NYFW hiTechMODA Shines a Spotlight on the New Era of Fashion
by Catherine Schuller
You don’t have to be crazy to produce a fashion show during COVID times, but it helps! That adage was never more true than this February 2021. The whole year has been a weird, nail biting ride full of cancellations, missteps, doomsayer predictions and reinventions. We had a setback when our beautiful venue from past Seasons 2 and 3 at National Geographic Encounter went bankrupt and our courageous producer, PS Privette, took the loss and picked up and regrouped to keep going.
Things are very topsy turvy and nothing is normal, as if normal was ever even such a standard we wanted to acknowledge as desirable. Major closures of entire institutions have left us dumbfounded and rethinking every way we ever thought about our day-to-day operations and businesses. It even made some sort of logical, completely exasperating sense when CFDA didn’t even officially announce when New York Fashion Week was going to be held until a week before the official shows, what was left of them. September proved virtual was possible and even more fraught with possibilities for capturing engagement and increased viewership. Tom Ford used the announcement of the NYFW Schedule to claim that it was being renamed — The American Collections Calendar.
Most shows were virtual, hybrid or non-existent, and the team at hiTechMODA made the collective decision to muster a concerted effort and stage FIVE live fashion shows in succession on February 14th at the iconic New Yorker Hotel located across from Madison Square Garden. The symbolism of holding a fashion event on 34th street, the very street that marks the beginning of the historic Garment District, did not escape our feeling of destiny wrapped in an ironic realization that we were almost compelled to do this regardless of the obstacles that arose along the way. There was a time when I didn’t feel like doing it, didn’t see the purpose nor embraced the outcome. But I sat with it, realized that the show must go on. Too many people were committed and wanted to have the show happen. I guess that made me re-evaluate and that kept me going. We all decided that it was an “all in” type of thing and whatever was happening was our collective fate. We literally willed this show into place. Learning new tasks because we couldn’t have that person in the room because of occupancy restrictions. Usually our backstage chaos is due to hundreds of people showing up to assist –volunteers, interns, helpers, and hangers-on making it all happen in a jumbled frenetic puzzle with all the pieces looking to lock in and flow. Not this show — we were a lean, mean machine doubling up on duties and tasks simply because we couldn’t have more people around. There was a resolve that set in, a complacent acceptance that made it all come together. No one got too overly stressed because we realized that months of quarantine made us crave this sort of creative group activity with gratitude and renewed fervor.
Last season in September 2020 was “PPE is the New Black” with two designers who designed complete ensembles with coordinating face masks. The mask was an anomaly and coordinating and being the most important accessory of the pandemic. We had interviews featuring our two designers, Rian Fernandez was live in lockdown with his workers direct from the Philippines. I did an interview from a remote location right after being released from the hospital for a puppy bite on my ankle that went horribly bad. We live streamed and videotaped it and took hundreds of photographs on the way to and around the billboard reveal in Times Square. That was a huge model and designer perk.
All through the fall and Christmas we cobbled the show together, realizing that this was a pandemic pivot at its finest. The truth be told, the designers needed every penny to create their collections and could not be charged our regular participation fee. But at the same time a few of the modeling agencies in the United States contacted us to see if we were doing a show that the models could walk in. It soon dawned on us that we could create a New York Experience with Saturday runway training and coaching, a photoshoot on the city streets, a fashion showcase at Fashion Week Brooklyn, a Times Square Billboard reveal, and a great piece of New York pizza! On Sunday the next day there was an early runway rehearsal, a dance number to learn, makeup and hair application, more fittings and shows at 12 noon, 2:30 pm, 4 pm and 6:30 pm with the finale at 8:30 pm. The designers were invited and curated based on who was brave enough to trust us to an effective job and to follow through with a stellar looking event. What can we say, it was a complete group effort and the Covid precautions were followed and figured out along the way. Remind me to tell you how we did the mask ditch and retrieve method. It was pure genius – something we all had to think through because no one had ever had to wear a mask backstage and walk on stage without it, then come back and wear a mask backstage. Can you think of what we devised? It was insane and very challenging to say the least. Thank you to our key photographer who was some sort of logistics specialist for sure. In fact, the whole operation was executed with precision and troop placement tactics. (Our producer, Pam Privette, has a military background – and it shows!) Big shout out to our Operations Manager, Brenda Jameson, who was on standby the whole weekend in her home! Modern tech rocks!!
The beautiful Grand Ballroom was the backdrop for our shows, and Eclipse Events from Staten Island did a stellar job and actually provided a red runway to coordinate the hotel carpet and also to help celebrate the Valentine’s Day tie in. We had a nice mix of children’s designers (Wonderland and Camellia Couture), activewear (Marc Defang), and boutique special occasion (Dress Upp), plus our signature collection ModaMorphosis (MM^2 Couture), gender fluid from Chile with Figos and Ricardo Oyarzún, while newcomer Dakota Stevens delivered a delightful stylist/designer interpretation of over-the-top curated looks. John Ashford’s Authentic delivered his brand of wearable art pieces. As a shoe designer he naturally extended to clothing that work with his shoes in an amazingly artistic and coordinated way. His clothing is beginning to grab the attention of celebrities so we are glad we were able to showcase him this season. Houston-based Mysterious by N.P.N. (Nicholas Phat Nguyen) is a designer from Vietnam whose designs are like sculptures, pieces of architecture for the body with a volume that necessitated the 45’ runway. Runway music was created, mixed, and provided by Bigg Rich out of St. Louis, Missouri. Designers got to choose from hundreds of selections that had been created and coordinated with designs themselves. Thank you Bigg Rich for your late-night sessions and your terrific face masks.
Was it all worth it in the end? The press we garnered was the payoff we all needed to see. Many thanks to the audience who ventured out, to the models who traveled from all over the United States and the designers who made such a huge effort. Marcus “Zebra” Smith returned from Season 1 with dances that added just the right touch of movement and freedom to the runway. The weather was one of the worst for snow in the past ten years, so the fact that it didn’t snow another ten inches during the weekend was a true blessing. We will be back September 10, 11, 2021…not that we ever left. We love you New York!