The Queen Behind the Scenes at Fashion Week

Audrey Smaltz heads a company that handles all the details to ensure a successful runway show.

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Audrey Smaltz

Audrey Smaltz has been a central part of New York Fashion Week since 1977, before there was even a name coined for the semiannual collection of fashion shows that present designers' visions for the following season.

When New York Fashion Week began Thursday, Smaltz was in the middle of the action. She had five shows on her schedule for the first day of the festivities, which run through Feb. 16 at Lincoln Center and other venues around New York City.

No, Smaltz isn't a designer. She's not a model, either, though some longtime fashion fans may recognize her from back in the day when she was a model or when she was the coordinator and commentator for the legendary traveling Ebony Fashion Fair show.

Instead, Smaltz has made her mark behind the scenes as head of the New York City-based fashion-services company called the Ground Crew. The Ground Crew's mark is measured in the details that make a fashion show a success: an organized and smoothly flowing procession of models, clothing perfectly tailored and arranged on each model, accessories exactly placed.

"It takes a lot to put on a show that lasts just 12 to 15 minutes," Smaltz said, describing the role of her army of backstage fashion worker bees. "Most people who are not in our business have no idea what it takes to put on a show.

"We're the ones who make sure the right outfit is on the right model at the right time, that the models are ready, that the handbag isn't on the wrong hand. We're the ones who remind the models not to switch the handbag to their other hand."

They're also often the people who handle all the little problems that can create backstage drama -- the shoes that are way too small for the assigned model, the tricky zippers, the show order that doesn't allow enough time for a model to change.

It's the kind of painstaking detail that has made Smaltz and her company sought after, not just during New York Fashion Week but throughout the year in every fashion capital around the world. The Ground Crew handled about 225 fashion shows, showroom showings and other events last year, including the annually televised Victoria's Secret show. Other major clients include some of the biggest names in fashion, like Donna Karan, Michael Kors and Oscar de la Renta.

With all those fashion events, Smaltz and her employees have a front-row seat to everything that happens in the world of fashion, including the many changes that have affected the fashion industry over the years.

"You have more shows, that's for sure. Frankly, you have too many designers out there trying to show. There are designers out there that shouldn't have big shows because for one thing, they can't afford it," Smaltz said.

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