Producer Jillian Rabe advises on how to run a great fashion show
by Bethany Moore
One of the many industries bursting forth from the Pacific Northwest is the budding fashion industry. Portland, Oregon is not only becoming known for forward-thinking energy-efficient technology practices, but also unique clothing designs from cutting edge fashion designers (see Project Runway) that embrace the concept of sustainability and local business growth.
I recently sat down with an event and fashion show planner to pick her brain about how to coordinate a successful fashion show. For event producer Jillian Rabe, coordinating regionally-supportive events such as fashion shows is her bread and butter of an emerging culture and lifestyle.
Later this month, I will be assisting with the very theme-specific fashion show scheduled to be held during the very first Steampunk Portland Gear Con (Portland’s Gaslight Explorers, Adventurers, & Romantics Convention) to be held in Portland during July 22-24. Though I’ve been involved in fashion shows for the last couple of years as public relations and marketing support, I sought to gain as much wisdom as possible as I began this complex effort for the 2011 Gear Con. After being charged with this mission, I thought it wise to consult with Ms. Rabe in order to enhance and empower my techniques as I approached this very niche-culture event.
Jillian owns and operates her company Jillian Rabe LLC. Her background is in event planning and fashion modeling. She began her career in 2008 in supportive roles ranging from house manager, backstage manager, model, and producer, in addition to managing castings, bookings, vendors, fittings, rehearsal, choreography, hair and make-up, and just about everything in-between. She continues to grow as a fashion show producer, assisting clients with overseeing and managing all processes of fashion events. “The projects most exciting to me are when I get to work with my teams creatively and fully to tell the story of the client or designer I am producing for” says Jillian. “Getting to connect with their line, brand, or message and then work with the professional vendors on my staff to create an audience experience that has a start, middle and end – telling a complete story is the most exciting and best part of what I get to do.”
Jillian’s top three pieces of advice for producing fashion shows are reassuringly practical and cool-headed. The first is to know your goal or desired end result before going into the production. Sounds easy enough, right? I’m a huge supporter of putting things down in writing and reports for solid organization practices. Putting your event’s ultimate goal down in writing will help you keep focused during the entire process of planning and execution. Her second piece of advice is to always keep your audience’s perspective in mind. We can judge the success of our events based on many factors, including how the designers and sponsors envision their payback from participation, but also understanding the demographics and expectations of the audience is also crucial for producing a fashion event that will be entertaining and compelling. Her third piece of advice is to find a state of empowered Zen while maintaining continuous control. “Don’t forget to breathe whenever things seem to be getting busier than you think you can handle. You can do it – just keep a calm head on your shoulders.”
It’s important to plan for success by being prepared for challenges or obstacles. Jillian’s experience reveals some common frustrations you may come across when coordinating an event. Firstly, if you have several fashion designers that are “sharing” models for the show, each designer may have conflicting views of what each model’s hair and make-up should look like to complement their clothing designs. Considering this hair and make-up process can take up to several hours to complete, it is usually not an option to do any hair or make-up changes to models as they switch outfits from designer to designer during the show. “The solution for this is to meet with your designers ahead of time to discuss everyone’s expectations.” This takes the guess-work and last-minute arguments out of the picture by having an established protocol for all hair and make-up plans for the show.
After putting models through several hours of grueling hair and make-up, they will get hungry! Jillian suggests good planning for this problem by having nutritious snacks on-site for models to munch on, including fruit, veggies, and lean protein. This will keep your models energized and fresh for their march down the runway.
Another frustration for both producers and audience members are when shows don’t start on time. I have been to both fashion and music shows that boast a start time of 8:00pm, but nothing happens until 8:45pm, leaving everyone antsy and impatient. Jillian’s solution to this is to “plan accordingly and tactfully with your crews to allow for the show to start on time. Think strategically and empathetically and don’t waste people’s time.”
I asked Jillian to share a story about a time when she produced a show but was met with unexpected frustrations. She described a communication snafu that was solved with near-hilarious creativity. “We put on a show one time where the models were coming in from two separate sides of backstage – far enough apart that we needed to have the team split into 2 sets of models, wardrobe stylists, and dressers. The 2 backstage managers were far enough apart that they couldn’t hear each other directly, but everyone was on radio head-sets, so we felt fine about that.” Jillian was working the front of the house with another assistant who was helping manage A/V cues. “At one point I realized that one of the backstage managers wasn’t able to hear me, which made me panic, but I soon realized that all the models were still entering the stage at exactly the right times! Thankfully, the show went off flawlessly, the models looked great, and the audience was stoked at the end of it.”
So what really happened, and how did they handle it? The headset technology failed. One of the backstage managers could hear Jillian’s cues, but the other could not hear Jillian, nor could she hear the other backstage manager. A crucial lesson in adaptability is presented here when the one backstage manager who could hear Jillian’s voice decided to jump up and down and wave her hands around so the other manager knew to send the next model out. “20 models, 8 dressers, 2 stylists, and a whole lot of choreography, but no communication, and yet the show still happened on cue! I just hugged all the girls after the show and was so proud in that moment that I had a team of proactive problem-solvers who no matter what insanity sprung upon them at the last minute, were capable of making it happen.”
As much as we’d like events of this nature to “just happen” in an organic and effortless way, much like inviting friends over for a party and just waiting for everyone to show up, it’s just not plausible when it comes to putting on a fashion show or other kind of performance. “Teamwork and communication, however creative it needs to be, is everything. When it comes to show time, you only get one shot. Sink or swim, you just have to have a team that makes it happen no matter what.”
In summary, here are Jillian Rabe’s most helpful DO’s and DO NOT’s for coordinating a successful fashion show:
- Do know your designer and their brand
- Do know your audience
- Do know that teamwork and good communication are your most valuable tools
- Don’t forget to take care of your team and the people there to help you
- Don’t lose sight of the big picture
- Don’t give up
Special thanks to Ms. Jillian Rabe for sharing her advice and wisdom. As I prepare for the Gear Con 2011 fashion event, being held on Saturday, July 23rd in Portland, I will take her tips and stories to heart, and more importantly, I will BE PREPARED.
Jillian Rabe LLC is a full service project management and integrative production haus with national and international project histories and a primary focus on the local fashion community. To find out more about Jillian Rabe’s fashion show and special event services, please visit JillianRabe.com.
(c) Bethany Moore 2011