Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Le'talk: Stephanie Colgan talks New York Fashion Week

by Jahna Peloquin
photos by Stephanie Colgan

Despite being Minnesota girls through and through, we here at l'étoile can't deny the modern romance that is New York Fashion Week. It's the international melting pot of fashion - the defining moment of the next season's trends, a make-or-break event in many a designer's careers. And a select group of those providing the talent that makes the Fashion Week machine run hail from the Twin Cities - few possibly more time-honored than photographer Stephanie Colgan, who's been shooting at New York Fashion Week for five years running. We chatted with the local photographer on her past, present and future at New York Fashion Week, and she exclusively shared with us some of her best shots from this year's shows.

This is, what, your fifth year doing New York Fashion Week? What keeps you going back year after year?

I don't know why I keep going. I'm attracted to the action of it it all - it's really not anything like an editorial fashion shoot. I'm interested in fashion and the obsession people have with it - what it means to popular culture. The crowds and the presentation at Fashion Week really highlight that. For me, it's not just about the fashion; it's the spectacle of it all and how people engage with it. I'm trying to figure out how to address this more in my body of work. And I'm interested in the manufacturing side of the fashion industry as well. I've photographed garment factories in China, New York and France.

Usually you're there shooting for the New York Times - are you there with them again this year?

Yes, but they cut down on their runway assignments this season. They're picking up runway images more and more from agencies like Getty which I think is quite economical. I "floated" for them, but did not have any specific runway assignments this time. In September I usually only go for a long weekend because my kids (and husband who is a teacher) start school and it's a stressful time to be gone.

What other shows have you shot this year?

Um...it's all a blur! Costello Tagliapietra, Doo.Ri, Alexandre Herchcovitch, Carlos Miele, Derek Lam, Catherine Malandrino, Michael Angel, Betsey Johnson...

You seem to favor backstage photos over more traditional Fashion Week photography. What about Fashion Week draws you backstage?

Capturing a photo is always much more interesting to me than orchestrating a shot. Shooting from the runway is a lot more confining. For one thing, you can't move in the photographers' pit. I can't stand to sit still while shooting. I'm always looking for a different perspective. On the runway the background is the same, the models walk the same way, down the same path - it gets boring fast. I like to watch from the wings backstage and see what unfolds. I like that it's a mess - there's stuff everywhere, people are rushing, working. The fact that the runway show from the audience's perspective can look so beautiful while backstage is mad chaos interests me. It's all a show. I like the grit behind the show - the scene behind the scene.

Have you met any designers or well-known models backstage? Who was the most interesting person you've met?

I don't know if I would say I've "met" anyone. It's really far too busy back there for that. But I've definitely been around people enough to get a pretty decent idea of what they're like. The Brazilian designer Carlos Miele seems to be a wonderful, creative, humble person. Betsey Johnson is a force of energy. She really is incredible - full of inspiration. She seems very generous and really, really appreciates her models. I didn't make it to his show this time, but Zang Toi is a real character. I don't know if he still does this, but he and his family members would personally pack brown bag lunches for all the photographers. Yummy spicey chicken salad sandwiches. I think I've probably photographed all of the big models, but quite honestly I don't really keep track of their names. I photographed Lily Donaldson at several runway shows this weekend, and then coincidentally she was also at the gallery opening I shot.

Where's the most interesting location you've shot this year?

Catherine Malandrino's show was outside (at Lincoln Center) which was something I've never seen before. It rained up until about twenty minutes before the show started so it was definitely a risky plan. It was a brilliant move. It really set her show apart.

What was your favorite Fashion Week moment?

Backstage at Betsey Johnson without a doubt. Terrific music. Great vibe. She makes it a feel-good party and it's really, really fun. The music at shows this Fashion Week was more inspired than last season. I usually come home and make a playlist of everything I've heard. I heard xx remixes, Hot Chip, Empire of the Sun, LCD Soundsystem, The Kills, The Black Keys, M.I.A.'s "Born Free"... one of Betsey's closing songs was the Beatles' "Why Don't We Do It in the Road."

What was the best non-Fashion Week moment?

A really good friend of mine lives in Brooklyn so it's always a treat to see her while I'm in New York. We usually try to see as much art as we possibly can and then discuss over as much wine as we can possibly drink. I also managed to squeeze in a free Spoon show Monday afternoon at a small club in the East Village. That was definitely a supreme moment.

View Stephanie's work at www.colganphotography.com".

Photos, top to bottom: Doo.Ri; Derek Lam; Derek Lam; Catherine Malandrino; Betsey Johnson. All photos by Stephanie Colgan.

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