Sunday, April 22, 2012

The producers: Mark Vassallo - MBFWA SS 12/13

backstage at josh goot SS1112/sydney may 2011

Sydney-born, but now "globally"-based  (or so he says on his new website), Mark Vassallo has had a hand in some of Australian Fashion Week’s biggest fashion ‘moments’ of recent years. He has played the roles of independent publisher (Mark and Petit Mal), editor (Follow), fashion director (Harpers Bazaar Australia), creative director, casting director and stylist. He launched the career of Gemma Ward, among others. And he has helmed a number of memorable  runway presentations, for designers such as Josh Goot, Dion Lee and Romance Was Born. As part of frockwriter’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia SS1213 series, we thought we should give it up for - and pick the brains of - some of the hardest-working, least-visible players of the fashion week pack – the producers. First up: Vassallo. 

Frockwriter: Which shows are you producing this year at MBFWA?
Mark Vassallo: 

Romance Was Born - Creative Director
Camilla - Creative Director and Stylist
Ksubi - Creative Director
Ellery - Creative Director and Stylist

What are the challenges involved in producing a fashion show and can you just please explain briefly what exactly it is that a show producer does? 
I am not a show producer, generally anyway, I am a creative director. In this role I oversee all parts of the production: show concept, venue selection, music, lighting, casting models, hair, make up and styling consulting, set design, choreography and art direction. I work with a producer who makes our vision happen.

There are many challenges. The first big one is always budget. I work with creative people with big ideas, they really have no choice but to sell their brands to the highest bidders at fashion week. None of them can afford to do a show otherwise. I mean, shoe and PR costs even have to be in show production budgets. Sponsors are wanting more and more… It’s a very tough market... Years ago we were having money thrown at us. I used to have budgets of  $100,000. Now we are fighting for $50,000. We look for money like wolves right up till days before the show. All of the artists working on the shows discount their rate, we get discounted rates from suppliers. We definitely love what we do - we do fashion week for the love as much as a living.

Another challenge is finding new locations for the shows, I think I have used them all up and every designer wants a never-seen-before venue. Other challenges are working with hair and makeup sponsors who slowly have shuffled out all the accomplished artists we work with every day in the industry on magazine and fashion shoots. Now we must use artists these companies supply, who are OK, but they are not ready in their careers to direct a show I feel and I can't work with my friends and artists that are experienced as I am.

backstage at dion lee SS1112, sydney opera house, may 2011

What's the vibe behind-the-scenes in the lead up to this year's event? Same as usual or a different mood and if so, how so? I personally, for example, don't recall two major shows being cancelled at the last minute in the past seven years. 
Vibe: busy! It should be a three day event. I don’t understand why all these designers are allowed to show on this level, well I do… but I won't comment.

The Oz fashion crowd is a tough bunch, it takes a lot to make them happy. The younger generation in the industry need to set the vibe, but they are lazy. There should be more parties and other events off-site.

Very sad about Dion and Josh, but they have agendas and actually it is a very wise decision on their behalf. They push themselves and their teams to the limit. This time they are wiser. Oz fashion week is held at a difficult time of year for designers who want to work with the overseas market. It is near impossible – and/or very stressful - to do a good job and to succeed in both markets.

In terms of show casting, which new faces do you have your eye on this year? 
My fave is probably Madison Borbely. I used her last year in an exclusive, her first ever job, to open the Josh Goot show.

My picks for the week: (in no order)

1. Bambi @ Pricilla
2. Lydia Carron @ Chic
3. Lindsay @ Priscillas
4. Madison Borbely @ Chic
5. Eva @ the Agency
6. Lauren Moody @ Chadwick
7. Monique Jenson @ Chic
8. Lauren Brown @ Pricilla
9. Miranda Kerr @ Chic
10. Rose @ Chic

madison borbely backstage at life with bird SS1213

What are some of your most memorable/funniest/most stressful show moments from previous Australian Fashion Weeks? 
- Josh Goot (201): shoes being glued as the show started.
- Romance Was Born ‘Doilies and Pearls’ show (2009): last-minute, fresh octopus demands from the fish markets at 6am.
- Romance Was Born (2010): I put fake spiders under the seats.
- Designers so nervous they turn white.
- Working with volunteers: stressful.
- Josh Goot’s first show (then called Platform) at the Domain carpark (2003). Amazing vibe. The first-ever off-site show. And then the Studio 24 show when he launched Josh Goot (2004). Both set higher benchmarks I feel.
- Dion Lee’s first show in a Kings Cross carpark (2009). The neon wall and the wind tunnel sound effects.
- Sophie Ward in the pink dress at Josh Goot’s Carriageworks show (2007).
- Gemma Ward’s first show with me (Zimmermann, 2003). 

How do you think the standard of show production has evolved at the event - and how do you think it compares to the international circuit? 
I’m a big fan of off-site shows. I have pushed them for years.

I think the off-site shows have gotten bigger and better and are really the backbone to the event. My team has fought for years to get more slots and better support for these shows. Off-site shows allow a designer to bring the media into their world and take them on a journey, so they walk away with inspiration.

On-site shows serve a purpose too, but it’s very difficult to be creative on-site, mainly because the three hour turnaround time makes it almost impossible to do anything great and even the smallest things with these constraints cost a lot of money. On-site shows will eventually become less and less, it’s inevitable.

backstage at life with bird SS1213, sydney opera house, april 19 2012

It was pretty amazing: a huge budget, rap stars, private jets, super celebrities…. big time. Also very stressful. It was his first show and he had a lot to learn. I worked with Alex de Betak, who is a legendary fashion show producer who I have admired for years. It was a wonderful experience.

And finally - as a renowned stylist and creative director who works with some of this country's leading designers and magazines, how would you describe your rather unique personal fashion style? Surf-meets-smurf? Where do you get those fluoro beanies?
Haha. I like surf-meets-smurf! I have always been a huge fan of surf culture from the 70's till nowadays and I'm a huge comic book and cartoon fan. I think there’s a little hip hop in there too, with some punk edges.


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