Thursday, August 03, 2017

A month in Paris: Behind the scenes at Paris Fashion Week

As many of you know, I traveled to Paris for the month of July to participate in a Couture Techniques Workshop through the Paris American Academy.  Clearly, I didn't blog about it while I was there and now it feels almost impossible to sum up what a amazing experience it was!  So I'm going to take a few posts to hit some of the highlights of my trip: Paris Fashion Week, hat making, shibori dying and felting, and finally, the culmination of the trip, my couture gown.

During our first few days in Paris, before I even was acclimated to the 9 hour time difference, we were thrown into working behind the scenes at Paris Fashion Week.  Our group of students worked as "dressers", dressing the models in haute couture gowns and garments, for 5 different shows:  Galia Lahav, Georges Hobeika, Tony Ward, Alexandre Vauthier, and Zaid Nakad.  

Dressing a model seems like a simple task, but it's actually not that easy!  First, you must not put any garments over the head--after hours in hair and make-up, that's rule #1.  Therefore, the [couture, handmade, crazy expensive with hundreds of hours of work] dresses have to be put on the ground and manipulated to create a "hole" so that the model can just step into them.  Likely, they are wearing heels, so it's critical that they don't catch their Louboutins on the fragile fabric.  Then, zip corsets, latch hook and eyes, button buttons, buckle belts, etc. etc., all in the smallest span of time imaginable. While everyone is sweaty and stressed out.
Above are some photos from behind the scenes at Galia Lahav, our first show.   For this show, I only had to dress two models before the show, so there were no quick changes.   In the photo below, I dressed the model in the mini-dress, as well as another not in the shot.
However, for the second show (Georges Hobeika), I had one model with two looks.  How it works is this: after the model walks the runway in the first look, we have to change out her gown, buckled high heels and 6 pieces of jewelry in the span of 2 minutes for her next walk.  It's nuts!  In the end, it was more like a wheel-change at a car race--we all descended on any model that walked back, stripped her down and suited up, ready to walk out again.  My model was the gorgeous Mili from Serbia:
And miniature me next to her!  Notice she was kind enough to scooch down to minimize the height difference :)
This purple gown, below, was Mili's first look.  Each garment was meticulously hand-beaded and just flat out gorgeous.  Georges Hobeika's work was amazing.
And the pile of shoes after the show.
The third show was Tony Ward and we had the opportunity to watch the walk-through before the show at the L'Oratoire de Louvre.  Initially, the models walk the runway in just their heels (and whatever they walked in wearing), but we saw the wedding dress finale in full effect to check the lighting.
Gathering of models after the show, with some of us students (dressed in black) looking on:
Photo with one of the principal sewists--in my opinion, the stars of the show since they actually do all the fabulous work!
 My model in her second look.
Georges Hobeika and Tony Ward were the same day, and at about 4-5 hours each, it was a long day!
Alexandre Vauthier was our 4th show and I didn't take any photos of the garments (here is the Swarovski-encrusted garment I put on my model, though.) The picture, above, is inside the Grand Palais with a glimpse of the partial "Eiffel Tower" that Chanel used for their show. In some cases, designers don't permit photos behind the scenes until after the show, but in this case, I didn't take photos because it was outrageously hot in the Grand Palais and I was hungry and thirsty and on my feet for 5 hours.  I wasn't happy enough to document the event!

Zaid Nakad was our last show and I had three garment changes for one model.  It was all kinds of crazy.  The backstage area was tiny and the gowns were enormous, so it was a true task to get all the garments on and off 30 models in a timely manner.  The first gown for my model must have weighed 40 pounds between the crinoline and the beaded dress--I could barely lift it!  Here I am trying to hold up the crinoline (which was about 20 lbs by itself!):
And next to the model wearing the black beaded gown with crinoline underneath:
Here's a photo of my model in her final look.  She is tall, of course, but wearing 6" platform heels makes her look positively enormous next to me (at a mere 5'1").
 Here the models are surrounding the designer, Zaid Nakad, below.  His work was also brilliant and gorgeous.
Below is a photo of another model, doing what the models do quite a bit; taking a selfie.  However, what is even more interesting in this picture is the pile of haute couture dresses on the left; after a dress comes off a model, there isn't time to hang it up until after the show, so we just throw all the amazing, handmade, outrageously expensive dresses in a heap.  That's the final wedding dress on top. It's staggering.
In the course of putting the gowns back on hangers and into garment bags, I got to hold up the wedding dress (which pretty much stood on its own, with all the structure and horsehair underneath). It's just like trying it on, right?! 
Finally, a few of the designers served champagne backstage after the show, so here's my friend Irina and I toasting being done with Paris Fashion Week!
At the start of the Week, I felt completely inept.  I had never worked any role in any sort of fashion show ever and it was scary, considering how much money is on the line for these designers. But by the end, though, I felt like a complete pro and was a little disappointed that we were finished with that chapter of the adventure, especially considering I will never again have such an opportunity. But, I have good memories and even better stories forever....


  1. Wow, what a wonderful opportunity! Where did you end up staying? I love Paris and have had the fortune to visit several times!

  2. what a fantastic post, seems like a once in a life opportunity to peek behind the curtain at a show like that. Gorgeous dresses. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wow, what an amazing experience. Can't wait to hear more about it. I had to chuckle at one of the photos of you standing next to the model - omg, the length of her leg!!!

  4. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful event in your life it looks and sounds amazing.

  5. Wow! Thank you for sharing! Very cool experience.

  6. Wow! So much fun to see behind the scenes! Looks like an awesome experience.

  7. Very interesting read! Wow, what an experience!

  8. These photos decribe a wonderful preparation. Hope to see the on -stage photos of Paris Fashion Week!

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience, it was great to read about it and just imagine the feel of the dresses. Also, your picture on featuring your floral dress looks great!

  10. OH Nicole...I've been saving your post for a time when I knew I would have time to really savor the content. AND BOY...this is even more exciting than I anticipated. WOW...lucky you! I'm so happy for you having had this experience. And you're so petite, especially next to the models. I've seen bits on Project Runway, but your point of view is so interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  11. What an amazing experience! Super jealous you got to look at the inner workings of some of those gowns!!

  12. Thanks for sharing. This is massively interesting.