August 30 2014

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Behind-The-Scenesters: Gayle Dizon


Designers design. Photographers photograph. Models model. That much—in broad strokes, at least—is clear. But what about the artists, technicians, and industry insiders, often unpublicized and underappreciated, who help to get clothes and accessories made and shown? Call them Behind-the-Scenesters: people who shape our experience of fashion but never take a bow on the catwalk or strike a pose for the camera. Without them—from patternmakers to production designers—the show wouldn’t go on. And, in a new series, sits down with a few of these pros to find out, basically, what they do.

First up: Gayle Dizon (left), founder of event production company Dizon Inc. Dizon produces runway shows for Proenza Schouler, Thakoon, and Isaac Mizrahi, among others, and in so doing, she has a hand in everything from picking out venues and setting up lighting rigs to casting models and hiring the hair and makeup teams. Here, she talks to about the business of creating fashion shows, their trickle-down influence, and the most unsung staffers in the game.

So, Gayle: Broad strokes, what do you do?
Well, I produce fashion shows. My company does full-scale production, from the early stages of development of a collection to bringing in the talent that works on the shows to developing the creative inspiration for the look and feel of the show itself.

This must be downtime for you then, between seasons.
Ha. Not quite. I actually started my own company with the expectation that I’d be able to dip in and out and spend time with my family, but it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. We’re constantly working. I mean, we just wrapped up Resort, which has really turned into a third big season, and we’re way into the September shows and starting on next season, too. And my company works on things like store events and parties, too.

Hold on. You’re already starting work on the February 2011 shows? Have the designers even begun thinking about those collections?
Only just. But the way I like to work, I’m involved from the get-go. Like, Proenza—what we do is get together with Jack and Lazaro very early on so they can show us their research. They are very intensive researchers; I’ve always got a lot to bounce off of. So we’ll talk about palette and inspiration and look at all these varied sources they’re pulling from, and I bring back ideas. And then we go back and forth until showtime, pretty much.

Is that standard operating procedure for you?
Different designers like to work in different ways. Some want a lot of collaboration; others want you to come in with a finished concept. With Jack and Lazaro, you know, I’ve been working with them since their first show, so they trust me to understand what ideas are going to excite and what’s going to fall flat. I don’t have to present every option. No matter how I’m working, though, the goal is always the same—to communicate the brand identity. We’re looking at those inspirations so that we can glean elements to pull into the environment and create an experience at the show that’s complete and cohesive. I want people to feel the brand, if that makes sense.

How so?
The last Thakoon show (pictured below, along with a few other examples of Dizon’s work) is a good example. Here’s a designer whose business is still relatively small, but he gets a ton of attention; part of what we try to communicate in his shows is a kind of humility. No big sets, a human scale. We think about how people enter the space and how they move through the room to their seats. And Thakoon is very geared into how the models move, too. Last season, he wanted everything very round and soothing. He was surrounded by all these women in his life who were pregnant, and there was this nurturing vibe going on; we found ourselves playing with the idea of being in utero, creating a pathway for the models that was sort of oval-shaped, and a soundtrack with a bit of a heatbeat to it. The theme extended to the lighting, too; there were lots of little touches that were almost subliminal.

Editors are dashing from show to show during fashion week. Do you feel like anybody can really appreciate the production?
It’s subtle. I mean, people are busy, and so you do what you can to stand out. We work for months on these shows and we’ve got 15 minutes with our audience, and we have to make those minutes count. But I don’t think that’s about flash. For me, what I like is the sense that people don’t quite know what hit them. Like there’s just something about the light that makes them catch their breath.

Is there one production element you’re particularly fixated on?
Well, I’m very particular about the lighting designers I put on each job. Sometimes there’s a specific rigging or a technical expertise we need to think about when we’re hiring, but the really essential thing is that the lighting designer gets the designer’s references and understands what they’re trying to communicate and can sync their work to that. Lighting is a real challenge, because it’s a real art. If it’s off, I mean…Ugh.

Are there aspects of the show you’re not involved with?
I have my eye on pretty much everything. Obviously, there are designers who like to work with their regular stylists, and we defer to that. In that case I’m more like the outside eye, coming in and saying this looks too this, and that looks too that. And when there are sponsors sending in hair and makeup teams, I’m one of the people who makes sure that everyone’s on the same page. I’m not precious about who I work with—I’ve worked with pretty much everyone, and it always comes down to making sure that the client’s vision is being honored.

Have there been instances where you just can’t find someone to do the job?
The first few seasons at Proenza I had to cast the shows myself. Now we work with Ashley Brokaw, who’s great, but it was tough, initially, finding a casting director who understood who the Proenza girl was, and who could dig through the agency rosters to find her.

What’s your favorite part about your job?
Oh, there are lots of favorite parts. I love seeing the collections come together. And I love where we are in the fashion cycle—we get to influence the editors and stylists in what they pull and shoot, and then I get to watch how that trickles down to the market. When I visit my family in Florida, I’ll be walking through the mall and see store displays that have clearly been influenced by a set I designed a year and a half earlier. That’s gratifying.

Is there anything you haven’t done as a producer that you’d like to do?
I’ve covered the gamut, honestly. I’ve done little, intimate events and shows with huge sets and people flying around on wires. What I’ve got in the works now, that I’m really excited about, is a collaboration with an artist. I can’t say too much about it, but we’re creating a multiple-use piece—the designer’s collection is inspired by it, and the piece is its own standalone artwork, too.

Who are the show staffers that are most essential yet most unsung?
The dressers. Let me tell you, I’ve worked with good dressers and I’ve worked with great dressers and I’ve worked with bad ones, too. I’ve seen clothes come down the runway inside-out and backwards. I mean, the lighting might be perfect, the set can be perfect, everything is in place, but at the end of the day, you really need the people who put the clothes on the girls to be on top of their game.

Thakoon, Fall 2010

Proenza Schouler, Fall 2010

Tommy Hilfiger, Fall 2010

Isaac Mizrahi, Fall 2010

Photos: Courtesy of Gayle Dizon (portrait); Courtesy of Antonella Zangheri (runway shots)