The Grunts of Fashion Week

Who Unzips the Models' Clothes?
Notes from different corners of the world.
Feb. 9 2006 6:31 PM

The Grunts of Fashion Week

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Darryl Nipps at the Abaete show.
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Darryl Nipps at the Abaete show

Darryl Nipps zooms through the backstage maze in the tents at Bryant Park as only a fashion pro can. "Good to see you!" he says to a cop stationed at the models' entrance to the Charles Nolan show. But Nipps, a 33-year-old Australian expat, is only a part-time fashion pro: He spends most of his days as vice president of a financial services company. "It's a left brain, right brain sort of thing," he says of the six years he's spent dressing models during Fashion Week. This year, he is the head dresser on 16 shows.

"No worries!" is Nipps' standard reply to the questions he gets from the crew of dressers he oversees. "Do these ribbons get tied in a bow?" one dresser asks. "Just confirming, this jacket doesn't get buttoned, right?" asks another. "No worries! We'll sort it out!" Nipps walks from dresser to dresser, always patient, always attentive. "Is everyone clear on the leggings? Please make sure you have them at the same length on the girls' legs. Charles wants them at exactly midcalf." He's off again, clipboard in one hand and lint roller in the other. The show goes up in seven minutes, and the call has come through for "first looks" (a bit of fashion show jargon meaning that the models must be dressed, primped, and ready to walk).

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Nipps moonlights for BB's Backstage, a New York outfit that is in the business of outfits. "I was always fascinated by style and presentation as a child, how people look, how they put themselves together, but I'm not creative enough to be a designer." A friend told him he could volunteer as a dresser, and he's been at every New York fashion week since. "The two careers may seem contradictory," he says, "but there is crossover: problem-solving, leadership, communication skills, organization."

While the models sit before mirrors getting their hair and makeup done, Nipps and his crew of about 40 dressers are on their feet, scouring every garment in the 42-outfit collection for stray threads, unzipping every zipper so no time is lost when the models change, giving a final steam to anything that looks the least bit rumpled. As the girls line up, Nipps squats in front of them, polishing less-than-sparkling boots.

Nipps had 16 pre-show meetings with 16 different design teams, so he could study the clothes in detail. He has tried to anticipate glitches that might impede the fast pace of a 10-minute runway show. When models share shoes (which is common), they also share a rack to make the pass-off easier. More seasoned volunteers are assigned to tricky outfits that need extra attention. When Fashion Week ends tomorrow, Nipps will have looked over nearly 500 outfits and then made sure each piece is properly packed up. Next week he returns to the office.

Josh Patner has written about fashion for Slate, the New York TimesBritish Vogue, Glamour, Elle, and Harper's Bazaar.

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