Last week, I did a "Mommy & Me Style" fashion segment on "Today". While I have been contributing segments to the show pretty consistently for over 10 years (GULP!), this was my first segment in almost a year. I took a break after Goldie was born in an effort to thoughtfully reflect on time management, life priorities and career goals- as many of you read in what I think is my most popular- and most honest- blog post ever.
Friends, family, and complete strangers often expressed their confusion at how on earth I could not want to do TV segments all the time if given the opportunity because "it must be so much fun!"
Yes, spending a morning at 30 Rock (or any studio, for that matter) is a blast. The culmination of weeks of work unfolding in real time is a total adrenaline rush. Plus, it is an honor I take seriously to be given such a trusted national stage. And the players involved- from the producers to the on-air hosts, the wardrobe team to the hair and makeup crew, and the stable of experts I have spent countless hours in greenrooms with over the years are many of my favorite people.
But few people know what goes into those few minutes of live television. Inspired by this post from Style by Emily Henderson, I decided to share a glimpse behind the fashion segment curtain.*
1) Booking: For every one segment I do, typically at least twenty are pitched (and passed on). In order to secure a booking, a cohesive idea needs to be put together- and, the more timely and trend-driven the idea, the more likely it is to be approved for air. Crafting a pitch takes time- you gotta do the research and distill it down to the most compelling points, written up in a way that feels like it is happening, even though you don't know if it ever will. If said pitch speaks to the segment producer, they then pitch it up the ladder and hopefully, if all goes well, a day or two later an email will arrive in my inbox saying "Good news! They love the idea. Let's do it."
2) Detailing: At this point, the idea needs to be flushed out into a four minute fashion show of sorts, complete with outfit groupings based on occasions or trends. Using my recent "Mommy & Me Style" segment as an example, I suggested we categorize by trend (black & white graphic prints, modern florals, white shirt gone chic and superhero style).
3) Confirming: Once the detailed concept has been sent to my producer, she will review and give me the green light to start pulling together the pieces. In the case of my "Mommy & Me Style" piece, she requested I connect each trend to an occasion so we could better position it as a Mother's Day style guide of sorts. As such, I went back and put more thought into the kinds of looks I would create around each trend to make sure we had a good mix of fancy, fun and everyday appropriate.
4) Casting: Morning show models are typically "real women"- which is great in many ways (relatable, diverse) but also tricky (not everyone knows their sizing exactly, people have hang ups about wearing certain fits/colors/styles that you aren't privy to in advance of the fitting, etc.) For "Mommy & Me Style", I was lucky to have a group of Today Show producers at the ready to model along with their kids- since the segment fell on "Take Your Child To Work Day". Usually, however, the casting process is arduous. I try and work from word-of-mouth so as to avoid a barrage of volunteers via Facebook since it always feels terrible to tell someone that he or she was not chosen. Even though the reason rarely if ever has to do with appearance, I lose sleep over the potential of hurting someone's feelings. It is more like a putting together pieces of a puzzle to achieve the right balance of ages, ethnicities and sizes. Once my producer signs off on the model mix, I create a detailed document assigning a look/trend/occasion to each model, and detailing all of their sizing information along with photos.
5) Pulling: For every one piece of clothing you see on a model in a segment, at least 15 other options had to be pulled. Which means for a segment with 4 looks, each one consisting of, say, an average of 4 items (top, bottom, jacket, shoe/bag/statement accessory) we are talking about at least 240 items. At least. I gather options in two ways- one by calling in from brands and PR agencies directly, and two, by hitting up the mall and shopping. I always say that my PR background is a blessing and a curse when it comes to my TV career. I know how to get what I need from publicists- the polite but direct way to ask, the info they need to share with clients, the questions to pose in order to find out the insider details that turn into great on-air anecdotes, etc. But it is a curse in that I am overly sensitive to the reality that, especially in a fashion show format segment, I may not be able to give verbal or on-screen credits to the items that they secure from their clients. And securing samples is a decent amount of work for a publicist- especially when we aren't working with model sample sizes that they have on hand in the showroom. Which is why I shop for the majority of items at retail, and hope that everything stays in tact so if said item is not used or harmed in the segment process, I can return them after the fact. Plus, shopping myself cuts down on follow up emails ("Are you able to use XYZ?"/"Did the items arrive?"/"When will you know if my client is going to be featured?) that (mostly innocently, but still) overwhelm my inbox.
