- Hanako Maeda, fashion designer at the brand ADEAM, showed her Spring/Summer 2020 collection during New York Fashion Week this September.
- Born in Tokyo and raised in New York City, the ADEAM designer is typically influenced by elements of the two cultures. This season, Maeda was inspired by her parents’ hometown near the Port of Yokohama.
- I spent the morning shadowing Hanako and taking in all the excitement backstage before the brand’s afternoon runway show.
- From music and seating setup to grooming and last-minute steaming, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that guests would never notice.
- Here’s an intimate look at my time with the brand, and everything that went on in the jam-packed three hours that made up before, during, and after showtime.
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My alarm goes off at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday and unlike every other morning, I don’t hit snooze. I have some getting ready to do before meeting the ADEAM team at the set of their runway show.
ADEAM founder and designer Hanako Maeda is showing her Spring/Summer 2020 collection at New York Fashion Week, and her team has invited me in for an up-close look at all the goings-on backstage.
This is my first time experiencing backstage through the lens of the designer.
I arrive on set at 11:15 a.m. and most of the team is already here working out the space.
Hair and makeup stations are being set up …
… models are slowly trickling in …
… and Hanako is walking through the space, signing off on “adjustments,” and discussing the details — iced coffee in hand.
Carts of stanchions and electrical equipment whirl around her.
“I think we should just go as we planned,” I hear Hanako say to a small group. “We’re going to have the smallest number of mistakes if we just go as we planned it.”
An initial run-through for the models is about to start, and Hanako and ADEAM VP Blair Nemiroff are strategizing about where to sit and watch. “You sit there and I’ll sit here,” the designer says. “And you guys can compare notes,” a PR woman confirms as she finishes Hanako’s sentence.
They are trying to figure out which direction to face guests on the bench farthest from backstage — if they have them facing out, would people in the next row think they were slighted and not given the front-row seat they were promised?
Someone else comes by and tells Hanako that she overheard models telling the stylist, Ada Kokosar, that this season’s ADEAM shoes are the most comfortable shoes they’ve walked in yet. Hanako lets out a relieved “Yay!” — a small win for her in the midst of pre-show stress.
People in the room grab a seat so they can watch the run-through that’s about to happen — this is when models are led through the path of the runway while wearing their personal clothes.
I take a seat next to Hanako, and Sada Ito, the lead makeup artist, comes to sit next to me. He tells me he’s been at the space since 9 a.m. — it’s now noon — and that the models started to arrive at 10 a.m.
“Normally in a horizontal space you would just make it parallel,” Hanako says of the slightly-angled runway. “But we’re doing it diagonally so that we get a clear model shot — so that there’s more space for the models to walk by the windows.”
But there’s a little bit of concern in her voice as she continues: “I think we should make it look like it’s intentionally diagonal instead of just random because then it looks a little messy and arbitrary, and I want the guests to feel like it’s organized.”
A family member — or possibly a friend of the family — whispers from across the aisle: “Hanako, I heard you’re teaming up with someone very important. How exciting!” Of course, nothing is confirmed yet and Hanako can’t tell me the details, but she smiles wide and clarifies that she’s got some collaborations in the works.
It seems to be that every time there is a moment of concern for the designer, someone steps in with a small burst of positivity. She’s receptive to the good things and allows them to get from her ears to her head, making her smile, all the while staying alert to anything that may be going on a few conversations away.
I move across the aisle from Hanako so I can capture her reaction, and from my new seat I hear Laurent Philippon — the lead hairdresser — talking with his team across from me …
… and a number of people in black speaking parts of a conversation via headset.
The models start walking out in half-done hair and their own street clothes. “Remember: Please stay close to the windows, not the benches,” says the blonde line leader who can easily be mistaken for a runway model herself.
This season’s shoes are lace-up heels — beautiful, except that they aren’t staying put high up on the models’ calves. “Why don’t we just wrap it like …” Hanako says, pointing out the fallen laces. “Yeah,” Ada quickly affirms. She’s got it.
The next run-through will feature music that Mode-F — the sound team — has been working with the ADEAM team to put together exclusively for this show. “Should we fix the shoes for the technical run-through?” Hanako asks as the music starts up. “Yes,” Ada confirms, “They’re fixed.” She always seems to be one step ahead.
As if by request, the positivity comes through again: Ada says, “I like it” — talking about the laces lying haphazardly around models’ ankles — which makes Hanako burst out into two sharp-but-genuine HA HAs. That’s a hard no from the designer, but she appreciates the efforts of her team to look on the bright side. They all laugh and blame gravity — naturally.
The technical run-through is about to start and Hanako tells me what she’ll be paying attention to: “We’re going to see the lighting and how it affects the models’ makeup and hair. We’ll also know about the pacing of the models — we have three girls changing so we’ll see if the timing is okay and make sure we have enough models on the runway.”
During the practice finale, Hanako gets up to take a look at what her victory/thank-you route will look like. “I just want to say ‘thank you’ to as many people as possible,” I hear her say.
The music slows and then quiets completely and I hear a series of, “Girls, back to lineup please.”
