Model Realities: What Goes on Behind the Runway at New York Fashion Week

Celebrities, style icons and socialites, from the front row of top runway shows at New York Fashion Week (NYFW), have a full view of the most grandiose presentation of luxury fashion that they are sure to spot during any given season.

From their comfortable seats, the beat of the music pounds, lights flash, and some of the most beautiful girls in the world walk the runway in efforts that feel fluent and pronounced.

Even though runway shows often come together seamlessly, what goes on beyond the scenes is often anything but uncomplicated, especially for the girls whose faces steal the show. From start to finish, including the casting, show scheduling and payment, NYFW is a lot more than meets the eye to the thousands of models who consider the week their hallmark event of the year.

Courtesy of Lea Rannells
Courtesy of Lea Rannells


The insanity of NYFW begins at the very beginning – the casting for the shows, which take place only a week or two before the shows actually begin, giving models not much time to prepare. Plus, many NYFW models travel directly to and from Paris, Milan and London for their respective fashion weeks.

Lea Rannells, 30-year-old runway model and founder of Philia Brand Clothing who has walked at NYFW during her 10-year career for designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Pamella Roland, Naeem Kahn and Mara Hoffman, said that she has gone to 12 castings in a day and five days a week in preparation for NYFW. One day can hold eight to 14 hours of work, partly due to the fact that models are heading back and forth from Brooklyn to SoHo and then uptown, all in one day.

Elena Kurnosova, 24-year-old runway model who has walked at NYFW for designers such as Betsey Johnson, BCBG and Giorgio Armani during her eight-year career said that during NYFW, she gets up around 4:30 a.m. to go to the gym before arriving to her first casting at 8 a.m. Her workday will end around 7:30 p.m., an almost 12-hour day.

The number of fellow models that are at a casting depends on the size of a runway show as well as if the casting was open or models were requested on an invite basis, the former of which may come to a designer seeing 30 girls or more in a single hour and the latter amounting to 25 to 50 girls in total at casting. “Sometimes it’s just you and two other girls and other times you’re in a hallway and you’re waiting your turn with 80 other people,” said Rannells.

Kurnosova said that for very large shows, castings may last a few days and there could be 500 models total casting, with 80 to 100 on a single day. She said that to avoid waiting in line for 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half just to cast for a designer for 5-15 minutes, models get to castings 45 minutes to an hour before the casting even begins.

Courtesy of Elena Kurnosova
Courtesy of Elena Kurnosova

Generally, models believe that the longer they are with a designer once their turn actually begins, the better their chances are of being casted. However, there are no hard-and-fast rules.

“You’re always trying to figure out if you booked a job, but it’s very difficult to tell from a casting,” said Rannells. “You might say to yourself, ‘I definitely didn’t book that because I was only in there for five minutes,’ but then you get it, and other times you’re there for awhile and you try on all of these clothes but you didn’t get the show. You can never be 100 percent sure.”

Lisa Nargi, 32-year-old part-time model and full time nurse/entrepreneur who has walked at NYFW during her 11-year career, said that if designers “don’t like you, you are out of there in a minute, and if they do, it’s about 15 minutes.”

Within these 15 minutes, the longer end of a casting, designers may ask a model to walk, try on a few pieces and look at their portfolio. Usually, they don’t ask the girls many questions and instead, they look for who can carry their clothes the best and walk well.

Jackie Miranne, 29-year-old former NYFW model who is now a Fashion Fridays correspondent on VH1 Big Morning Buzz Live and has walked for Christian Siriano, Rami Kashou and Victoria Hong during her six-year career said that designers also look for if a girl has the right look for the theme of a show. “For example, if a show has an ethereal, elegant theme, they will want different girls than they would if the designer was to have an edgier show,” she said.

Courtesy of Jackie Miranne
Courtesy of Jackie Miranne

Nargi said that when it comes to this factor, all designers are looking for something different and “you either fit or you don’t since they know what they’re looking for, and you’re just hoping that you fit that bill.”

According to Kurnosova, designers’ strong ideas of the types of girls they want for their shows can sometimes work against models in a way that is more discriminatory than productive. “Sometimes, a designer will barely even want to see your ‘book’ or see you walk just because of your nationality,” she said. “They may have had bad experiences with other girls of that nationality and they won’t want to work with you. But, you can’t do anything about it or say anything negative because you don’t want to break a potential working relationship.”

