Under pressure: Measuring the physical stress of Fashion Week
From the outside, New York Fashion Week, and its counterparts in London, Milan, and Paris, may appear more on the glamorous side of life. But when you understand that fashion—a multi-billion dollar global industry—uses this twice-yearly main stage as a means to promote itself and its product, it suddenly becomes a lot more significant. And stressful.
To see just how stressful Fashion Week is, Vocativ used technology to measure the impact on five brave souls who were working at Moynihan Station, the main venue of New York Fashion Week — The Shows*. On the very first day of Fashion Week, our participants stepped up to plate from public relations, design, production, and digital media departments, and they helped Vocativ discover that there's a lot more to the shows than just watching beautiful people walk up and down a runway.
Take a look at the scene backstage at Fashion Week:
For designers showing at Fashion Week, fortunes are often decided at the shows — careers are launched through the discerning eyes of the editorial elite, and celebrities can use their influence to catapult indie designers into household names. The runway shows themselves can happen anywhere a brand chooses, but the main locations are at Clarkson Sq in the way western sphere of SoHo, and the aforementioned Moynihan Station, a former post office near Manhattan's Garment District. These venues serve as home bases for some 100,000 bodies that flow back and forth from show to show.
In the midst of this city-wide chaos, there are the smaller cogs in the massive fashion machine: the writers, the buyers, the models, and the rest of the go-getters who sign up to drag their tired selves from one corner of the city to another in an effort to make the whole thing go around. Of course, some individuals are more important than others (though who qualifies as "important" varies based on who you ask), but they're all there for more or less the same reason: to be seen and see what's next, and to play their small role in this huge drama.
This season, WME/IMG (the entertainment and sports company that now owns, operates and represents the main shows) provided us with access to their staffers to see Fashion Week in a way not possible before.
As we learned, for each of our subjects the whole affair is essentially a giant ball of stress, though some conceded that the intensity ebbs and flows. Christian Leone, a participant who is in charge of designer relations for WME/IMG, put it bluntly: "Every day, in fact every moment at Fashion Week is just putting out fires." Those fires can be anything from a missing shoe to a ragged hem or an A-list celebrity being late for a show—a dizzying array of things can go wrong in a shockingly short time.
Vocativ's data was captured while our participants were working the Nicholas K show on Thursday, February 11. Our findings revealed that the most stressed employee was Leone, who among other things clocked a spike in heart rate at 106 beats per minute. Since the average resting heart rate for an adult is between 60 and 80 bpm, that number might seem uncomfortably high. However, Leone told us, it's not the designer who must deal with the media, shepherd celebrities and editors around the venue, or have the face-to-face interaction with the press—it's people like him. "The most stressful part is the constant changes. Everything seems to be going smoothly and then all the sudden there's a glitch and you've got figure it out."
Thinking quick, keeping cool, looking great, it's all part of the package. It should also be noted that in his own words, Leone works "basically six months for Fashion Week. Everything I'm doing is ultimately for this, you know, one week." Pressure? Yes, indeed, and his heart rate reflected the intensity of his position.
In contrast to Leone's elevated heart rate, Monis Alam, who does digital marketing for WME/IMG, posted a peak heart rate of 80.9 bpm for the day. Her heart rate possibly stayed lower because she's dealing with the online world and not interacting with crazed designers, tired editors, and over-scheduled celebrities all day.
If heart rate is a good indication of stress, then total number of footsteps taken in a day is a good indication of pure exertion. Of all the participants, Laurie DeJong, a production director, took far more steps than any other subject, including the incredibly stressed-out Christian Leone. During the day, DeJong took 5,318 steps—but she also posted the second-lowest heart rate for the day, with a peak of 90.7 bpm (roughly 10 more beats per minute than cool character Monis Alam). Compare DeJong's step count to that of Leone, who clocked in at 1,413 steps. He had the fewest steps taken by anyone we measured that day, and yet he still had the highest heart rate. Perhaps there's something to be said for running around working, rather than standing still while people try and give you the run around. Just ask Leone.
Certainly all this stress and work is not without enjoyment and excitement. After all, working at Fashion Week is a choice, and many see it as a privilege. Excitement, much like stress, can also boost your heart rate. Take that pulse-quickening moment when a model first strides down a runway. Andrew Serrano, director of global PR for IMG Fashion, explains, "The best part is seeing that first model come on the runway for the first show. It puts into perspective why we do what we do. We get two or three hours of sleep a night, but that reminds you of the larger picture of helping the designer and helping the media."
There's electricity, there's enthusiasm, and for all the spreadsheets, endlessly revised seating charts, and gnarly feet crammed into nice shoes, there's still a little bit of heart-pumping glamour. It is fashion, after all.
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