Ask Alexandra: How Can I Get Into Fashion Week?

Ask Alexandra is my advice column. Have a question you want to ask me? Fill out the form here.

Alexandra,

Not sure if you’ve touched on this question before but I noticed that you’ve said you’ve been to fashion weeks in both Paris and London. My question is: how can I (a college student) go to fashion week without being part of a glossy editorial staff?

I would love to attend Paris Fashion Week, and London Fashion Week some day!

fashion advice column, fashion 101, fashion jobs, fashion shows

Front row at a fashion show: you don’t belong there unless you have been invited.

Dear John,

Great question, I’ll break down the answers into two sections.

1. The Official Way. The official way to get into any properly organized fashion week is to apply to become accredited industry (usually media or buyers) and then send out invitation requests to brands and PR’s. You’d need to go onto the site of the body that organizes the fashion week, or the fashion week’s website, and you fill out a form. They will then decide if you are “worthy” enough to be accredited. If you are, then your name will be on the list of accredited industry. You need to provide a fashion week address in the city (most won’t send invitations abroad) so book your hotel or friend’s couch in advance, and give out that address.

This won’t mean the invitations will come rushing in, but you are likely to get a few from smaller brands who send out to everyone in hopes they get a full house (or over-full house, never a bad thing.) To get into the well-known brand’s shows, you then need to send an invitation request. The timing for this varies, but I’d say two months in advance is good (some may say they have stopped taking requests, but that is usually the arsy agencies who can pick and choose the guests at their clients’ shows.) The fashion week’s website usually has PR contacts for all of the brands involved in the fashion week, so you can get the email addresses there (either agencies or in-house press, and there is usually a dedicated email address for show invite requests.) Send an email to the person dealing with the PR, and request an invite to their show.

I have never had a brand return an email and tell me they are sending me an invitation, it usually turns up, or it doesn’t. So, fingers crossed! But if you know someone at that agency, milk it!  Ask them to put in a good word. Good invitations are hard to get.

fashion advice column, fashion 101, fashion jobs, fashion shows

The hair and makeup area of the backstage. It is easy to disappear/sneak into this hustle and bustle.

2. The Unofficial Way. Unfortunately, sneaking into fashion shows and events just isn’t as easy as it used to be. When I lived in Paris, we would manage to find our way into everything, the fact that we spoke English with an American accent, and had ridiculous amounts of confidence, meant we just waltzed into to anything, whether we were invited or not. Nowadays, it is a lot more complicated. But here are a few ways to get into fashion shows.

Use your contacts. Do you know friends who work for brands? Ask them for invitations. Even if they can’t get you one, they might be able to lend you a pass on the day of the show, for long enough to get you in through the door. Or they might be able to come from backstage, get you into the show area, and then go back to work. This has worked for me a few times (back in the day.)

Volunteer for the brands. You may not get to see the show, but backstage is equally exciting. Many brands need dressers or extra PR help for seating guests, and if you can get a job helping organize the show, you can probably see some of it. By the way, this doesn’t need to be a full blown internship, this could just be assisting on the day. And you don’t necessarily need to contact the brand that is showing, there are a lot of companies involved in putting together a show, lighting and sound people, casting agents, etc…

fashion advice column, fashion 101, fashion jobs, fashion shows

Models waiting to go out onto the catwalk.

Beg. Go up to the nicest looking PR person (or clipboard Nazi, as they are called) and beg them to let you in. Tell them you are a student and you will stand back row. At the very last minute, if the venue isn’t heaving, they might just let you in. A full show is much, much better than a half-empty one. Make sure you are dressed well if you try this!

Bullshit. Tell them you are so-and-so from whatever magazine or boutique (a fake business card might help) and try your luck. This can be tough, but if the main PR is handling a VIP and away from the door, and you get an assistant who is scared to turn away someone who might be important, you may just get in. Confidence will be your most important accessory in this case.

Sneak. Buyers travel in packs, try and sneak in with the team from Barneys or Nordstroms. Pretend you are delivering something and go through backstage. Pretend you are a model (if you can!), a DJ, a hairdresser, a lighting technician, WHOEVER. Then hide until the actually show time, and then grab a standing spot at the back. Security is most likely a lot more tight than in my sneaky student days, but again, a security guard is not going to turn away a “model” who says she is running late, forgot her pass, and “HAS” to get into makeup before the show starts in ten minutes! Props like extension cords, makeup suitcases, etc… might help here.

fashion advice column, fashion 101, fashion jobs, fashion shows

Models hanging out outside of a fashion show. Could you pretend to be one of them?

If you get in unofficially, then never take a seat near the front (in fact, best not to take a seat at all, unless there is one at the back, right when the show is starting.) If you grab a front row seat and a VIP goody bag, the PR’s will definitely wonder who you are, and if they find out you aren’t someone important, you will be asked to move from the front row. That’s pretty much the most embarrassing thing that can happen in the world of front rows, so don’t let it happen to you.

Other tips:

  • Dress well, like you belong there.
  • Have a notepad, camera, something to make you look professional.
  • Smile and be friendly
  • Have a backup story in case you are caught!

