Berlin Fashion Week is at our doorstep: shows, presentations, events. For some, this is the social highlight of the year, for most other participants, fashion week simply means business. It’s where labels and designers present their collections to business partners, buyers and the press – and hope to generate sales in the long term.
For decades now, the classic way to present has been a catwalk show. They give every collection the air of professionalism.
If done right.
If not, this is what the press will be writing about, no matter how good the clothes actually were.
So before putting it on, you better ask somebody who knows what he is doing.
Florian Müller is a guest management consultant and a PR agent in his own right. As the latter, he represents some of the best design talent Berlin has to offer – Vladimir Karaleev being one of them – and manages their presentations and shows during fashion week. As the former, he consults the PR agents of other designers and labels on what to pay attention to when presenting their collections.
Read on for our first of three parts for advice on “how to put on a good show”.
What is your role as a guest manager at shows in Berlin or Paris?
It’s what it says on the tin: I take care of the guests of an event. It’s important for me to know what kind of guests a designer wants to be at their show and at the same time to know what the very different needs of those guests are.
I take care of everything from beginning to end, from consulting what the invite should look like, to making sure the right journalists get to meet the designer backstage after the show. I also consult other press agencies in these matters, including being on-site on the day of the event.
I had worked in fashion PR in Paris before I moved back to Berlin 12 years ago. That is when I started specialising in guest management. One of my main clients has been IMG for the last seven years.
What are you consulting on?
In time, a few weeks before the shows start, I’ll contact the according press agent to talk them through the process and what needs to be taken care of to make sure their event goes as smoothly as possible: what information does the invite need to contain; when will guests be let in; how to organise their teams, how many people need to be at the reception counter, who needs to be backstage, what kind of lists they need; how to approach the guests, where to seat them; and so on.
At first glance, all this might seem trivial. However, it needs to be done with great care.
Of course, the support they need largely depends on the label and how experienced they are. Very often they know what they’re doing and we just try to bring the process to perfection.
How do you make sure that enough people show up?
This is what pretty much everybody who puts on an event is worried about. You neither want empty seats nor do you want to turn down guests when they arrive. To avoid empty seats it makes sense to carefully overbook the show, as usually not everybody who has confirmed will show up.
It helps to know your audience and how likely they are to actually show up. It also helps to know what other events are on at the same time, if a previous show is delayed or if simply the weather might be raining on your parade.
In advance, I need to determine how many positive RSVPs I’m aiming for. If, at a certain point, you realise that there are not enough, you need to react and actively pursue more potential guests. If you have too many, you need to be more selective. This often causes panic and obviously I’m also there to calm everybody down. There is almost always a solution.
It is also important to understand that these events are held for people from the industry. Having to turn down people is nothing personal. The guests need to fit with the label. It doesn’t make sense to invite buyers that you don’t even want to sell to.
The seating is highly political and a sensitive issue. How to do it right?
I give recommendations to the labels I consult. For my own designers I know whom to put where. There are certain groups of people that you need to put in one place, for example, people from one publication or publishing house. Then there are independent people whose grouping also needs to make sense.
Over the years you get a good sense for whom to seat next to each other or not. Personally, I prefer unusual seatings, where I know that people are close friends, where I can foster a certain kind of atmosphere.
This is what it comes down to. I am there to help create an atmosphere in which everybody feels comfortable and in which the designers can present their collection and convey their message.
Where do you put people that are not members of the press?
If I invite VIPs I need to make sure that (and they) go with the image of the label. Where to seat buyers? Do they need to be in the front row or are they okay in the second?
How important is it for certain people to sit in the front or might they not care? What kind of statement do I want to make as a label? That might be gratefulness for a well-written article, a long-term collaboration or simply because you want certain people to be able to view the show properly. Where do family sit, where business partners? Not everybody can sit in the front row, there is simply not enough space.
All these different people and faces – how do you keep track?
When I came back from Paris twelve years ago, I knew the international press, the German press not so much. For me that meant to google faces and learn them by heart. Of course they all look different in reality. You need to learn to make quick assessments. I also got great support from my colleagues back then. As soon as you have done this a few times, you know the people.
At a certain point people also start to introduce themselves if they’re new in a position. Over time you get more and more information, for example, who is ill and can’t make it to the show so you know you have a free seat.
You also get a good sense for people who pretend to be something they are not to get a front row seat, but also for others whose faces tell you that they were falsely put in the last row. Then you need to react confidently to find a quick solution. The first step should be to apologize.