Mariana Leung has been working New York Fashion Week since 1993, and she’s done nearly every job you can think of. She did everything from technical design to sewing to helping dress Niki Taylor. We were lucky to chat with her as we kick off New York Fashion Week 2012 here on The Grindstone!
Mariana was a technical designer for years, working on the construction and overall fit of garments. She remembers viscerally the last minute fittings and that panicked, rushed feeling of waiting for samples to arrive from the factory. As a freelance embroidery designer, her work has been featured in the collections of Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier, and Oscar De La Renta.
When she was still a student at Parsons The New School for Design, she started volunteering for the Counsel of Fashion Designers of America. She quickly landed an amazing internship with Carmen Marc Valvo. There she answered phones and got coffee, but also sewed, beaded, and glued clothing backstage until the very minute before models marched onto the runway.
Nor surprisingly, she described backstage as “crazy.” It seemed no matter how hard everyone worked to keep things organized, people were always missing, accessories weren’t accessorized, there would be a late model or a loose hem, a zipper unzipped. ”My advice for aspiring designers looking to get their foot in the door?” she asked. ”Know your sewing skills, be able to work with just a few hours sleep, and have a great attitude.”
In 1995 Leung was featured in the film UnZipped!, a documentary that followed Isaac Mizrahi as he planned his 1994 collection. In the film, Leung dressed model Niki Taylor backstage. She overheard things like Mizrahi arguing with Linda Evangelista over who would finish the show. She even stood next to Naomi Campbell without any assault charges being filed.
“Backstage is full of egos and insecurities,” she said. “But everyone’s there to do a job, it doesn’t matter if you’re a celebrity.”
Now, as the publisher/editor of fashion blog, Ms. Fabulous, and as the marketing/fashion Director of Hello La Mode, a retail site that certifies the resale of luxury items, Leung is literally on the other side of the runway. She’ll be taking photos from “the pit.”
“Whats the pit?” I asked, imagining something from Dante’s Inferno.
Leung explained the wall of photographers at the end of the runway. How they tend to be giant, aggressive men that don’t care about what’s trendy or the politics involved in fashion week. They have one mission and it’s to take really good photos.
Photographers in the pit aren’t shy. It doesn’t matter if the person ruining a shot is Anna Wintour. ”You’ll hear someone just yell ‘uncross your legs’ ” Leung said. ”And suddenly you’ll see a wave as rows of people move their legs.”
At only 5’1”, Leung is short in stature, so she has a strategy for managing the pit. She looks for the “gentle giants” to shoot with, and she’s always respectful and considerate, despite the pit’s obvious chaos. It’s clear her strategy has been effective.
She’s captured some stunning photographs from the end of the runway. One of her favorites is of Diane Von Furstenburg handing out American flags during her show on September 11, 2011. The photo was extra special because she was able to snap Diane hugging Valentino. ”He had just made a surprise appearance,” Leung remembered fondly.
(Photo: Mariana Leung)
(Featured photo: lev radin /Shutterstock.com)