When I lived in Paris, we did everything, including sharing invitations, trying to get them off people leaving parties (a lot of senior people that we knew or worked with would always help us sneak in, they knew the importance of being at those events) and just bullshitting our way in. Once there was a huge opening at the Pompidou Centre in Paris (a huge modern art museum) for an exhibition sponsored by Yves Saint Laurent called “Pop Years.” There was a massive red carpet and tons of hot security guards wearing YSL suits letting people in. This was THE fashion party of the season. My friend Yasmin, an American, and I stood back and brainstormed on how the hell we were going to sneak in. We asked a friend to help out, but she wasn’t able to. In the end, we just stormed up the red carpet looking confident and like we belonged, in our “American” accents we told the staff “We are from Christie’s” (thinking… this is an art exhibition, Christie’s sells art, this might work) and walked in. No one questioned us. So easy, which was a bit crazy considering the guests weren’t only the top fashion people (editors, designers, etc…) but the French Prime Minister was also there. A good night!

Anyone have any interesting stories of how they snuck into fashion shows or events?

Image credits: front rowmodels standing outside a fashion showmodels getting ready to go onto the runway, and hair and makeup area.

  • Jasper

    you had me at hot security guards in ysl suits

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=823115573 Erin Harder

    This is an amazing post! I’ve actually always wondered how people get into fashion weeks, so thanks for sharing. 

  • Eve

    Apparently one of the reasons they moved NYFW to Lincoln Center from Bryant Park was because they wanted to make it harder for people to sneak in.  R

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    That’s bad news for all the sneaker-inners!

  • http://factoryextreme.com/Mens-Leather-Bomber-Jackets-On-Sale.html Grace Kelly

    in my point of view fashion industry if growing day by day.. that’s really good

  • Lauren Bennett

    If you are fashion blogger and interested in attending a Fashion Week, tweet me @lollabennett:twitter for Vancouver Fashion Week blogger cross-promotion packages. We support emerging designers as well as established brands in the same way we like to promote and support up and coming bloggers as well as the more established. Get in touch :)

  • Iris

    I’ve seen episodes (or episode) of Sex and the City where the girls just walked into NYFW like it was no biggie. Unfortunately, that led me to the conclusion that it could be fairly easy to go to a show. Apparently I am proven wrong. Great post and very informative! 

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Yes, Sex and the City is not usually a representation of what real life is about.

  • http://www.imtheitgirl.com/ anya

    In my younger, mini skirt wearing days, I went with plan #2. Now, I have to resort to plan #1. Sadly, I used to get into better shows just based on my looks than I do now as a professional.

  • Priscilla

    All great ideas :) I tried applying to be a volunteer for NYFW but I missed the deadline. Any chance they may need more volunteers even though the deadline has passed? Or is there someone else I could contact?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Sorry, can’t help you there. I don’t have any contact with NYFW (I’ve never even been!) But good luck!

  • Priscilla

    Well if not this FW I’ll try for the next one, now that I am aware of their deadlines. Thanks for the response anyways :)

  • Hoa

    Do women who have unlimited clothing budgets have chance to get invitations to fashion week even though they don’t work in fashion industry?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    All the time in couture, less so in ready to wear. Although big department stores, like Neiman Marcus, often get tickets for their best customers, and will bring them to the shows.

  • Cheryl W.

    Would you ever write a book about your life in the fashion industry? Pretty please?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I’ve been trying to put together a book on how to get into the industry, with a lot of my personal stories, but two kids, a nightwear business, a teaching job, and a blog get in the way….

  • Zak

    Let me handle all of that for you, temporarily. I really need a book like that 😛

  • Tony

    Thank you soooooooooooooo much for this advice. I decided to try the volunteer route and emailed every PR company in the city, and was very surprised at how many responded! I landed 3 interviews! Based on my interview I honestly don’t think anyone should work for People’s Revolution as that was the most cold and intimidating space I’ve ever been in, which told me all the rumors of that place are true; they have ridiculous turnover for a reason. Digressing, I landed my other two and will be going this September! So excited!

  • rachel

    Oh, please, can you tell me some emails I could write to?
    how does it really work? I mean the point of being a volunteer in the paris fashion week.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Check the websites of the fashion weeks you want to attend. They list PR contacts, and brand contacts.

  • Shannon

    You’re so lucky!!!!! thanks for the advise.
    Are u still in Paris now? Btw, do you have any suggestion where to volunteer since i don’t know the companies that going to be involved in the fashion show.
    Looking forward to hear from you.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Check listings (like Fashion Monitor) to see the names of the companies and then contact them directly. And no, I didn’t stay in Paris for fashion week, I was there the week before on business.

  • Jordain

    Hey Alexandra,
    Great tips! My PR firm is currently preparing our own fashion show, and we were wondering if those mirrors in the second photo had a name. We have searched high and low for the proper supports that would allow a regular dressing mirror to lie horizontally on a table, and have not yielded any results

  • Kate

    I’ve emailed almost all of the press contacts for Paris fashion week. I got one response :/ and they said come back to me in a few weeks. I guess I was maybe too early emailing them for the end of January. Let me know if you have any tips! :)

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    It is definitely too early!

  • http://thefashionreporter.gr/ The Fashion Reporter
  • benja

    Can’t i just sneak in with a photographer or something?Are they coming in the morning?I was thinking to find one that is alone and ask him if i can be his assistant for the day.Could this work?I am also curious:Once you manage to sneak in than you can stay there the entire day and see all the shows?

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    No, they clear everyone out at the end of each show so you will need to get in again.

  • benja

    Do you know where this shows take place in Paris?I see the dates and the hours but not the locations.