One of the most illustrious and VIP events to annually hit the Big Apple, New York Fashion Week, is currently in full swing.
It's where the world’s top designers converge upon New York City to show off their newest creations to all of the fashion world elite.
Among the most star-studded undertakings to sashay down the runway is the Red Dress Fashion Show, a charitable fashion event organized by the American Heart Association’s “Go Red For Women."
This show calls upon a host of female celebrities to walk in a one-of-a-kind red designer gown to raise money for the charity of their choice. Among this year’s lineup were the likes of Fran Drescher, Misty Copeland, Monica, and Vanna White.
I managed to score a spot as one the “talent wranglers,” also known as an escort, who helps a celebrity get their runway look perfected before the show.
Though this was for a worthy charity, I've been of the belief that fashion shows are decidedly frivolous; that the fuss and harrowing complexity of it all is... well, exaggerated.
But I learned being part of a NYFW show is no joke, especially when you're trying to beat that dreaded curtain call amidst the incessant insanity.
As an escort, you are given a call time and expected to be there not a minute later. I showed up 10 minutes early, as did a number of others in the wrangler pool. The show was taking place at Moynihan Station, more commonly known as “that huge old post office by 34th Street and 8th.”
Upon arrival, you check in and are given your badge, which gets you backstage access. Once all huddled together, your talent captain tells you which celebrity you will be escorting for the night.
I was assigned to Ta’Rhonda Jones, a star of the wildly popular show Empire on FOX.
As the celebrities arrive, their escort is called to come pick them up and get the process started.
Some celebrities are nice, saying a friendly, "Hi!" or giving a warm handshake.
Others, as was more in line with my expectations, simply toss their fur coat into the arms of the unsuspecting escort as they trail in tow behind them.
Fortunately, Ta’Rhonda showed up with a dazzling smile and complimented my hair almost right off the bat. But getting a stuffy celeb partner isn’t the biggest thing that can go wrong here.
Leading her through a maze of black curtains past multiple step and repeats, we reached the back makeup area. Each lady has their own table, complete with makeup artist and hair stylist who consults them on how they want to look for their walk.
branicafan @monicabrown slays the runway! @theshaderoominc #Monica #CodeRed #RedDressFashionShow #NYFW
Monica, of course, had her own green room.
One of the biggest rules of an escort is no pictures, especially before the show. As tempting as it was to raise my Instagram caliber, I dutifully obeyed.
However, legions of photographers and reporters swarmed the area as escorts batted them away if their celeb was less than camera-ready.
Everywhere you look, the women are getting blow-outs, curls, extensions, you name it, along with custom press-on pedicures to match their runway ensemble in addition to makeup.
Ta’Rhonda’s table was right next to MSNBC host Tamron Hall and next to her, the game show diva herself Vanna White.
You try not to stare. You really do. But sometimes you can’t help it.
I grew up watching Wheel of Fortune with my mom, so although I resisted the urge to snap a picture, I did send a text asking her to guess who I was standing 10 feet away from.
After hair and makeup comes the big moment: putting on the dress.
Ta’Rhonda was wearing a design by designer Conrad Booker, a jaw-dropping myriad of snaking red hearts set on top of a red gown bursting with artistic flair.
Although she couldn't sit down in it, she was definitely a standout.
The ladies are also loaned jewelry and shoes to wear down the runway. But this stuff isn’t from Zales or Aldo. From a $50,000 diamond dangle necklace to almost $1,000 Louboutins-- plus, a larger than life gold and rose crown worn by Gigi Gorgeous --the accessories department was not playing around.
After over four hours of standing, a run to the Red Carpet for interviews and the most insane group of photographers I’ve ever seen, it was time to line up for the show.
tarhondajay @conradbooker you are AMAZING! It was love at first sight💖Thank you for this beautiful ARTISTIC MAD SCIENTIST DRESS! @macys Thank you for a once in a lifetime opportunity! #RedDressCollection2016 #GoRed #SupportingHeartDisease #CatWalk❤️❤️
It was almost comical to me that although all they had done was get dressed and talk to people, all the ladies already looked completely exhausted.
Poor Ta’Rhonda, harnessed in a dress that encased her in a non-malleable overlay, was forced to attempt to lean on her stool rather than sit like the other ladies, all the while in 5-inch gold heels.
But she was in the zone, and she wasn't about to let her outfit overtake her. Plus, she leaned on me a lot.
Suddenly music blasted from the other side of the curtain and one by one the ladies began to walk down the runway to a backdrop of a top-40 pop song that had an underlying theme of women empowerment. As Ta’Rhonda's turn came, I helped pull up her red opera gloves and wished her luck.
On the other side of the stage, I waited for her anxiously. I knew walking in that dress was difficult.
After straining to hear any gasps or calamity coming from the main stage, signaling a fall or worse, Ta’Rhonda triumphantly came backstage.
“Can I just lay on the floor now?” her first words.
After the show, I helped Ta’Rhonda de-heel, de-gown and de-jewel before returning her to the makeup table to get her things.
I stuck by until she got everything just in case, wanting to ensure I had completed my escort duties to the fullest I could.
Just as I was about to walk away to leave, she called to me.
“You were an amazing help," she said. "Thank you so much.” We shared an enormous hug while some of her friends came backstage to congratulate her.
“I need some chocolate,” she said.
Despite the absolute calamity of flashes going off, the production crew running around the ladies of the hour in the frenetic storm of it all, it was a chance to be immersed in a world not often ventured into by seemingly "normal" city folk.
So often we see these shows and events, only seeing the glitz and fame.
Rarely do we ever get the opportunity to see these people as actual people; people drawn into the excitement of a singular moment; people swept away in the nervousness and stress; or even the grief of popping a strap on their stiletto while walking down the runway.
As an escort of a Red Dress Fashion Show, though, I'm not at liberty to say who that was.[Feature Image Courtesy American Heart Association]