Volunteering for the 7th on Sixth Fashion Shows

Fresh from a summer in Milan spent soaking up Italian language and culture, Peter Migliozzi spotted an ad for a Learning Annex seminar conducted by Patty Hughes, the volunteer coordinator for IMG’s 7th on Sixth. Ms. Hughes was looking for a new crop of volunteers to work at New York’s Fashion Week. Thus, Mr. Migliozzi, who graduated from Hunter College last year with a degree in Anthropology, found himself spending a week in September setting up chairs, unpacking gift bags, and cleaning up backstage at the various venues under the tents at Bryant Park.

Did he feel that the experience was a valuable one? Absolutely.“I had recently taken a career aptitude test and found that I would be well suited to do something visually oriented. This seemed like an opportunity to consolidate my interests in art and business,” Mr. Migliozzi said. He worked at one show each day during fashion week, which took place from September 8th to September 15th. He was even called upon to serve as a seat filler for a front row VIP at an offsite show (the VIP was a no show).

“What I found most interesting was seeing the whole production come together. I think I might be interested in working in fashion PR or event planning and production.” Mr. Migliozzi said, “It was good to be a part of everything that went on behind the scenes, I just did whatever the captains asked me to do.”

The “captains” are the experienced former volunteers who are lucky enough to land a paid position with IMG supervising the volunteers during fashion week. Ashley Jones, who served as a volunteer during the past two seasons at Bryant Park was tapped to be one of the select few captains during the shows in September. Ms. Jones, a design major, who graduated from FIT last year, was recruited from the school two seasons ago by the aforementioned Ms. Hughes. Although the bulk of the volunteers are FIT students and alums, Ms. Jones has seen people travel cross-country or even from as far away as London, just to spend a week volunteering in the tents.

As a captain, Ms. Jones was stationed in the main venue, “The Tent”, for the entire week. “There are about six captains in all, two in “The Tent”, two in the “Promenade”, and one in each of the other venues, “ said Ms. Jones. She and her co-captain supervise everything that goes on in “The Tent”. That can include anything from assembling press kits to stuffing goody bags, depending upon the show and the P.R. firm running the front of the house.

“I love being in “The Tent” because we get all the biggest shows. We are usually working with a staff of about eighteen to thirty-five volunteers,” Ms. Jones said. Like Mr. Migliozzi, she has found herself particularly interested in the production side of the business. Ms. Jones is currently pursuing various job leads for fashion industry related positions.

Regardless of what happens career wise in the next few months, Ashley Jones will definitely be back as a captain at the shows in February. According to Ms. Jones, “It’s a great experience to be in that environment”. Aspiring volunteers take note: Patty Hughes is always watching to see who might move up in the ranks. One of Ashley Jones’ former captains was promoted to a higher position with IMG.

Patty Hughes, the volunteer coordinator for 7th on Sixth for the past twelve years, was herself a volunteer when she first came to the Bryant Park shows. Her energetic demeanor is almost infectious, and she is entrusted each season with recruiting and managing approximately 450 workers whose performance is crucial to Fashion Week.

A native of Buffalo, Hughes began her tenure with 7th on Sixth shortly after arriving in New York City. She had previously been the host of a late night television program in Buffalo called “Off Beat Cinema”. Ironically, she had no experience to speak of in the fashion industry. “I kept watching the Isaac Mizrahi movie Unzipped and I knew that I was interested in getting involved in fashion and this seemed like a good way to get to know New York.” At the end of Ms. Hughes first season as a volunteer, the job of coordinator became available, she interviewed with Seventh on Sixth’s Fern Mallis and the position was hers.

After several years as an integral part of New York’s fashion week, Patty Hughes has developed a sixth sense for identifying and training a crew of volunteers who work with nearly perfect synergy. Each season, about one third of the volunteers are new recruits. “I train them for fashion shows with a sense of urgency. You have to get it done and it has to be accurate,” observes Ms. Hughes.

During the off-season, Ms Hughes frequently uses her volunteer staff for other events. “I like to build a relationship with my volunteers. The shows provide valuable work experience and the more dedicated the volunteers are the more they get out of it. I get calls for personnel from companies like The North Face and Glamour Magazine. I tell them (the volunteers) to look beyond Fashion Week.”

There are a handful of ground rules that Patty Hughes insists her volunteers adhere to: no pictures, no autographs, no food or drinking, no taking anything not offered, no networking, no leaving with a model, and be courteous at all times. “I tell them you are here for the designer,” she says. Her favorite moments are those when the designers reach out to the volunteers. “Gianni Versace was extremely generous. He hugged the volunteers and thanked them.” Ms. Hughes has also learned to spot the occasional photographer who attempts to gain access to the shows as a volunteer when a request for press credentials is denied. “They ask too many questions about which celebrities will be attending and it becomes obvious why they want to be there,” Ms. Hughes says with a laugh. Each season only about one recruit simply doesn’t work out and has to be let go.

Patty Hughes most recent project is a website called Curvygirlstyle.com. The site has caught the attention of talk show host Rachael Ray and Ms. Hughes will be featured in recurring segments on the Rachael Ray show, focusing on trends for the curvy girl. Also in the works are more Learning Annex seminars for volunteers. For those of you who want more information you can email IMG on volunteer opportunities at IMGNY_volunteers@imgworld.com.

-Rhonda Erb

Related Article: How to Get Into a New York Fashion Show

Rhonda Erb

Rhonda Erb writes about fashion, travel and lifestyle from a New Yorker’s perspective in Better Bets. A self-confessed Instagram addict, her work has also appeared in such publications as Runway Magazine. Follow her at: Instagram: @betterbets Twitter: @betterbetsny tumblr: betterbetsny.tumblr.com

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