For anyone looking to digest the flurry of shows and events during New York Fashion Week, and in particular Proenza Schouler's recent highly-acclaimed Fall 2012 show, French film director Loic Prigent's series, "The Day Before," is an excellent place to start.
While fashion documentaries like "The September Issue" or "Valentino, the Last Emperor" have gotten a lot of press, Prigent's series (which was produced in conjunction with the Sundance Channel) has flown a bit further under the radar, and so was a refreshingly timely selection for a recent screening at FIT and the French Institute Alliance Francaise.
The series follows top fashion houses -- including Karl Lagerfeld (who apparently took a full year and a half to book), Jean Paul Gaultier, and Sonia Rykiel -- through the nail-biting chaos that precedes their fashion shows. The final installment, which is likely of the biggest interest to New York Fashion Week aficionados, follows Proenza Schouler's Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCullough on the eve of their critical post-recession Fall 2009 collection.
The episode offers a unusually candid, intimate look at Hernandez and McCullough's design process, opening with a frantic fitting for a troublesome, off-the-shoulder coat that seems to fall off every model it's put on. We're also introduced to the brand's key behind-the-scenes personalities, including CEO Shirley Cook, pattern maker Nicolas Caito (who "handles the more complicated, couture-level pieces," Cook explains in the film), and even the team of ultra-dedicated interns running samples back and forth through the Garment District.
The episode also gives viewers a glimpse of the business side of fashion week. "Our [show] is typically around $180,000," says Cook. On the day of the show, Hernandez and McCullough have to preview the collection to their Valentino Group partners, who have a 40 percent stake in the company. Unsurprisingly, the key word to use with the investors is "wearable."
In a season that has paid particular attention to the struggles of models in the industry, the film also gives timely glimpses of the intense pressure models endure to book a top show like Proenza Schouler. "You got tiny," McCullough exclaims to one model, whose sample is hanging off her thin frame. "I'm doing the best I can!," she sighs. Earlier in the film, Hernandez runs his hands over the bodice of a dress on a young model and says, "I love how flat it is!"
Of course, no documentary about a fashion show would be complete without a last-minute disaster, and this one delivers: On the day of the show back in 2009, a series of elaborate, velvet panne dresses (apparently "one of the most difficult fabrics to work with") had the bodices sewn incorrectly. As guests file into the venue, Caito and his team expertly snip and resew the gowns. (We can testify that this is by no means a rare occurrence: We spotted Jason Wu backstage at his show putting the finishing touches on one of the Fall '12 collection's ornate jackets less than an hour before showtime.)
After the film, Prigent seemed amazed at the designers' ability to keep cool under pressure. "I don't know how they do it, I would be screaming. I would be so mean," he said. Indeed, considering the amount of recent press around the mounting stresses on designers -- not to mention the recent stings of McQueen and Galliano -- it's worth remembering that those who manage to sail through these shows relatively unscathed are truly impressive. Prigent reminded the audience that the subject matter itself should be keeping the industry light: "I think fashion is really fun, and it's important to show it that way," he said. "Even at Comme des Garcons they laugh, sometimes. I asked Rei Kawakubo and she said, 'I laugh when people fall.'"
Want to see the documentary yourself? Snap up the entire DVD collection, which was recently made available as a box set.