New York Fashion Week Survival Guide (for Industry Creatives)
We may be friends or colleagues, but we likely haven’t crossed paths this week. See, I’m the chick sitting over there on the concrete floor, immersed in the heard of foaming-mouthed photographers. As soon as this show’s done, I’m headed out in the snow to shoot street style for a few, freezing hours. If I’m lucky, we’ll catch up at an after party later where I’ll probably find a place to get horizontal and nod off (after writing and editing until 3am.)
It’s a common plot for freelancers, but make no mistake - being a working creative at Fashion Week is a career high to aspire to. It’s the Grand Prix for designers, models, editors and all the freelancers that hustle to create those photos and trend recaps you can’t stop staring at. But like any other hectic industry, there are tips and tricks you eventually learn by observing veterans, through word of mouth and just by falling on you’re a** on the ice, in front of fellow photogs and a moving Escalade… and nobody helped you because Kim K. was arriving so…….anyway, here’s some advice to speed things up for the newbies:
Apply for your press or photographer’s badge early. If you’re new to the industry or even an industry veteran new to Fashion Week, be sure to get an assignment letter from your editor. Don’t be offended if you get rejected. There’s a long list of staff editors and writers at Vogue and all the top magazines and sites they need to go through before considering you. The not-so-secret it that you can still get into shows. IMG does a great job every year, but the badge really only gets you into the venue where you can watch shows on the jumbo screen and drink five-dollar water. Note: no pass required to shoot street style.
BUT FIRST, PR
Oh, you didn’t hear? You’re PR too. Once you get that badge you’ll get a contact list and start cold emailing the heck out of it. Don’t wait. You can’t get into shows without confirmation of either a seat, the photographer’s pit or standing room. A few years deep you’ll start receiving invites without having to do anything, but I still email every single contact on the list and follow up consistently, just to be sure. (If you didn’t get a press pass, there are these things called friends and the Internet, but you didn’t hear from me.)
YOU'RE NOT WALKING THE RUNWAY
You’re going to get caught up in it. This is NYC – fashion capital of the world. Beautiful people. Top style. But you’ll learn the hard way when you’re late for a show because you needed to grab that vintage scarf last minute or you can’t keep up with the model-of-the-moment for a photo because you insisted on heeled boots or that super tight thing starts hurting because you’re sardined in the pit. Thing is, nobody cares what you’re wearing. You’re there to work. Create insightful images and stories and look hot with your friends later. My uniform usually consists of comfortable, stylish black everything, on-trend kicks, a cool jacket and a backpack.
PACK FOR AN OVERNIGHTER
The woman in the front row is carrying lip gloss, her phone, wallet and mints in her bag. That woman is going home to change twice, eat at a cozy restaurant and get escorted by Lyfts all day. You will be there for hours, without much of a break running from backstage, the pit, outside and back again. Also include:
✓ hair product
✓ make up
✓ various snacks
✓ bottled cold coffee
✓ face wipes
✓ change of top
✓ laptop (if needed)
✓ backup camera batteries, flash batteries etc.
✓ headphones (to destress)
KNOW YOUR STUFF
It seems self-explanatory, but hearing someone botch a designer’s name or brand is cringe- worthy. You’re there to rep the publications and agencies you work for and you’re promoting your own self brand: you. Knowing about the fashion industry, well-known photographers and creative directors is imperative, even if it’s not your original genre. It can make a difference in building work relationships. And if you happen to cross paths with Grace Coddington and have no idea who she is and don’t snag any quotes from her, you may be blackballed from NYC.
MODELS AND AGENCIES ARE YOUR ALLIES
For features, creative shoots, list pieces involving models…….One particular, "amazing women" at Ford saves me every season. Be nice. Make friends.
When things get hectic it’s human nature for people to get stressed, flustered and snappy. This will happen OFTEN at Fashion Week in person, on the phone and in emails. Don’t get triggered or take it personally. If you’re someone who is easily offended, this may not be the career for you. Try to let it roll off. Chances are he or she is a good person and will apologize later. I’m all about calling people out, but I never do it in my work bubble. Letting things roll off and just being respectful (even if they weren’t) always wins. People will remember how easy you are to work with.
PRESS CAN ACT LIKE ENEMIES
Sad to admit it, but NYC is a highly competitive environment, particularly for creatives. Full-time, hardcore photographers work REALLY hard and deal with a ton of crap. Reporters are always under a tight deadline and stressed out. Editors are juggling too many tasks. I tend to follow the above advice. I’ve landed some talented friends and mentors from it.
BACKSTAGE IS HEAVEN
It’s difficult to get access and worth every second. Editors favor these candid shoots and so will your portfolio. It’s the softer side of Fashion Week. You get to see models as real (hilarious) people. Stylists, directors, designers, journalists all get to bond and laugh a bit before the storm.
NETWORK UNTIL YOU CRY
There’s no better time to.
AIN'T IT MAGIC?
When I was a kid I preferred glossies to dolls. NYC was my only city, as far as I was concerned. And being a writer and multi-creative wrapped up in fashion, the arts, diversity - it’s what I wanted and I’m doing it. I have this moment right before a runway show starts. Everyone gets silent and the room goes black. The music starts and I get this rush of adrenaline, the kind only NYC manufactures. The concrete may feel cold under my butt and that photog’s elbow is jabbing my rips, but I’d trade places with nobody. Remember to take it all in and have fun too.
Mich Cardin is a reporter and photographer based in NYC. Follow her @michcardin.