Most of the time, designers do not ask models many questions because runway shows require less personality than a catalog or magazine shoot would, plus they have quite a few girls to get through and time is limited and better spent examining a girl’s walk and look.

Rannells said that if a designer does choose to ask girls questions, they may ask how long a girl has been working, who else she has modeled for or even just how she’s holding up in the insanity of casting.

“Sometimes they may even ask you personal questions, maybe just to fill the time or make sure that you have a personality,” she said. “I’ve had people ask me if I have any pets or where my favorite place to visit is – I just want to respond so that my answer is memorable.”


Unfortunately, dressing memorably is difficult as model castings have an unwritten dress code – a basic uniform of heels, such as high pumps, dark skinny jeans or leggings and a basic, dark fitted tank top with very little makeup. “You pretty much have a black tank top for every day of the week,” said Rannells. “When you get to a casting, you’re surrounded by an army of girls in dark tank tops.”

Miranne said that although models stick to dark, clean pieces that they can move in for castings, it’s also important for them to find a way to show their own sense of style, such as with a chic bag or heels. “Even if you are wearing just a simple outfit, you need to put yourself together in a way that makes you stand out to a designer,” she said.

Even if a model is walking for a more eccentric designer, such as Betsey Johnson, Kurnosova said that models simply don’t have the time to customize their outfit for a specific casting since during NYFW, models are running from one casting to the next all day.

A direct booking, however, bypasses the insanity of casting, which is when a designer calls a model back the following season and invites her to walk in his show, without another casting. This sometimes happens, depending on the designer, or at least in part – a designer may ask a model to come back for a casting just to make sure that she is still a good match for the brand since her look as well as the brand’s may have evolved.

Courtesy of Jackie Miranne
Courtesy of Jackie Miranne


With so many castings, it’s possible for a model to get double-booked, or invited to walk in two shows which begin at times that are too close to one another. However, a benefit of being with a model agency is that an agency helps a girl figure out which is the best choice for her career – not which one is the most monetarily worthwhile, an important distinction.

Showroom jobs, for example, tend to pay more but a model gets little exposure, versus a runway show, which could help a model’s career take off. “There are plenty of models I started out with whose careers have grown astronomically partly due to their exposure as a runway model, such as Barbara Fiahlo, a Victoria’s Secret model who was with me in a show that paid nothing ten years ago,” said Miranne. “Everyone starts at the bottom and many models get great exposure from the runway shows.”

Miranne said that regardless of the constant runaround of NYFW, “All models want to be busy, and the busier you are for NYFW the better off you are.”

Being a busy model is especially difficult in New York City due to the abundance of models in the city and heavy competition. Plus, all girls want to get into the big shows, including those that come from Milan, Paris and London Fashion Week to cast for New York, many of whom are wishing that they could book more work. Rannells said that unfortunately, due to the trends of the season, models just have to go with the flow and accept that one season everyone may want to book blonde girls or another season, everyone may want to book more exotic-looking girls.

Nargi said that there is a misconception that exists concerning the busyness of models since it’s very possible for a model to do 20 runway shows but not get paid for a single one. “These girls want to get recognized so they are taking that chance and booking as many shows as possible,” she said.

Courtesy of Elena Kurnosova
Courtesy of Elena Kurnosova

There is a dark underbelly to this extreme busyness, however. Kurnosova said that about 50 percent of the models she has encountered are drinking or doing drugs to deal with stress. “I think it is too much for many of the girls and many of them miss their families or have never been away from home before,” she said. For this reason, Kurnosova explained, many agencies interview models before taking them on since they care about how responsible they can be for their own jobs and if they can handle modeling.

NYFW is a very hectic time and models have very little downtime, if any at all. Rannells said that she has been to castings and she has been surrounded by models taking power naps because they haven’t been able to get a moment’s rest.

“You’re in such a whirlwind when you’re casting so when you come out on the other side, you’re like ‘What just happened?’ and you can’t even process what’s going on,” said Rannells.

Depending on the size of a show, models have to arrive about two to four hours early to do hair and makeup, fittings and possibly a full dress rehearsal. If a model has another show right before another one, she can end up sprinting down the sidewalk and arriving with only 30 minutes to get through hair and makeup.

