Working behind-the-scenes at a runway fashion show sounds fun and glamorous — and it is. It’s also tons of hard work in a pressure-cooker situation. NAILS online correspondent Debbie Doerrlamm found this out first-hand when she tagged along with nail tech Audra “Honey” Hines at designer Jerry Tam’s show during February’s Fall Fashion Week in New York City.
My day is easy in comparison to Honey’s. I caught a 1 p.m. train to Penn Station, grabbed the downtown A-Train, transferred to the downtown F-Train, walked three blocks and called Honey who is still in a cab five minutes away.
So where am I headed? Fashion Week. During one Sunday evening Nail Chat, Honey told me she was the nail technician for designer Jerry Tam’s dazzling collection on display at New York City’s Fashion Week. I jokingly asked if I could join her to shoot some photos and maybe write an article. “Of course you can!” she replied.
Honey’s day actually started weeks ago. She had three meetings with Tam to prepare for the event. Honey and her assistants spent three long nights creating the nails for the runway models. At one of the meetings with Tam, he gave her a length of fabric that would be used in the fashion designs to be shown at the affair. The fabric was actually going to be incorporated into the nails for the models.
Today she made the trip from Brooklyn to the Lower Eastside of Manhattan laden down with two suitcases and other assorted bags and cases each filled to the brim with every conceivable item she might need during the event. From past experience, Honey knows she must be prepared for anything to go wrong.
3:00 P.M. - As I wait for Honey to materialize, models, hairstylists, makeup people, guests, press, and whoknows- who-else start to arrive.
3:05 P.M. - Here they come. Honey’s bouncing down the street with four assistants in tow, each carrying something. Once inside this fabulous old church, now an arts center, we see some heavy-duty greetings going on — hugs, kisses, and joking between the designer’s staff, theater crew, hairstylists and makeup artists. We’re in the basement. It is so cold only the brave remove their coats. There are several 8-ft. banquet tables set up unceremoniously along the perimeter of the room; there is not even a tablecloth on the bare, worn wood. Chairs are strewn about, up for grabs for whoever needs them. There is a live band practicing upstairs. On one of the makeup tables is a large poster board with a headshot of each model, her name, and what “looks” she will be wearing.
The models start arriving. A total of 15, all well over 5’10”, stick thin, with perfect skin.
There is a huge buzz of activity around us at the four hairstylist stations and four makeup stations. Honey has one table to herself and has now grabbed six chairs for her staff and the models. Designer Tam makes his grand entrance and the greetings, hugs, and kisses begin again.
3:55 P.M. - Panic sets in, but it’s a calm, controlled panic. There are not enough tips for all the models. Head assistant Naomi has been working while the other three assistants do some finish work on the remaining tips, laying things out so they can be applied as quickly as possible. When someone realizes some of the pre-made tips are missing, all the assistants jump up and get to work making sure there are not only enough to go around but also a few extras.
3:45 P.M. - The first model finally sits down. Honey gets to work fitting the tips that will be applied with special glue dots, so they will come right off and not damage the model’s nails. She explains all this to the model as she works. Honey glances over to see my face in sheer amazement at the flurry of activity. “It’s calm now, just wait ’till it gets closer to show time!” she says. The lighting is very poor. The hairstylists and makeup artists have a little better lighting, but all these people are used to working under such conditions.
Honey runs off on a scavenger hunt for the glue dots Tam had ordered for her to use today and quickly returns with her prize and gets back to work. “Naomi, grab that one and get started,” Honey says without even looking up. I’m not sure how she even saw the second model hovering nearby.
Honey quizzes the model on which “looks” she will be wearing. What type of shoes will she wear — open toe? “No, boots,” the model responds. “Good.” Honey is pleased at not having to prepare 15 sets of toes tonight. I never saw nail tips go through so much torture before application. Honey bends, twists, and actually folds, each one to make sure they fit properly. Each of the more than 150 tips being used tonight was prefilled for length and shape.