Someone backstage is explaining to their army of helpers how to tie the laces so there’s as small of a chance of them falling as possible. The low hum of the playlist is still vibrating through the space as Mode-F continues their testing.
A woman talks about her wedding plans in one corner while people in headsets check in with Hanako in another. A chorus of high-pitched “Hi! How are you?!”s becomes almost as much a part of the ambient noise as Mode-F’s playlist — constantly there to the point where you almost don’t notice it anymore.
Models sit on the floor and chat while they wait for their next turn in the hair and makeup chairs. All the wheels are now in motion and no one is without a task.
A man sporting all black and a headset gets on a microphone and asks everyone to “Please clear the show space for empty room photos.” Everyone piles backstage and into out-of-view corners.
It’s past 1 p.m. and Hanako tells me that the show scheduled before hers got a late start, which means both models and guests coming from that show to this one aren’t here yet. Casting a show is a puzzle — models walk several shows per day and in order for everything to run smoothly, every show needs to start on time.
The models who are there, though, get their hair done …
Some makeup artists are taking photos of their masterpieces on their phones before the models get dressed.
On the other side of the room, styling assistants talk to Hanako about what they “usually” do as models line up to go out on the runway. But this season, the backstage area is cramped and narrow — there’s not enough room for all these people to work hands-on. They maneuver and figure out what to do while Hanako gives another pre-show interview.
She tells the reporter about ADEAM’s signature yarn — a blend of cotton and polyester — that’s made in Japan. She also talks about her decision to experiment this season with the brand’s usual Japanese denim by using a stonewashed version.
There are a few on-the-street photographers there, waiting for industry icons and people dressed in fabulous things to walk by. The atmosphere is thick with time-triggered anxiety.
Guests ride the freight elevator up to the show space and are herded around the curtains to their assigned seats. It’s around 1:15 p.m.
I duck backstage again just in time for first looks — the time before the show when both editorial and house photographers can get their detail-driven shots in.
A photographer from NARS, the makeup brand, tries to capture the done-up models while a hairdresser tries to get photos that highlight the “natural wave” style he’s accomplished with the help of curling irons and wide brushes.
Photographers are sneaking between one another to get their shot. It’s every person for themselves.
On the other side of the clothing rack, an ADEAM team member is gluing ear cuffs onto a model’s upper cartilage.
Someone says: “We have to press the ruffles!” There’s a model in a blue-and-white striped dress that’s looking pretty wrinkled. Seamstresses heat up the iron and place a board between the dress and the model’s skin so the hot air doesn’t burn her. There’s a system for everything.
Security tries to clear backstage of any lingerers. I’m crouched underneath a monitor displaying a live runway feed when a security guard asks me if I’m a house photographer. I tell her I’m with Hanako, but she double checks with the team to make sure.
Hanako tells another reporter about how the collection’s cocktail pieces can transition to daywear while those wearing black line up models next to her.
There’s blue painter’s tape on the floor showing each model where to stand.
The hum of Mode-F comes back into audible focus. Everyone is tying up loose ends — literally and figuratively — and “Hi! How are you?!” turns into “Thankyousomuch.”
It’s now 1:30 p.m. A woman in black says: “Models, it’s showtime!”
Hanako’s eyes are on the monitor looking to see who has arrived, and she’s shaking the nerves out of her hands.
“Yep, step up,” a woman in black says to the first model. Boom. Mode-F is now commanding attention with a combination of booming bass and twinkling piano and the first model is sent out to walk.
The first models come back to the dressing area and run to change into their next look.
At the seven-minute mark, the models take their finale lap all together.
Then at eight minutes and 30 seconds, Hanako runs out onto the runway and everyone applauds. She graciously bows and thanks everyone for coming.
She returns backstage one minute later to a huge round of applause. The music quiets but continues to play.
The show is over and it’s taken all of 10 minutes from the first bass boom to the moment Hanako returns backstage.
Most guests stand up quickly and rush out. They’re already onto the next show.
“I’m super super excited,” Hanako tells me after it’s all over. “I think it was better than planned, which is one of the fun parts of doing a show. It’s really unexpected and it’s sometimes better than what you could imagine.” Then she’s pulled into a post-show interview.
Family and friends come backstage to hug Hanako and cloak her in praise.
They gush over the collection and Hanako dabs away tears of both joy and relief.
Models are changed and run out to get to their next show. They stop to thank Hanako and the styling team, double-kissing everyone on the way out. The sharp “Thankyousomuch”s become “Mwa! Mwa! See you!”
The show space is broken down within minutes — seat cards get peeled up and thrown away …
… and the risers, lighting, and music setup gets broken down.
The PR team is celebrating their umpteenth finish for fashion week thus far, but they’re also running out to get to their next show.
Meanwhile, backstage, the hair and makeup teams pack up their suitcases …
… and some models take the last few minutes to touch-up their faces before running out.
The looks have gone back on hangers and those wearing black are placing them all in garment bags. “Everything has to be showroom ready, everyone!” one of them announces.
Hanako has been working on this nautical-inspired collection for six months, and just like that in less than four hours, the show is done. Thirty-two models, two grooming teams, a styling team, one PR agency, and countless extra hands — that’s what it takes to get Hanako Maeda’s 35-look collection down the runway.