Courtesy of Elena Kurnosova
Courtesy of Elena Kurnosova


To the outside world, NYFW is the highlight of the fashion season, however it isn’t the most monetarily rewarding for a model, as showroom jobs tend to pay more than runway shows do, since for the average model, a runway show may pay $500 at the high end. Many runway shows don’t pay anything at all and instead, designers will “pay” girls with pieces from their line about 30 percent of the time, although girls rarely get to choose what pieces they will receive.

Nargi said, “You would think that you would be upset with the payment, but at the end of the day, you are happy with whatever you get because you are aware of the bigger picture, which is that NYFW is for exposure and you’re not living off of it.”

According to Miranne, “The exposure that you can get from walking in NYFW doesn’t have a price.”

There are other obvious perks to walking at NYFW, including attending NYFW parties, receiving goodie bags, making priceless connections and having one’s hair and makeup done.

“The designers are giving you an opportunity for you to be able to say that you walked at NYFW so there isn’t a need for them to pay you so much,” said Nargi. “You’re really hoping that you can take your career to another level – people think that you’re taking home all of these other amazing perks, but for the majority of girls, that simply isn’t true,” she said.

Courtesy of Lea Rannells and Elena Kurnosova
Courtesy of Lea Rannells and Elena Kurnosova

Although there is no “average” annual salary for a model since the range is huge, from some models making nothing for many years and other models making millions of dollars a year, many models struggle financially.

Rannells said, “I think a lot of people not in the industry think that all models make a lot of money. Especially when first starting out, many girls don’t make much money or any money at all. It’s kind of like the lottery and a lot of girls burn out before they even make any money. You can make much more depending on the longevity you end up achieving.”

One anonymous model said that her parents would tell her to “get a real job,” a common saying from a model’s parents, especially since there is little financial security and an annual salary changes each year. This model said that in her best year, she made $70,000 annually.

Since there are so many models in a show, sometimes it’s not possible for an up-and-coming designer to pay them all, which is unfortunate considering the physical exertion a model puts into a show from casting, to rehearsal and to the show itself. However, Rannells said that there is something about the exciting experience that feels like payment in itself.

One anonymous model said, “You always want to get paid for the work that you do. I think models always deserve to be paid and properly treated. But it doesn’t really happen, although it should.”

Courtesy of Elena Kurnosova
Courtesy of Elena Kurnosova

Career Evolution

Although models aren’t always paid, they remain just as big of celebrities to their followers. Rannells said that fans often recognize her, especially after she was on “Project Runway.” She said, “I love to be recognized. I have just been in a mall or walking somewhere and girls would come up to me. It’s a great feeling because they’re so excited and you feed off of their energy. It makes you feel good and brightens your day.”

Miranne said she encounters more fans now as a host than she did as a runway model, which she feels is a great honor because the progress in her career is being recognized. “I have found a way to merge my love for fashion and my ability to talk about it on TV and I see myself doing for a long time,” she said. “I believe I will be talking about fashion always.”

Nargi now owns her own business where she does Botox and fillers for many model clients, which also gives her the flexibility to be a part-time model while allowing her more financial security than she had during her years as a full-time model.

Kurnosova said, “There is a model who is 83-years-old and she is still modeling. I think that is going to be me one day.”

Rannells is using her experience in the fashion industry to start her own clothing line called Philia Brand Clothing, which she sees as the next evolution of her career. “I always knew that there was a bigger purpose for me and I wanted to use my experience to do something bigger and better and give back,” she said. “I’m going to continue modeling until no one will book me anymore.”

Although NYFW is often considered a trademark glamorous event, this glamour doesn’t always exist for the models that are running from one casting to the next with heels in their purses, sleeping in casting hallways and getting paid in clothes rather than cash. Regardless, models will continue to flock to the coveted NYFW as they attempt to jumpstart their careers and become big names in the fashion industry.


Fashion models wanted!

Are you a model that works during fashion month?

Do you want to featured on a major fashion website that could help get your name out there?

Then email me immediately at for my piece which will focus on the life of a model during fashion month! We can set up a time to speak over the phone or I can email you my questions.