I observe one of the models at the makeup station making nasty faces at the silver nails she is going to have to wear. “If they complain or balk, they probably won’t model again,” says Honey. Another model, totally oblivious to all this controlled turmoil, is reading The Daily, a trade publication for the fashion industry, as she is poked, prodded, and turned by the makeup artist.
The shoe guy shows up, squats down next to the model now getting her nails done, and checks size and it. Everyone is in their own world here, doing their own thing in an un-choreographed ballet.
4:55 P.M. - It’s about two hours until show time, and Honey has just gotten started on models seven and eight. The designer usually provides some kind of food for the artists, his staff, and guests. But today’s food is not much to Honey’s taste, so she sends Naomi out for cupcakes from a local bakery. She needs sugar now!
The show director runs down the stairs and announces loudly enough for everyone to hear, “I’m taking all the models for 10 minutes soon for a run through.” No one bats an eyelash at this proclamation, and they keep on working.
5:00 P.M. - The lights dim. This old building can’t handle the load, and something pops. No one stops working in the dimmed light. A new scurry ensues for the electrician, who arrives with ladders and cords. He quickly rectifies the situation and a little cheer goes up when the lights are restored.
Naomi returns with the cupcakes and Honey digs in and is a much happier camper now.
5:15 P.M. - More guests arrive, and now a film crew joins us in this already tight space. The models are totally oblivious to all this activity around them. A model sits for Honey now and says, “I have to wear gloves. Do I just pop these off?” Honey calms her, “Yes, just pop them off. They are not going to harm your nails.”
5:30 P.M. - All the models are escorted upstairs for the run-through in their street clothes. They are halfway made-up, some with nails. During this short lull, the artists mingle and joke around while they straighten up their areas. Upstairs the models do two complete walks down the runway. The floor director shows them where to stop and turn, what look they should have on their face, and how to hold their shoulders. This is all done with music, so the cues are set for that now too.
5:50 P.M. - The models finally return to the basement area. A photographer has set up and starts taking head shots of the models, though they are still in their street clothes. Honey now has to chase down the remaining models. I am not sure how she has kept track of them all. Honey and Naomi double up on these stragglers to get their nails fitted and applied.
Honey introduces me to Jerry Tam, a very gracious man who is very excited about the show. I am not exactly sure what Honey told him about my position in life, but she obviously embellished just a little from some of the things he said to me!
6:30 P.M. - Things are really happening now. All the models are brought upstairs to start getting dressed. I look around and see we now have two video crews wandering around. Some of the artists are cleaning up, and some have gone upstairs to help with the dressing process and to repair hair and makeup where needed. More guests are arriving, and once again we’re getting cramped. They don’t stay long, however. They mingle just long enough to say “hello” and wander back up to the lobby area.
The models start to come back downstairs and are all dressed in their “looks.” They are met with “ohhs” and “ahhs.” Cameras snap as each model is guided to the photographer’s area for official photos of the designs.
6:45 P.M. - “Crisis upstairs” is the message relayed to Honey from one of the assistants helping the models dress. Their nails are coming off. One is lost. Honey handles this calmly and professionally, calling out instructions to her assistants. Everything is handled in short order.
6:55 P.M. - The show director announces, “Five minutes — all models in first look,” and disappears back upstairs. Now everyone is in motion, and soon it’s a virtual ghost town down here. I make my way up to the balcony level to watch the show.
7:30 P.M. - I can’t believe the show’s over so quickly. All that work and time, and in 30 minutes — maybe even less — it’s a done deal. It was very exciting to see the models up close like that. The clothes were amazing. The designs were highly praised, and Tam and his staff are beaming. Back downstairs, the models and artists are grabbing their things and running for the exits. If I hurry, I can make the 8:15 train and be home before 10.Honey sees me checking my watch and says, “Get going or you’ll miss the train. The fun is done here!” I thank everyone with a generous dose of hugs and kisses, and I’m off.
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