Barbara Berman, a seasoned professional dresser, is the sentinel of New York Fashion Week. With her backstage team, the queen of behind the scenes is responsible for assuring one of the biggest events on the industry’s calendar goes seamlessly.
When did you start your company, BB’s Backstage, and what does your company do?
I’ve been supervising volunteers for Fashion Week since it was launched as a CFDA initiative. Through my own volunteerism, I discovered that I felt most comfortable backstage where I could get up-close and personal with the garments. As a result, I became a dresser supervisor and eventually began to formalize teams to support the designers by prepping the collection, dressing the models, executing the changes, implementing the post-show inventory and coordinating the load-out. We dress both runway shows and standing presentations. Keeping the looks fresh and the models upright is one of the extra responsibilities of a presentation format.
How many fashion weeks have you helped facilitate?
I’m on record since 1994. At that time, the shows were 4 times per year with women and men showing separately.
You’ve been called the “backstage gatekeeper of fashion week”; how does it feel knowing how much influence you have over the backstage flow of fashion week? Do you get nervous before each show?
I completely understand the intense responsibility that everyone has to ensure a professional show for each designer. I like to be sure that there is the best possible chance of success. I clear the area of any non-essential personnel like errant interns. I watch out for obstacles to safety like misplaced wires, steamers and irons. And I take good care of the models to be sure that they are comfortable and secure. My team has to execute the fast changes and make sure that every look is flawless. It makes me intensely nervous but I always have Plan A, B and C!
Working backstage is a highly coveted job for aspiring fashion insiders; how many freelancers do you manage each fashion week?
I typically have teams out at 60-70 shows per Fashion Week. The members come in from all over the tri-state area, the USA and the world to participate. All are skilled in styling, garment care and handling, quick changes and a bit of psychology!
You have mastered the art of backstage preparation to a tee. What is in your personal styling kit?
I carry the basic Barbara Dresser Kit along with extra Topstick (lots of it), threaded needles, headscarves, shoe awl, insoles, scissors, black safety pins, shoe horns, powder, foot covers, Static Guard and a collection of nude thongs. Last season we had Bounce as a sponsor so lint rollers were available everywhere in the tents!
You have been a long-time advocate for plus-size and healthy looking models. How do you feel about Vogue’s recent statement that it will no longer carry photographs of models younger than 16 or models that “appear to have an eating disorder”?
I have long been an advocate of this policy. I also believe in the Models’ Bill of Rights and work very hard to protect their privacy and work conditions. I won’t allow my team to begin dressing first looks until all cameras have been cleared from the backstage. I’m a maniac about this!
Have you noticed a change in the look of runway models in recent years?
Every season the models have a certain look that is popular. It’s usually an ethnicity or prominent facial feature, like eyebrows.
Do you expect a difference in models this upcoming Fashion Week since Vogue’s stance was released after February’s Fashion Week?
I expect to see the same outstanding caliber of models that we are known for launching in New York. There is always someone who breaks through and moves on to captivate the European runways. Since we show first, I try to guess who it might be each season!
What kinds of events does BB’s Backstage facilitate between Fashion Weeks?
We have become heavily involved with the post-Fashion Week showroom and market events as well as Bridal collections and Resort. There is also a large European luxury market presence in NY, which we support. My team devotes lots of charity hours to Broadway Cares in addition to other not-for-profit charity shows. Between activities, everyone returns to their freelance careers, which include the Macy’s Parade Studio, celebrity dressing, styling for photo shoots, wedding coordination, theatrical dressing, image consulting and hair/makeup stylists. A few go back to thriving law practices and major financial institutions! We are a diverse group united by fashion show production.
It’s been said that you enjoy working with up-and-coming designers; are there any in particular we should watch out for this Fashion Week?
I make a discovery or two each season, but since I don’t see the collections in advance, I have to wait to declare the ones to watch. I take extreme joy in seeing a serious fashion school graduate wow the crowd and grab media attention—more so than watching the launch of a celebrity-driven brand that already has a built-in buzz.