Some of the info I will be asking about:

– Casting (when are you cast, what do designers look for, do you have to audition if you have walked before)
– Scheduling (are you running from one show to the next, is there any down time, do you have to turn brands down)
– Payment (what kind of money are you making, are there extra perks, do you get to keep anything from the show) *For this question, I can quote you anonymously*

If you are a busy and talkative fashion model who works during fashion week, I would love to get your input on this piece for a major fashion website that could help get your name out there!


From Iran to spirited San Francisco: designer Gelareh Alam makes a name for herself

After being raised in repressive Iran, a country known for its severity, especially towards women, now-fashion designer Gelareh Alam found herself in an entirely different world upon arriving in San Francisco in 2001. Alam started out as a child psychology graduate student in the Bay Area, but being a self-taught artist and hosting a lifetime yearning for a creative career, she found herself drawn towards sculpture and painting more than ever in her newfound home. Here, in a city known for its imagination and innovation, was where she finally did not have to suppress her creativity or be censored.

“Becoming an artist wasn’t a viable choice for me when I was growing up in Iran. But when I relocated to San Francisco, I was faced with a culturally liberating environment that enabled me to become a designer,” she tells JustLuxe. “In my work, there are definite influences from both my heritage and my current home that I continuously explore thematically as the foundation of my designs.”

Photo Courtesy of Gelareh Alam Designs
Photo Courtesy of Gelareh Alam Designs

After a friend suggested that Alam attend art school, she found herself pursuing her dreams at last, where she discovered that she had a penchant for shaping forms and pulling elements together—instrumental skills for fashion design. But bridging her strict upbringing and newfound freedom was not an easy task. “I had to navigate the different perspectives of expressions and meaning,” she explains. “But it ultimately enriched my understanding, not just about cultural and social differences but also about myself.”

The young designer began to create limited-edition pieces in 2007, and after several years of change and growth, gradually evolved her passion projects into the Gelareh Alam brand of today. She has grown not only in her approach to design, but in how she executes each piece. “We’re now at a point where the brand’s visual signature is clear. But fashion is nothing if it doesn’t evolve, so I am constantly honing our style and making sure it continues to be relevant to what women need,” she says.

Photo Courtesy of Gelareh Alam Designs
Photo Courtesy of Gelareh Alam Designs

The customer who needs Gelareh Alam pieces to express herself in the fashion world is one who is not faint of heart. “The woman who wears my pieces has every confidence in herself. She’s not dressing for anybody else but herself. She knows what she wants from life and is empowered to work toward getting it.”

The lines of women and men’s clothing revel in both strength and sensuality, which is combined with a degree of fragility to represent each of our individual freedoms and empowered self-expression. It is a mix of tomorrow’s sculptural glamour and yesterday’s elegant confidence—statement pieces that unleash a provocative style for those willing to stand out from the crowd. “My line cannot ever be described as conventional. I always endeavor to create something distinct and special,” says Alam. “These are not meant for someone who wants to blend into the background. Therefore, it encourages the wearer to be bold and gives them the freedom to express themselves in however way they choose.” The brand, which she describes as confident, defiant of convention and edgy, is for creative souls who wish to be elegant while taking a little risk and drawing a bit of attention.

Photo Courtesy of Gelareh Alam Designs
Photo Courtesy of Gelareh Alam Designs

As far as celebrity customers go, Alam is drawn to iconic women who house a strong sense of their personal style, such as Lady Gaga, whom the designer considers to be walking art. Alam feels that the starlet and she share parallels in how they choose to accessorize with items such as hats, hair, feathers and masks.

Although Alam said that she doesn’t necessarily have any fashion idols, she does appreciate the work of fashion designers Cristobal Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, as well as artists Wassilyevich Kandinsky and Mark Rothko. However, her inspirations for her designs come not from other famous faces but instead, from everything around her such as music, films, architecture, nature, everyday experience and historical moments. “These various influences that inform my work drive me to create more. Creativity begets creativity,” she explains. “The more I do what I do, the more challenges I have to face to make my collections, the better I am at my craft, the better I become at adapting to situations and being able to find workable ways to deal with a challenge.”

