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Their Work Is Showing

September 27, 2002|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — There's something seductive about a fashion show-- models bathed in warm spotlights, feel-good music throbbing, cameras clicking and the unmistakable allure of the new. Like all fantasies, runway shows look effortless but the 20 minutes of fashion euphoria takes weeks of preparations.

After models are cast, clothing is fitted, music is mixed, invites are mailed and programs printed, the big day arrives. In the hours before a show begins, the clothes are tested with the runway lighting to make sure the colors look right, there are sound checks and walk-throughs. Photographers arrive early to claim spots on risers at the end of the runway. Those from big publications have assigned spots, but freelancers have to jockey for spaces on the sidelines.

Backstage, an army of makeup and hairstylists assembles. Hanging on rolling clothing rods, outfits (often put together by an outside stylist instead of the designer) are numbered and labeled with the names of the models who will wear them. Assistants finish any last-minute sewing and tape the soles of shoes so models won't slip. Sometimes, designers hang poster boards emblazoned with inspirational buzzwords for models such as "smile" and "be sexy." Since top names such as Alek Wek and Sophie Dahl can be booked for shows back-to-back in venues all over the city, they often arrive with just enough time to be coiffed and powdered.

In the house, guests take their seats and try to appear nonchalant, especially if there's a goodie bag involved. (Any excitement, particularly in the front row, is frowned upon.) As the minutes tick by, seat jockeying becomes more aggressive, with those in back rows hoping to score seats closer to the runway. Photographers busy themselves by stalking the front row for anyone with a whiff of celebrity (from Joan Collins at Patricia Field to Elizabeth Hurley at Ralph Lauren), then engulfing them in a pack of flashbulbs and lenses.

Publicists scurry around (headphones and frenzied look required) consulting seating charts, busting squatters and sometimes resorting to sitting in front-row seats themselves to protect them. (Such was the case at Luella Bartley when seats and the show were held for French Vogue editor Carine Roitfield and photographer Mario Testino, who were stuck in traffic.

And finally, when you think you can't stand to wait another moment, the house lights go down, the music starts and finally (half an hour after the appointed starting time, if you're lucky), the first model stomps out onto the runway wearing a killer outfit and an expression that says, "Are you kidding? This is a cakewalk."

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