Behnaz Sarafpour presentation

Normally, I’m the designer for the womenswear line, Graey, and I’ve worked in the past for Christian Dior, Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler. But a  few months ago, my friend referred me for an interesting freelance gig–handling social media for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which is run by IMG.

Some background on Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. The two major fashion seasons are Spring/Summer, which starts in September right after Labor Day, and Fall/Winter, which starts in February. New York Fashion Week kicks things off. The best known and most established venue of New York Fashion Week is what is colloquially known as the “tents,” which used to be at Bryant Park until Spring/Summer 2011, last September. Now they are at Lincoln Center. Around 90 designers showed this season at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, although some of those included affiliates who showed off-site (at a venue outside of the tents), but pay money to be associated with the event.

Many designers show off-site, particularly if they are a big enough name that they can draw press and buyers alone. In the past couple of years, MAC X Milk (shows at Milk Studios in the Meatpacking sponsored by the makeup company MAC) has become a hot venue, drawing the hottest names in fashion.

However, many designers, if they can afford it, like to show at MBFW (we were instructed to always call it Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week rather than New York Fashion Week or the tents) because of the critical mass that gathers to see all the shows there. Fern Mallis is credited with creating what is now known as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. In the early 90s, she was president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), and worked to bring the shows, which had been previously scattered and disorganized as well as sometimes in shoddy locations, under one centralized location. The event has since been acquired by IMG, which produces it.

At Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, there are four different venues. Each designer is given a one hour time slot during which the show takes place, and no other runway show takes place. Most shows usually run under ten minutes, but on average, they begin 20-30 minutes late. The three runway venues are (in order of size): the Theatre, the Stage, and the Studio. The fourth venue, which was created when the tents moved to Lincoln Center is the Box, which is a space for presentations (as opposed to a runway show), and usually overlapped with runway shows.

As the social media manager, I met with the IMG marketing coordinator starting in mid-January to learn the ropes and figure out our strategy. I managed the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week website, Facebook, and Twitter.

The main function of the website is to display the schedule of the shows, but starting the Spring 2011 season, the website also featured photos (taken by Getty) of each designer’s show, as well as video (this season shot by InDigital). In addition, the website features a Scene section with photos from each day of the event, as well as a news section, which features news about designers and advertorials about sponsors. During MBFW, we had four different types of articles — Designer Did You Know, which contained designers’ responses to questions we asked, such as what kind of music was on their iPod; From the Front Row, which were questions we asked to Front Row guests at the shows; Backstage Beauty, where our haircare sponsor TRESemme shared what they were doing with hair on the runways; and Guest Blogs which were posts by people involved with Fashion Week, like models.

It’s hard to say how many people actually read the news articles, since the individual posts did not have unique URLs. During MBFW we had a couple of news articles a day. We would link to these articles from our Facebook and Twitter accounts. On Facebook, our strategy was to limit our posts to no more than one per hour, as to not exasperate our followers. We also limited the amount of sponsor content we posted on our Facebook page. In addition to linking to news posts from the website, we also created albums of different themes we noticed on the runways, like maxi skirts. We also linked to articles about our designers, and posted the YouTube videos of the shows created by InDigital. I also ran around the venue, taking photos and posting them sometime on Facebook and Twitter. I had an all-access pass so I could walk around all the venues and their backstages, which was cool. My boss encouraged me to go to as many shows as possible and tweet about what was happening there, and around the venue, where there was a lot happening with sponsor events. I used HootSuite to schedule tweets for each of the shows, as well as tweeting live from the event, although that didn’t always work so well because there were so many people taking up bandwidth inside the tents.

In addition, we ran a couple of contests to increase our followership. One was a Street Style competition, where our followers were encouraged to submit photos of themselves wearing one or more items designed by one of our designers. The other was a Twitter contest, where we asked people to follow us and tweet about their favorite Fall 2011 looks. Over the course of the event, we managed to gain over 9000 Facebook fans and 5000 Twitter followers.

It was a fun couple of weeks.   My interns said I had the best job — basically getting paid to attend the fashion shows — but it was very hectic!   It was a great experience though, and cool to see how the PR teams of the designers, sponsors, and IMG worked together to provide maximum exposure.

Here are some of my favorite photos I took with my iPhone from the event:

Christian Siriano backstage before his show

Shoes backstage at Rebecca Minkoff, I think.

Cool hand decorations made from wire hangers, I think this was at the Binetti presentation

Betsey Johnson being interviewed at the Diet Pepsi lounge in the lobby

Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl soundchecking before the Rebecca Minkoff show

Tim Gunn talking about his experience at Parsons at the American Express SkyBox

Julia Stiles getting interviewed backstage

Vera Wang backstage before her show

Gwen Stefani watching the run-through before her L.A.M.B. show

Blogger  BryanBoy with his friend — he was very friendly!

Style icon and Vogue Nippon editor Anna della Russo

Untapped New York previously covered Janet’s Graey Spring/Summer 2011 show.  Untapped Cities publisher Michelle Young also worked for IMG and recounted her experience at Fashion Week here.

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