Photo Courtesy of Gelareh Alam Designs
Photo Courtesy of Gelareh Alam Designs

After discovering an inspiration and idea for a garment, she enjoys working with soft fabrics that drape well and tougher materials such as leather, to create a more structured look. She often juxtaposes the two to show how opposite concepts can exist within the same space. In her effort to find different ways to drape over the body, Alam says that she often starts with one idea and ends up with something completely different that creates a sense of balance and is pleasing to the eyes.

But it’s more than just what a piece looks or feels like—it’s also about sustainability. She uses natural fabrics as much as possible and also repurposes vintage clothing, going as far as to toy with the idea of creating a line with all natural fabrics. “I have always tried to source sustainable materials and work with people who respect the environment. I believe it is important to maintain a sense of responsibility in how we affect the world in which we live,” she adds.

Photo Courtesy of Gelareh Alam Designs
Photo Courtesy of Gelareh Alam Designs

San Francisco is Alam’s adopted home, but the designer loves everything about the City by the Bay, including its vibrant cultural presence which is translated in the residents’ sense of style. “It is both adventurous and intellectual without being too mannered,” she explains. “And beneath that is that laid-back West Coast attitude that makes it not only acceptable, but exemplary to dress in exactly the way you want to. My brand speaks to that very same idea of freedom in expressing who you are.”

Although San Francisco is not known for its fashion, Alam feels that there are many talented designers in the city who work hard and create quality pieces that deserve recognition and support from the industry. And while Alam knows she is one of those designers, she’s handling her success with humble grace. “It’s a long process from an idea to creating the piece. So when it is finally worn by someone, it presents you with the realization of your work.” She adds, “It is a very fulfilling experience that in itself can be called a success.”

Photo Courtesy of Gelareh Alam Designs
Photo Courtesy of Gelareh Alam Designs

Gelareh Alam is available online and is priced from $410-$3,300.

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British edge meets Italian grace in Alessia Prekop’s designs

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England is a country notorious for dark, daring fashion with a focus on asymmetrical lines and abstract shapes. Italy, however, is renowned for elegant, feminine silhouettes featuring flirty colors and soft fabrics. So what do the two style-savvy locales have in common? Alessia Prekop, an Italian-born designer with a London label. This curious combination of style lives in every seam of Prekop’s collections. Her pieces hold elongated shapes that are fitted in tailored separates with both symmetric and asymmetric lines. Just like the women of Italy and England, the street-style clothing is made for the modern, daring fashion lover who is both powerful and graceful.

Photo Courtesy
Photo Courtesy

Prekop studied fashion design at Instituto Marangoni and graduated in 2010 before launching her line in 2012, which quickly caught the eyes of the style-conscious. After being acclaimed as “One to Watch” following the debut of her Autumn/Winter 2013 collection at New York Fashion Week, Prekop brought her work to London, a city that she knew would inspire her designs due to its bold nature.

“While I was living in Italy, my visits to London always left a great impression because of the eccentricity of the people that wandered its streets. Their fearless attitude represented a freedom of thinking; I knew I had to be a part of,” she said to Schon Magazine. “As a designer, the city’s rough, rebellious energy unconsciously provides a plethora of ideas that feed into my work.” But that doesn’t mean Prekop left her Italian roots back at home. “Italian style knows how to show a woman at her best,” she added. “In my work, I express a specific aspect of femininity by focusing on the beauty of the female form.” Prekop accomplishes this by embellishing her pieces as much as possible by using satin strips, ribbons, metallic sheen or other romantic finishing touches.

Photo Courtesy
Photo Courtesy

Now releasing her fourth collection for Spring/Summer 2015, Prekop is channeling the distressed housewife of Betty Friedman’s The Feminine Mystique, who meets the contradictory modern woman of the future. Incorporating soft, feminine colors in powder pink, cream and lilac alongside harsh, monochromic black, the collection showcases Prekop’s signature clean-cut lines alongside delicate crepes and ruffles. And quality is never sacrificed in the design of her work, which uses materials such as mohair, lamb hair and mélange wools alongside silky leather.

Although Prekop’s collections continue to appropriately change with the seasons having now translated to subdued, romantic colors for Spring/Summer 2015 after the edgy, dark styles of Fall/Winter 2014, her uncanny ability to juxtapose the dreamy, tender woman and strong, modern woman exist in every item of her growing work.

