10:10a.m.: T Minus 50 Minutes—It's less than an hour till show time backstage at Vera Wang's Spring/Summer 2011 at New York Fashion Week, and models are being pulled out of hair and makeup to line up for their first rehearsal of the show. Some are already in towering beehives; others, like Jacquelyn Jablonski, still have soaking wet locks. Jablonski's wearing a towel over her shoulders, but that doesn't stop her from posing for photographers, who circle around her and she waits in line.
10:15 a.m.: Quick Spin—In their street clothes—cut-off mini shorts; blue satin belly shirts, leather jackets—models complete a dry-run of the show in heels. This year, Wang has designed black leather shoe-boots with crystal-encrusted heels. They're high, but not precariously so, and are being shown with thin black socks. "No strutting or anything, just walk very, very straight," one of the show-runners shouts to the line of models.
10:22 a.m.: Putting Their Faces On—Wang shoes are off, and models' own footwear is back on: commando boots, flip-flops, socks. They're ushered back to hair and makeup on the other side of a black scrim where they return to frantic stylists and make up artists. It's not immediately clear what everyone's job is, but it is very clear that I'm in everyone's way.
10:28 a.m.: Last-Minute Disaster—"One model doesn't have extensions, and there's no time to put them in" one show-runner is overheard telling another. He waits for the news to settle in. The response: "Does she have a replacement? No matter what, she can't go down the runway with her own hair. I'd rather pull the outfit than send her without extensions."
10:37: Beehive meets Cotton Candy—A cloud of "surf spray" hangs low over the hair station, where the final models' hair is being elevated into place. "It's a little Kabuki-inspired, a little 60s inspired," explains lead stylist Jimmy Paul. He says that the hair has been "rough blow-dried," back-combed, given a deep side part, tucked in, and covered in surf spray. But can you do it at home? "Not really."
10:38 a.m.: Hovering around the hair station—I accidentally swallow a gulp of aforementioned "surf spray." It's actually not so bad.
10:40: Emergency Pedicure—It's discovered that a model whose toes will be exposed during the show is wearing dark purple toenail polish. Remover is quickly located, and she gets an emergency pedicure from an assistant.
Gallery: Backstage At Vera Wang
10:46—Tea Time—Fei Fei Sun, the 21-year-old Chinese model famous for being handpicked by Karl Lagerfeld for his Paris-Shanghai show, is taking a break for breakfast. She's sitting quietly, Q-Tip hair and all, having a bagel with cream cheese and Earl Grey tea. Her moment of peace is cut short when a stagehand runs up to her: No time to eat. Time to get dressed.
10:47 First Looks—"Professional dressers" put models into their first looks—the clothes they'll be wearing at the beginning of the show. To get the beehive hair through neck holes, girls' heads are covered in massive nets. (Think Daphne Guinness meets Intensive Care Unit.)
10:48 a.m. Final Blessings—Wintour! Vogue's editrix blows through the backstage area to wish Vera good luck and bless the collection before being escorted to her seat.
10:55a.m.: Vera Arrives, Drinks Milk—Wang herself arrives in the backstage area in soft black leggings, leather booties, and a simple cream top. She's relaxed. Someone hands her a cup of warm milk. "It's a big day for me," she smiles. Today is her 20th anniversary in the business.
10:53 a.m. Pure Sport—In the sea of model-bodies, two people stand out. It's Evan Lysacek and Serena Williams! What are they doing here? Lysacek is very tan and smiling, and looks vaguely like the male publicists in headsets scattered around the room. Williams is glowing in a figure-hugging Vera Wang mini-dress. "Um, you look awesome," he says to Williams as they hug.
10:56: Kill Bill Meets Geisha—Wang does a final interview with a French TV station in fluent French (all we understand is the word femme fatale), before taking a moment to explain her collection in English to The Daily Beast. "She's Kill Bill, she's Lucy Liu, she's part assassin and part geisha," Wang says. "I think it's that balance that's so unique and fascinating for me. I know I've been accused of being brooding. It isn't about brooding, it's about a sense of discovery. That's what's important to me, and I think Japanese culture gives you that.."
11 a.m. No Bruise Spared—Joan Smalls, a 21-year-old model from Puerto Rico, gets a visit from the Leg Fairy: a man with a kit of beauty supplies, who puts foundation on the scabs on her legs. But her mind wanders: She's thinking about the fittings she has to get to later today—and the Narciso Rodriguez show she's walking in tonight. Then the Jewel Lady, bearing a massive crystal necklace, lassos Smalls. "You know how they put chains on bulldogs?," Smalls asks. "That's how I feel right now."
11: 10 a.m.: Places—Models are in their final order. "Sometimes I'm flabbergasted which side is the front and which side is the back," says one dresser, Omar Figueroa. He's been assigned to put an armor-like shirt made of tough mesh onto his model for her second look. There are instructions on how the shirt should be worn on a card hanging from his rack, but the task still looks daunting. "I'll never forget the time I sent a model down the runway with her shirt on backwards," he says. "So I'm going to double-check on this one just to make sure."
11:25 a.m.: Action!—The music begins, and girls start to disappear down the runway, and the pre-show mood dissipates. The next task is to get the girls who have to change back out onto the runway as quickly as possible.
11:27 a.m.: Presto Change-o.—Model Abby Lee rounds the bend at a full sprint in a bright red mesh dress. Within seven seconds she is nude, and in another four, she's fully buttoned up in a pair of grey pants. Omar Figueroa, her dresser, covers her in a head-net and forces on an armor-like mesh shirt. He then secures a massive black knot belt around her waist and escorts her to her place in line.
11:35 a.m. Places for the Finale.—After coming around a second time, the girls are reordered for the finale. Makeup is reapplied, lint rollers are re-rolled, and string is cut from the inside of a sock. First looks are immediately zipped into garment bags to return to the show room.
11:36 a.m. Success!—To the sound of applause, the girls are back out for their final lap before returning to backstage cavorting and hollering. Everyone claps and hugs—another show executed without a hitch.