As society grows more visually sophisticated, fashion shows have had to keep up, adding theatrical elements unheard of in previous decades. Props, sets, choreography and music have become nearly as important as the clothes.
Pizazz has become the name of the game, says Beverly Eckert of Huntington Beach, one of the area's top coordinators of charitable fund-raising fashion events, "and that takes time."
"The minute the client books us and a theme is developed, the planning begins," she says. "It could be a whole year (before the event) that I'm thinking of it."
One recent Eckert production spotlighted the "Phantom of the Opera" and featured a fog machine, a Michael Jackson look-alike "Thriller" routine and a green-faced witch. After the show came the models.
The models also came late on the bill of a Crystal Court show coordinated by Boise Taylor of Tustin. First came the Chinese dancers and a performance that featured a giant golden dragon made of countless yards of fabric.
Most people have no idea of all the details and planning--not to mention costs--that go into the shows, says Eckert, a divorced mother of two and a former model.
The first thing the coordinator does is book the hotel or hall where the show will take place. Then the models are hired (both hotels and models are nearly impossible to get on short notice). Then the store merchants must be notified and clothes pulled from each retailer featured in the show. Accessories have to be coordinated, music selected, the commentary and lineup arranged and the stage set. Then, if budget allows, a rehearsal is held.
Taylor says a "very basic" show costs about $4,000 to $5,000 to produce, with half that going to the models. The production shows, with special effects and choreography, can cost twice that.
And as the productions become more elaborate, the chances grow for major snafus. Both Taylor and Eckert have experienced their share.
"I had a big patriotic ending planned with red, white and blue banners and cannons that were supposed to explode and blow confetti all over the room," Taylor recounts. "Well, nothing happened. We had just a few little ppppfffffssss. No confetti. I never did find out what happened."
Eckert says she has weathered fallen stages, faulty lighting and, occasionally, finicky models, including some who simply didn't show up. Only recently, she says, she was thinking of slipping out the back door and switching careers when the lights flickered for what seemed like 10 minutes during an elegant parade of evening wear.
As owner of Beverly Eckert's Savvy Productions in Irvine, the 42-year-old strawberry blonde has been coordinating fashion shows for more than 5 years. A former actress and model, she began her career in San Francisco where she did TV commercials, a few films and plenty of modeling. She still squeezes commercials and modeling in between the 15 to 20 major fashion shows her company handles each year.
This month, she has decided to break away from Savvy, the company she launched in 1984--which handles everything from children's television audition workshops to magic shows--and concentrate on a small number of endeavors, primarily fashion shows. Her new project is called Beverly Eckert Productions.
Like Eckert, Taylor eventually stepped off the runway, switching from modeling to coordinating as she entered her 30s.
And also like Eckert, Boise Taylor spends many nights sweating out the details of the dozen or so fashion shows she produces yearly, most of which are sponsored by the Crystal Court to benefit charities.
"My family knows that before the shows the laundry won't get done, we'll be eating grilled cheese sandwiches . . . and Mom will be nervous," says Taylor, a 45-year-old mother of two teen-agers.
Most of the shows unfold without a hitch, although plenty of teeth-grinding and stomach-churning accompany the planning.
Both Taylor and Eckert say they have had very few problems with models. Most, they say, are professionals who show up on time and know exactly what to do. They usually are paid $125 a show and are hired months in advance. Both Eckert and Taylor say they try to hire as many free-lance models as possible to avoid agency fees.
"The good (models) are always booked, and it's very competitive, so you get them early," Taylor explains.
And what makes a good model?
"They arrive on time. They won't upstage anyone. They are confident and they don't have ego problems," she says.
Eckert has a full-time co-coordinator named Carol Latham, who also switched from full-time modeling to production. Taylor works on her own, but like Eckert, hires a crew as needed for each show.
Eckert and Taylor say one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of producing a show is the timing of models. If the model is a second off, a moment late heading down the runway, the whole show is askew.
"The last thing you want is an empty runway," Taylor says. "I'm always worried about my models not being where I need them."
Eckert says good models change outfits in 30 seconds. That's all the time there is before they need to be back on stage.
"You don't want them primping, putting on lipstick, looking in the mirror," she says. "If they are even one beat off, it's really bad. The show has to be fast-paced. There has to be continuity, lots of action."
Most fashion coordinators are on hiatus during the holiday season, with December and January the slowest months for fashion shows. But as Christmas memories fade, the fashion season will heat up again. And along with hours of planning and plotting will be meals of Maalox and grilled cheese sandwiches.