This is part two of a three part series walking you through the process from design to retail. It is based on the information imparted by industry insiders at a recent African Fashion International (AFI) briefing for all of their fashion week designers. The aim of the briefing was to assist the designers in producing quality ranges and to guide them in making their businesses sustainable. In this part, we look at staging a fashion show.
The Devil is in the Details
No phrase could be truer when planning a fashion show. The details are what will either make your show a flop or legendary; and the details are the hardest things to get right. But a good bit of planning will make the process much easier.
The first part of planning a fashion show involves getting a bigger picture view. Decide what it is you want to communicate; your message and focus in on that. In deciding your message you need to keep in mind two elements:
1) Your brand image - what kind of a label are you? Who is your target market?
2) Your current range - what feelings does it invoke? Are you saying something about the woman/man you are dressing or something about the world we live in? What inspired this range?
With these two aspects in mind you can decide on a theme for your show. It may be something as literal as 'urban street wear' or something more creative/interesting like 'Rumspringa in the Big City'. The theme will be the base around which you can plan your fashion show.
If you are not showing your collection at a fashion week you will need to locate a venue. Even on a constrained budget you should be able to creatively source a venue that compliments your theme. Venues can be anywhere: conference centres, botanical gardens, ballet studios, parking lots, wine estates or even skyscraper roofs. But they they must also be functional:
1) They must be easily accessible and centrally located. Travelling for half an hour to an hour to get to a venue will make it very unappealing for most. There must be safe parking and the distance from the parking lot to the show must not be too far. Ladies in heels with empty stomachs can get real grumpy, real fast. (If you want to provide snacks and drinks, remember the vegetarians and non alcohol drinkers. Access to bottled water is often far better than cheap champagne.)
2) There must be seating. Unless you are purposely creating an mob environment, you want your guests to be comfortable and have visible access to the ramp/viewing area.
3) There must be plenty of space for your models, make-up artists, hair stylists, dressers, backstage hands and production co-ordinators to work backstage and manage your clothes. Cramped shopping centre toilets are uncomfortable and unprofessional.
4) Pay close attention to lighting, sound and weather. If you plan to have an outdoor show in a botanical garden with a string quartet, ensure that the weather will be fine or you make provisions for rain/wind. If you want a show in an empty zoo at night, make sure you can provide enough power for sound and lights. Having a production company handle the details of the venue can take a lot of the pressure off.
In the weeks leading up to the show, the finer details will need to be ironed out.
Being a good designer does not mean you are a good stylist or a good production managerand these professionals can really tweak your presentation to maximum voltage. She/he can think about the details and how they fit in with your theme. Every detail here matters! There is nothing more wonderful than going to a Stoned Cherrie show, simply because of the attention to detail. Everything - the models, the choreography, the set arrangement, the music, the lighting, the running order, the graphics on the walls, the shoes, stockings, handbags, earrings, glasses; every single detail has been thought about and every detail adds to the level of professionalism of the show. Meet with the stylist, make-up artist, hair stylist and production manager at your studio with your range samples and ideas and take them through to the venue. Discuss all the aspects with them from your inspiration right down to the choice of music you have. Be open to their ideas, but decisive about your outcome (keep your brand and range in mind at all times).
If you are selecting your models yourself be sure to find faces and bodies that best translate your story. In almost all circumstances it is best to use professional models. They have training and they look better in the clothes. If using ordinary or interesting people does lend to your presentation, then source them through a casting agency. Even the smallest amount of professional experience will help. If you are showing at a fashion week, the models will be preselected to accommodate almost all themes. It is vitally important to allow for plenty of time to fit the clothes onto your models. Two days before the event is a disaster waiting to happen.
The 'show' part of your fashion show starts with your invitations. Your invitation not only has to have all the relevant date, time and RSVP information, but it must also communicate your brand and theme. Again, invites can be really simple cards or extravagant teasers; it depends on your budget/creativity/access to resources.
Of course you want to invite all of your friends and family to your shows, but always remember that the show is there to present your work to the industry. Pnina Fenster, Editor of Glamour, stressed the importance of the media to communicate with your market. Fashion shows are very expensive events so use them for their maximum marketing potential. If you don't have a mailing list of journalists, editors and buyers then find a fashion PR company that can manage your invitations and guest list. They should have contacts in media and fashion and their job will be to ensure that your show gets coverage and promotion. While having celebrities in the front row may be good for a few society page snaps, the ones that write about the show are the real tickets to success. The second your invites go out, make yourself available for interviews. If this is your first show, ensure that all of your press releases have a biography, a fact sheet (key milestones in your career), information about your signature, information about your collection, the stockists, your contact details and a quality photograph. The more information you give, the more accessible you are, the more promotion you will get. It is a simple equation.
On the day of the show you do not want to be backstage sewing on buttons and fixing hems! You need to be in the media lounge chatting and networking with the press and buyers. Have plenty of business cards with you, prepare a few sound bites (e.g. What inspired your collection. Your history. Your thoughts on the event/local fashion industry etc.) and lay off the free drinks! If you need to be backstage be polite - rudeness and shouting travel far beyond the confines of the backstage room.
Dion Chang mentioned "The Thread of Doom" in his presentation; that one thread that hanging off the garment will act like a magnet for every fashion editor and journo's eyes completely obliterating your entire collection. Make sure your dressers dress your model correctly and have eyes like hawks to pick up any fault or problem and fix it before it appears on the ramp.
Make sure that all the press and buyers have an information pack on their seats. This should include all of the information you sent to the press (your inspiration, bio, photo, contact details, fact sheet etc) and if possible a running order with prices, fabrication, available sizes and stockists. The running order will help buyers select what they want to order and will help editors plan inserts/features/photo shoots.
Before you know it, the show will be over. But that does not mean you can now go put your feet up and party backstage with the models. The rest of the day will be spent doing interviews and networking.
So does it all end with the show? A big, fat NO! The show is merely a promotion vehicle. Designer Abigail Keats presented for the first time in the New Generation show at Audi Joburg Fashion Week in March. After her show, she distributed CDs with the show photos, her bio and her contact details to all the fashion magazines and media. Because she did that, Elle magazine featured her as their designer of the month with a one page spread. Coverage like that costs tens of thousands of Rands. Abigail was sure to send them a thank-you note for her page and I guarantee you, they will feature her again.
In the final chapter you can read about Abigail Keat's first time retailing experience here.