of constructing a set piece totaling 36 feet in length and 15 feet in height in a mere 14 feet of space. The installation required 9 separate pieces that would be strung up on the truss the day of. Each took about 2 hours, and required a strange storage invention composed of strips of muslin, pattern paper, two tables and cardboard tubes taped together. We deemed it the ratchet rig. Thanks to the help of several unsuspecting volunteers, 7 of the pieces were tediously completed just in time for the show.

But then came the problem. We awkwardly shuffled through campus carrying those drooping 12-foot poles only to discover that it was nearly impossible to unwind them without the fishing line knotting. After a few uncomfortable hours attempting to untangle these massive wires alongside some very confused lighting assistants, we had to call it quits. Our lack of planning was causing a definite delay in the set up process of the show, and frankly we looked pretty foolish. It was a difficult call to make, but ultimately the right thing to do.

Somehow cutting apart those poles and throwing them into the recycling dumpster was gratifying. It was as if I had known all along that it wasn’t going to work, yet I knew that everything was going to be okay. Yes, I had wasted about 20 hours of my life on a project that was now piled in the dumpster. But the show must go on. And it did.

Tip #3: Let the Superstars Shine On

As the director, it’s important to understand that this is not your show. Well, okay, for Rebecca it was kind of her show. But I personally did not have any clothing in the fashion show.

My job was to glorify the talents and hard work of the 24 designers who had been slaving over their collections for the semester. I witnessed them pull multiple all-nighters in a row, consume unhealthy amounts of coffee and pizza, and hand-sew pieces of their projects in the strangest circumstances. Despite all that, they produced beautiful designs that reflected their own inspirations and personal aesthetics. They were the ones who deserved recognition, not me. It was up to the directors to make sure their hard work was given the spotlight it merited.

I’m not going to lie; this was something easy to forget. After numerous late nights of my own, I found it difficult to resist claiming some credit. I caught myself calling it my fashion show, or attempting to make decisions based on my needs and wishes rather than receiving input from the designers. In the end, I think I successfully managed to take their opinions into account over my own. If I had caved to my own shortcomings, I don’t think as many people would have been happy with the result.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be proud of the work you’ve done. It’s quite a feat putting on a full fashion show! But don’t allow it to cloud your judgment.

Tip #4: Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor

When you’re standing backstage, double-checking the lineup and looks, take a second to stop and see all you’ve accomplished. How are people reacting to the show? Are things running smoothly? Are YOU happy with the result?

As I watched the designers huddle around an iPad broadcasting the live stream, I was struck with an extreme wave of bliss. All of them were beaming as they watched their designs grace the runway. Some had tears streaming down their face; others were jumping up and down, hugging each other and offering congratulations. It was all very surreal. My Co-Directors and I had helped make this happen. We successfully put on a show that allowed these designers to show off their hard work to a crowd of around 700 people.

Revel in the happiness that is the result of your work. Focus on the positives despite the hiccups along the way or the pieces that didn’t match your vision. Whether you’ve spent 131 days or 5 years to make it happen, the 32 minutes it takes to strut those designs down the runway is completely worth it.

A small sample of designs photographed by Anna Teeter.

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