6) Fitting: Two to three days before the air date, I lug all the samples into NYC for a fitting. Fortunately, I am lucky to have help from friends in the industry who offer to collect samples that arrive via messenger and give me access to their showroom for the morning- sometimes also lending me an assistant or intern to help unpack, organize and eventually repack the clothing. Models come in every 30 minutes, try on a bunch of things, and, fingers crossed, end up with an outfit option that both of us feel good about. I snap a photo, collect the outfit back, and package it to send to the studio so that it can be prepped by the wardrobe department. If only it ever went as smoothly as the two prior sentences sound...
7) Finalizing: Every detail about each outfit is collected: brand, price, and where to buy. This involves emails to brands and publicists, as well as significant online research and fact checking. The info is put into an overview along with the photos from the fitting, and sent to my producer as quickly as possible for approval. I wait, literally at the edge of my seat knowing that whatever feedback I get dictates the next 48 hours of my life. Will I have to re-pull an entire look and do another fitting?/Does XYZ producer personally not like XYZ trend and requests a total change?/Based on said change, will the other looks have to be altered as well to insure the right mix? Regardless of the initial feedback (and the ensuing private tantrums I may have behind closed bathroom doors in which I swear over and over again I will NEVER do a fashion segment EVER again), eventually it all gets worked out. I confirm all the lower thirds (TV speak for the information you see on screen during a segment telling you item names and prices), do one final shop for extra just-in-case jewelry and accessories, and put together the hair and makeup concepts for each model. It is at this point that I finally relax- no more nerves, no more stress- the hard work, for me, is done.
8) Executing: The morning of the segment, I get up around 5am, pack my outfit (sad but true- I usually have no idea what on earth I am going to wear in advance, so I raid my closet at the crack of dawn as quietly as possible so as not to wake up my husband), load up the extra accessories, climb into the car (thankfully the shows/networks typically provide car service, which is huge for me), put on my headphones and log on to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to promote the segment- trying to do so as cleverly and conversationally as my brain can muster. As soon as it is light enough to see, I start reviewing my notes- secretly praying for a little bit of traffic so I can sneak a cat nap in along the way. Upon arrival at the studio, its go time- making sure all the models get through hair and makeup, prepping their looks (Today happens to have the most amazing wardrobe team which makes this part easy), and answering any questions the models have in an effort to calm their pre-segment jitters.
9) Returning: Seconds after the segment ends, craziness ensues. I gather all the items back from each model (and explain why some pieces are okay to keep but others need to be returned to stores/showrooms- it can get tense!), and organize them to make sure everything gets back to the place it belongs. The emails and texts start to pile up too- many of them super sweet, grateful and/or congratulatory. Some are not as kind ("Why didn't my client's jacket get credited on screen"/"I thought the jeans I sent for the model would get more air time"/"So, you didn't include any of the items I sent for the fitting?!"/"My client isn't so happy with the way the model looked in our dress, is there anything you can do about that?") and over the years I have learned to take it all with a grain (or barrel) of salt and try and remember the pressure PR people are under from clients, having been there myself. I try to send the link out to brands that were featured so the PR teams can have them on record, and, if my kids don't bombard me the second I get home after not seeing me days and days while I prep and plan, I put together a blog post or social media post to share the video for anyone who missed it.
So, there you have it. The work that goes into creating a hopefully well-styled, relevant and thorough fashion show segment. At least, this is what goes into it for me. I imagine it is different for all the style experts you see when you flip on your favorite morning shows- the methods may be different I have no doubt the effort is the same.
*Note: Table top (you know, where you products showcased on top of a table and the expert goes down the line sharing each find) and beauty segments are the other kinds of segments I am typically called upon to do- and they are VERY different- and in my opinion, significantly more manageable- than fashion show format segments.