Photo Courtesy
Photo Courtesy

The $7k a Minute Event: The True Price of a New York Fashion Week Runway Show

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The most coveted time of the year is now complete. The cameras flashed, the models strutted and celebrity faces lined the front rows of New York Fashion Week. The fashion-conscious took in the newest trends from beneath the runway while getting ready to purchase their next season’s wardrobe. However, there are some at NYFW that have already emptied their wallets—the designers. NYFW is an incredible source of profit for the city. Each year, the legendary event earns $850 million for New York, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation and reported by the International Business Times. By comparison the Super Bowl hosted at MetLife Stadium drew in half of that number. This comes to about $7,000 a minute, even more astonishing considering that shows regularly last 15 minutes. These colossal figures do not come easy. Designers at NYFW can expect to spend $100,000 to show at the bare minimum, ranging up to $1 million for prominent brands committed to presenting a true performance.


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Marc Jacobs is one acclaimed designer who does not blink when it comes to dramatically showcasing his fashion. At his fall 2011 show, he spent $1 million; this year, he opted for something slightly less grandiose: a large, purple farmhouse and plushy violet runway for his utilitarian collection. Aspiring designers, however, attempt to save their pennies after sometimes committing their life savings to show at NYFW. Taking a great gamble in their spending, there is no guarantee that designers will later reap the benefits of having stores buy their merchandise and then being able to successfully sell it to customers. Dao-Yi Chow, co-founder of the menswear line Public School with Maxwell Osborne, told theHuffington Post, “In order for us to make money, we have to sell to the stores, and then the stores have to sell to the customers. All of that is a linear progression: We present; we get press; the buzz starts; the buyers come; and then hopefully the customers buy the clothes. All of that starts with the presentation.” Showing is even more imperative for designers who need a certain style of backdrop to accurately showcase their work. Ray, a menswear designer known for his Brooks Brothers collaborations, told the Huffington Post, “When I send a tie to an individual editor or a store, all they see is the tie. But here they see my world: It’s a rendering of my vision and my culture.” Venue choice is one of the most imperative assets for the branding of a label, bit it can also be one of the most expensive. Venues range between $15,000 and $60,000, the priciest being the Theater at Lincoln Center, the largest venue at NYFW. Another expensive venue includes the New York Public Library, a historical locale that commands a $50,000 starting price. Sometimes, designers can save by selecting a more obscure venue, but even this is not guaranteed. Ralph Lauren, for example, creates a unique space at Skylight Studios each season where a custom space is created after two to three weeks of labor, which does not come cheap.


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In the past, standard models were a bargain expense as they were frequently paid in merchandise. However, following the work of organizations such as the Model Alliance, which advocates for real payment, brands must now pay their models in monetary values. Smaller labels will pay $150 per model while larger brands will pay $200 to $1000 for a non-celebrity model. With 10 to 20 models working in an average show, this can get expensive, and some international brands will pay as much as $200,000 for all of their models. International celebrities used to line the front rows of every big-name fashion show and cost a hefty price. Today, designers rarely opt to recruit front-row celebrity attendees for their shows. If they do, their payment depends on their attendance at other shows, how much the celebrity ‘fits’ the image of the brand, how often their photos get published and how famous they are. Rihanna was paid $100,000 to attend Karl Lagerfeld’s show in 2010, one of the higher celebrity paychecks in NYFW history. A B-list fashion icon may receive closer to $15,000 or solely be paid in clothes, travel and accommodations. Backstage beauty is one of the few things that comes inexpensively to designers. A brand can actually get paid between $5,000 and $15,000 to showcase beauty products on their models. Other beauty brands, such as Maybelline, will provide their services for free as it most likely did for Lacoste this year, since it can be seen as a publicity act. Otherwise, teams of makeup artists can charge $5,000 to $100,000 per show.

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Styling is another expense that can be very cheap or very expensive depending on the budget of the designer. Some designers choose to style a show by themselves, while others will hire an accomplished stylist for up to $8,000 a day for an average of two weeks. Designers can also hire a less inexperienced stylist for around $10,000. So how much does it cost to show at NYFW? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Instead, it greatly depends on the preferences and budget of the designer. Regardless, in today’s cutthroat world of fashion, it is near impossible to showcase for less than six figures. However, from up-and-comers to established cornerstones of fashion week, a memorable show is imperative for success in the fashion business.