Photos and text by Walter Grio.
I first want to say thank you to Elaine Mensah and SVELTE, LLC for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity of photographing the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York. Without doubt, this has been the most exciting photography experience I’ve ever had since I picked up a camera in 2006. Thank you Elaine!
When I first arrived at my first Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York event, I stood next to a photographer and said, “I can’t believe I finally made it to the Super Bowl of fashion events.” Of course the actual Super Bowl just happened a few days before so the comparison was obvious. But what I didn’t expect was his response, “Oh no, this isn’t the Super Bowl of fashion events. This is just the playoffs.”
Now I think he was referring to some of the events in Europe, which if you were to compare it to that, then I can see the analogy working. But at the same time, there are not a lot of fashion events in the US that attract photographers and media from around the world. In my short time there, I met photographers and videographers from Italy, Austria, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Korea, Japan, and China. And those were just the ones that I know about. If you have that kind of international media personnel covering an event, I think it’s safe to say that it is the Super Bowl of fashion events and not just the playoffs.
Now before I start talking about designers and their collection, I have to first admit that these names did not mean anything to me whatsoever. Christian Siriano, Carolina Herrera, Diane von Furstenberg, Monique Lhuillier? I mean, I can’t even say their names let alone tell you who they are. I’m really glad that Elaine was there to help straighten me out because I really didn’t know any better. To me, I was in the Super Bowl!! Who cares who’s playing? Where are the models?
As a first time photographer at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, I was glad that I had some previous fashion runway experience. I know the magnitude doesn’t even compare, but it helped me tremendously in terms of anticipating the models walking down the runway, knowing when it might be good to take a photo (as opposed to just holding down the shutter), and also perhaps that there might be better spots than others.
However, what I did not totally anticipate was ALL THE WAITING involved. If you want a decent spot on the media risers, then you need to come early. If you don’t come early, then you’re pretty much at the back of the line and you might not even get inside to see the show. Within the next 15 minutes, you’ll start seeing other photographers line up. The problem is that there’s a show every hour so if you want to go to the “big name” shows, then you might as well forget the other ones and just camp out. Once they actually let you in, then you still have to wait another 45 minutes before the show actually starts. It takes a while to get 200 media people and an additional 800+ people seated for a show.
As a photographer, you are constantly looking to find ways to get a good shot. But when you’re in the media risers at a fashion show, you’re pretty much stuck to where you are. There’s no moving around at all. In fact, once the show starts, you can’t even move your feet. There are people literally sitting on your foot and leaning on your leg. It is like being in the Metro during rush hour or like being in a mosh pit. If you can imagine that, then continue to imagine that you’re holding on to your backpack, camera equipment, and all the other things that you need to carry with you. You’re holding on to your 70-200mm lens that’s about as long as a forearm so now you can see how complicated this can get when you have 250 other people trying to get a good shot.
It is absolute chaos. But once the lights dim and the music starts, then magic happens. All the anticipation and all the waiting and all the pushing and shoving comes to a halt and as you see the first model walk out and the lights brighten up again, then you realize you’re not photographing just any fashion show. You are in the crème de la crème of fashion shows. You’re in the Super Bowl.
Ten minutes later, it’s over.
Yes, it’s about 90 minutes of waiting for a ten minute show. And then you do it again. By the 4th day and the 15th show, I was quite simply – exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do or see again was another model walking down the runway. But at the same time, I didn’t want to lose touch of where I was and what I was doing. It’s not every day that you get to see a preview of the Fall 2011 Christian Siriano collection. And it’s definitely not everyday that you see Diane von Furstenberg walk around the runway after her show. But after all those shows and all those photographs, I was simply tired.
On my last day, I only had two shows to cover. The first one was Carolina Herrera’s and even though I wasn’t really familiar with her, I knew that she was a very important designer and that many people wanted to shoot her event. So I stayed in line as I described above and was fortunate to be one of the first ones to be in the media risers. In previous shows, I normally shot from the left side, but somehow for this show, I thought I’d mix it up a bit and shoot from the right side. Perhaps it was divine intervention as I attended the youth service at St. Paul’s church after watching Diane von Furstenberg’s collection the day before. =) I picked my spot and started chatting with the video guy next to me. It turned out he was covering for CNN, which is always a good sign. He then pointed out that Anna Wintour was at the show and that she would be sitting in the front row. As he pointed in her direction, I saw her. For those of you who might not know, Anna Wintour is the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue magazine. My ultimate dream shot for fashion week was to have Anna Wintour watching the models walking by. And I got the shot. I couldn’t believe it. After that show, I didn’t feel like I was watching the Super Bowl of fashion events. I felt like I had won it.