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Stressed but well-dressed: Trelise Cooper on what it takes to pull off a runway show

For its attendees, New Zealand Fashion Week is a treat of runway shows, goodie bags, and seasonal sneak peeks. Yet for the designers, it means weeks of stressful planning for what is essentially an hour of production. We spoke to Trelise Cooper about her decision to partake in New Zealand Fashion Week this year, rather than hold her own Theatre of Fashion; and all the stress that comes along with it.

By Courtney Devereux | August 30, 2018 | News

“We opted out of NZFW [from 2012-2017], because of timing issues,” explains Cooper. “Fashion Week falls at the same time as when we sell the collections. So not only are we trying to get all four of the brands ready to sell, and we need to make four collections for all four; meaning 16 ranges need to be ready. So, issues came from trying to style a fashion show in the middle of that, it’s beyond full on.”

Cooper and her team were involved in Fashion Week from 2001 until timing clashes with seasonal production saw her create her own Theatre of Fashion in June. The four-day event saw the Trelise Cooper brand feature its pre-fall collections for three of its sub-labels; Trelise Cooper, Cooper, and Coop.

“We moved Theatre of Fashion to June because it didn’t conflict with the selling season,” Cooper says. “And the selling season is how we make our income for the next six months, so it’s really important and it requires all focus. So, we kind of has two major things happening in our business at once.”

With a brand that has the pure scale such as Trelise Cooper, timing is an important factor for targeting buyers and retailers at the most crucial point in selling seasons. Cooper says being able to show collections at a relevant time is crucial for customer engagement.

“The advent of online shopping, Instagram and Facebook have made that much more important. In fashion shows, people sit with their phones and they post videos and images, and if that goes up on Instagram, people expect that they can buy it now.”

With the old timing, Cooper and her team were showing winter collections six months before it was hitting stores, so decided to switch to Theatre of Fashion in June to coincide better with the seasons' release.

“Now Fashion Week has actually moved more in season,” she says. “They still do a trade show of winter, but it is much more in season. The collection we are working on at the moment, we will show a sneak preview of that on the runway as well. So, we will be doing a combination of Spring, Summer, and Pre-Fall.”

Yet Cooper, who is aware of consumers’ fading attention spans, will be showing select pieces to keep the one runway at a reasonable length. “With three seasons and three brands, that’s too much, we’d have people snoring in the aisles, so we’ll have to edit it. But it’s a different logistical proposition then it’s been before.”

Trelise Cooper’s previous Theatre of Fashion was a way to show the expansive collections over four nights, meaning the company could sit everyone that wanted to see the show. And as full house shows would suggest, it was a good move.

“We love New Zealand Fashion Week, but one of the reasons we moved was the capacity to seat enough people… Fashion Week is a one night only event, and our choice this year to not do Theatre of Fashion was purely and simply because we’re all exhausted, and we just wanted to give ourselves a break from a four-night event that is four nights of dresses, hair and makeup, models. We just thought, let’s do one night and make it easy for ourselves.”

One way Cooper found she could cut down to one night but still have enough capacity for invites was to do something Fashion Week had never done before. She will have dual runways performing the same show, but in different rooms – both the Studio and the Runway. The models will walk from one runway to the next, providing double the opportunity for space.

“It was probably the best option,” says Cooper. “But was it easy? No.”

Yet despite the anxiety that often comes with having one opportunity to get an entire runway performance right, Cooper says the preparation for Fashion Week is just as demanding as Theatre of Fashion.

“There is the same amount of preparation that goes into Fashion Week because once you’ve got [Theatre of Fashion] set up for the four days, it's consistent.”

On the flip side, one show means less demand on staff, including Cooper's team and the plethora of hair and makeup professionals to achieve Trelise Cooper’s often dramatic looks.

“It is a lot better just having one night. Bettjemans Hair has been amazing, so have Mac makeup, the entire way through. But it means they’ve got people out of their salons for four days, which is a big ask. And for our staff, they’re outside of the office not doing their work for four days, and it is exhausting.”

“Fashion Week have been really amazing to work with, they’ve been really good about our needs. Because we’re a bit more complex than any other brand I believe. They have been very accommodating.”

Theatre of Fashion went from 2012-2017. Before that, Cooper didn’t miss a single year of New Zealand Fashion Week. The collateral that comes from the shows, such as photography for customers and retailers, is one of the main reasons the team agree to the voluntary stress each year.

“We do this because the results are often intangible to measure, but what I do know is if we didn’t do it, we’d notice it.”

Theatre of Fashion often saw the queen of colour presenting her collections alongside impressive textural displays that communicated the brand's dedication to extraordinary. But Cooper says the expectations that come along with the title of the queen can be more worrisome than the performance itself.

Credit: Artz Photography 

“The theatre of fashion was theatre, it was drama. And that’s part of the DNA from our brand, and it's important. But with that comes expectations, they’re not coming to a white catwalk, they don’t expect to come to that. And to do something that they haven’t seen before, I don’t enjoy that aspect of the expectations.”

But those expectations aren’t what is important for the night. The smaller, less-often-thought-of details are what takes up the majority of the team’s time as they work to perfect what they can before their one chance to present collections.

“We’ve done a fair trial and a makeup trial, and all those never really go how’d you expect them to go so you have to start again. You have to make sure you’ve got enough gifts for goodie bags, and that people are seated in the right seats; that the music is how you need it to be, the lighting will do what you hope it will, that you’ve got photographers set up in both rooms, there is endless detail.”

The theme for the one night will most likely be along the lines of Cooper’s usual extravagant style. What they have planned required imported goods, specialist cutters and metal parts made especially for its execution. This adds on to what is already a very busy time for the company.

“I’m more anxious that all of the things that we have got planned actually come off as we’ve planned them. There is a risk, and there’s no time for rehearsal, or a scene set up. The rehearsal is that first show, and that first show it attended by all industry and all the people that are going to critique it in the media. So, if it’s all no good, that’ll be the show.”

Cooper’s stress is a necessary part of the gig, as risk management is crucial to business success in any industry, including fashion.

“I don’t think you’d stay in business if you didn’t take things deeply seriously,” says Cooper. “There is nothing casual about what we do.”

Yet despite the added stress, the team at Trelise Cooper is under while preparations start coming together as the night draws closer, there is no doubt that show will be a spectacle in itself. Cooper’s collections are often made to wow, and it is expected that the show will be tailored in the same way.

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