by Hitha Forbes.
“Just a couple years ago,” says Onorato, who, with partner Max Wixom, owns special-events company Onorato-Wixom, “I remember being backstage and an entire wall collapsed an hour before the show. People were screaming and the designer was freaking out. But instead of having a breakdown, we pulled it together and made it work despite adding additional cost to backstage production. Had we not factored in the potential for snafus in the budget, it [the fashion show] would have been a disaster.”
The world may see fashion models in exquisite clothes strutting down the runway during Fashion Week, but they rarely get a glimpse of the action behind the scenes or the associated costs. A designer once asked Onorato to change all the lights to a soft pink, so a celebrity walking in the show would look younger. The total cost: $20,000.
“A fashion presentation at Bryant Park will cost at least $50,000. If the designer requires hotter models, a premiere stylist, a hair and makeup team beyond the sponsored offerings, and additional set elements, the cost of the show will go up significantly,” says Mark Silver, partner of Factory Public Relations, a fashion and lifestyle publicity firm in New York. “And designers are willing to pay it. [They know] in order to have a successful presentation, you need to have a well produced backstage area.”
Want to exploit the “wow” factor that comes from having your show in some unlikely venue–a subway station, say, or a roof-top pool? That will cost you, since wiring and other infrastructure must be provided. When you figure the extra labor and equipment costs, the price can easily hit $75,000.
Stylists working with the designers, hair stylists and makeup artists also contribute to the high price of backstage production. Clothing stylists work directly with the designers, as well as creative directors, to style collections coming down the runway. If you are a lesser-known stylist, the cost to the designer can be $5,000 to $6,000 dollars a day, with a four-day minimum. But if you are more well known, fees can shoot up to $20,000 a day.
“Someone like [celebrity stylist] Rachel Zoe can ask for huge rates because her own celebrity and name makes the designer look good,” says a fashion publicist. “Last year when she styled the Marchesa show, it was said she got upward of $20,000. But the designers had to hire a whole new set of stylists to do the actual dirty work.”
Hair and makeup are just as important. Runway photographs are often used as marketing material for designers and can affect hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales. For a basic stylist, designers will pay $3,000. Celebrity hair stylists with buzz, such as Rita Hazan or Frederic Fekkai, will charge $5,000 to $10,000, says a fashion show producer.
The cost of makeup is another major factor. In addition to the hefty fee makeup artists typically get paid, add in the costs of lipstick, eyeshadow, eye liner and blush, which can total tens of thousands.
“Right before fashion week, there are orders of at least 20,000 shadows–and that’s just for the eyes,” says John Demsey, global president of MAC cosmetics. “Multiply [that figure] by 25 to 30 makeup artists per show, with at least 45 shows going on. To re-stock a makeup artist’s makeup box costs at the very least $2,000. The cost can really start to escalate.”
And all this assumes things are going according to plan. What if there’s some unforeseen or extraordinary circumstance?
“One year, a designer made us build an entirely new backstage for a celebrity who was walking in the show and didn’t want to be in the regular backstage area,” says Onorato. “We had to deliver extra furniture, not to mention the wood used to build the separate area. The total cost was upward of $1,500.”
Wixom recalls a time when a makeup artist wouldn’t work until a Hello Kitty boom box was plugged in and playing. Despite attempts to rationalize with the artist, Wixom had to hire an electrician to satisfy her request. Total cost: $3,000.
Whether they’ve got large or small budgets, designers inevitably go overboard when it comes to producing shows. With so much at stake when a designer presents a collection, do the extras really make a difference?
“The little things may not make a huge impact on the clothes, but I think it helps when it comes to a designer’s psyche,” Silver says. “The last thing you want is uneasiness backstage. It’s stressful enough as it is.”