Ever been backstage for a fashion show? It’s for neither the weak nor the slow. Split-second decision-making skills, a sense of humor, and the ability to work standing up and smiling for grossly long periods of time are prerequisites for anyone who wants to survive back there. Restless nights? Comes with the territory. Sweet delirium? Occupational hazard.
So how does the whole show come together so smoothly? Magic? Hell no. It’s the handlers, y’all.
Charleston Fashion Week wouldn’t happen without the people who do it all behind the scenes, from meticulously selecting models to auditioning hair and makeup artists. Handlers are the magicians who are at it for months, long before tents are ever raised or the fashions are even decided. They’re there to ensure the models are ready to roll.
Take Emma Maybury, a College of Charleston senior and the CFW hair and makeup team backstage coordinator. She’s worked with the show for four years running, the last two directly under the leadership of Ashley Brook Perryman, the hair and makeup creative director. Maybury’s responsible for getting more than 100 models through hair and makeup on time, every night.
“Ashley has a schedule that she formulates each year for timing the hair and makeup, and it’s my job to make sure that we stay on time and have models completed,” Maybury says. “I think what most people don’t realize is that this job is far more administrative than glamorous or fashion-related. You must know how to create spreadsheets, communicate, and work well under pressure.”
Perryman also has Lauren Boyce by her side as the assistant to the hair and makeup director. Boyce is joining CFW for the third year in a row. A stylist at Madewell on King Street, Boyce works closely with everyone from the CFW hair and makeup stylists to the designers to make sure the designers’ visions are realized on the catwalk.
“Everybody really steps in to educate each other and really makes each other feel confident about the look that they’re doing. So in trainings, we really work hard to build their confidence in their skills so if someone’s having cold feet doing a really graphic avant-garde look and someone is better at demonstrating that, they step in to help,” she says. “Everyone learns from each other.”
During the show, Boyce is backstage with Maybury double-checking that the models’ looks are fully developed before they’re unleashed onto the runway. When there’s a quick change, her role is crucial.
“A quick change is when say a model in the first show is also in the third show, and so she has to be into a new wardrobe and look in 10 minutes,” Boyce says. “There are definitely times when there’s back-to-back walks, and we have a model for two minutes and we make it happen.”
Model coordinator Joe Quinn helps with the quick changes, too. He makes sure those models are immediately undressed, taken to hair and makeup, and redressed in time before the next show begins. A five-year CFW veteran, Quinn’s role actually begins in September when he auditions 700 models. Those are narrowed down to the 200 from which the designers will choose their weapons.
“On top of coordinating rehearsals and casting, we work with designers on their selection process,” Quinn says. “We have an online model book, so they can log in and see the models, measurements, and pictures, and they put together their selections. Then we go through that and make sure there are no overlaps per night and all that good stuff — so there’s about a thousand moving parts just for models. Two hundred models walking in 49 runway shows over the course of four nights, plus a bridal show, so yes, a lot of moving parts.”
Originally, Quinn was hired as a two-day intern, but a couple of days was enough to get him hooked on the CFW chaos, and that internship lasted a year and a half before he was named the model coordinator. This year’s show is particularly special — it will be his last, since the CofC senior plans to leave Charleston come May graduation. But he’s got plenty of backstage moments to take with him.
“One year, one of the designers — a heel broke or something or the model’s shoe was too big — so the model was nervous about walking down the runway and that turned into one of my assistants running up to me and saying, ‘I need a tampon,'” Quinn says. “This was a guy also, so I’m like, ‘Why do you need tampons?’ and apparently the designer wanted to put tampons in the shoe. When you think you’ve heard the most random thing backstage, there’s always something more random and more quotable that happens.”
A sense of humor comes in handy when the tiredness sets in. “Two years ago we were using so much fake hair and weave, and it was super windy that day, and the doors to the tent wouldn’t stay closed,” Boyce says, “so we had this massive pile of weave that round itself up in a ball so it was the joke of the week — our tumbleweave. It was literally rolling through the tent past all the models, and we were chasing fake hair everywhere.”
For these handlers, it’s the moments that leave them smiling that they’ll remember. The lack of sleep, stress, and physical demands all disappear when they can watch their hard work unfold right in front of them.
“The most gratifying part of each night is seeing the models all lined up, completely dressed, and in their hair and makeup,” Maybury says. “Seeing the designers stare at their models just moments before their show starts has actually made me teary-eyed before, because you can just completely see every aspect of their vision — hair, makeup, models, music, everything — that they explained during creative meetings all come together into a beautiful piece of art.”