In a typical runway show, a designer’s collection of anywhere between 12 and 30 outfits is paraded down the runway by up to 30 models.

The venerable New York Fashion Week is undergoing a sea change. Major sponsor Mercedes Benz pulled out earlier this year, and shows are no longer taking place at Lincoln Center as in recent years, but rather at smaller venues and ancillary events scattered about the city.

“Designers were noticing that they were getting better results at different locations,” says Woody Michleb, Keratin Complex’s International Artistic Director for Cut & Style, who predicts that this trend for smaller events will continue.

Take Style Fashion Week at Gotham Hall, which brought together 22 up-and-coming international designers to showcase their work for spring/summer 2016. As the official hairstylist for the Sept. 10 – 12 events, Keratin Complex had a backstage pass—as well as a front-row seat—to these exciting shows!

Woody, an industry vet who has worked at many fashion shows in his career, led the Keratin Complex team of about two dozen hand-picked Inspiration Team stylists. He came up with the general hair concepts for each collection, oversaw the process and finished off the styling for each model.

Here’s what Woody had to say about what it takes to pull off distinctive looks for so many different fashion designers …

Determining the hairstyle concept

To help guide the direction of the hair and makeup, designers and/or their stylists usually share information beforehand about the collection—such as the inspiration story and their overall vision, along with “mood boards” or photos of sample hairstyles.

However, Woody notes that they often will express a desire for a certain type of look, only to change their minds or contradict themselves once they get to the venue. “So I learned a while ago never to do the consultation until they get there with their collection!”

In essence, Woody assesses many things at once to come up with a winning hair concept. He must take into consideration the designer’s wishes, the fashions being shown, the time constraints, and also the various models’ hair types—and then make sure the team can deliver these looks in a timely manner!

The days of wild hair during fashion shows are pretty much over, as most designers prefer the focus to be on the outfits they are parading, not the hairstyles. Therefore, they tend to ask for fairly simple or sleek hair, such as ponytails and buns. The challenge, Woody says, is to take a look that has been done “to death” and to present it in a new and unique way.

Woody Michleb leads the styling during Style Fashion WeekWoody Michleb works on a model's hair as other stylists look on for guidance.
Photo by Toney Wilson

The hairstyling process at a fashion show

Besides determining the general look for each designer and overseeing the hair work, Woody must train the members of the team to execute the looks, taking care to utilize individual skills and strengths in the process. He will usually have the other stylists do the setting and preliminary work, then finish off the style to ensure a cohesive look throughout the runway show.

“We do a lot of different looks,” Woody says, in somewhat of an understatement.

In a typical runway show, a designer’s collection of anywhere between 12 and 30 outfits is paraded down the runway by up to 30 models (that’s up to 600 models during a three-day event!). These fashions are accompanied by three basic hair looks determined by Woody, which comprise their own hairstyle “collection” for that show.

One big factor is the models’ hair, which can come in all types, lengths and textures.

So, the stylists must use all the tools available in order to create a uniform or cohesive look.

For models with short hair, extensions might be added that can be styled into braids, buns, updos or whatever is needed. Extremely textured hair might be treated with Keratin Complex Infusion Keratin Replenisher and Intense Rx® before being flat-ironed and then styled in the sleek mode that is called for.

Backstage, the hair and makeup pros have between one and three hours to pull these looks together. After their styling is finished, the models will put on the outfit and walk the runway. Models who repeat during a show (the “quick-change” scenario) will have the same hairstyle.

Sometimes, models will be re-used from one show to the next, so the stylists will have a much shorter window to re-do the hair for the new designer—just a few minutes, in some cases. (It can get "hairy," that's for sure!)

Stay tuned as we share some of the looks that rolled down the runway during Style Fashion Week 2015!