Alexandra Avalone

Project Director + Partner
New York

Working under the renowned lighting designer, Thierry Dreyfus, Alex has carved out a niche for herself in the fashion industry. For his company, Eyesight, she oversees just about everything that goes into a show from a producer's standpoint. She has worked on Comme Des Garcon, Off White, Acne, Thom Browne, Raf Simons, and many more shows.

This interview took place between Tate and Alex at Cafe Cluny in New York
Editor: Mary Dellas

TVPS: How did you get to where you are today?

AA: In college I worked closely with a talented photographer, Dikayl Rimmasch. He worked on lots of shoots, film and photo and we worked a bit together. One day he says, "Alex, you're organized. Can you produce this photoshoot for me?" I was excited but nervous, and in college, but took him up on the opportunity. Eventually he introduced me to film production, too.

After that, I worked for The Row, Intermix, and Escada, and from that, I realized that I wanted to be on the production side of the fashion industry. I went to college with someone who had been working at Eyesight and emailed her non-stop for an internship. The team there ended up really believing in me, and 3 years later I'm an employee and partner at the company.

Also trying out different areas of the field helped me understand what I liked and what I didn't like. By the time I got to Eyesight—my last internship—I had a strong idea of what I wanted to do.

When you first started college, did you have an idea of where you wanted to end up?

Not really, but I knew that I wanted to work in some element of fashion. In college, I studied economics and foreign language which gave me a strong foundation for whatever I wanted to pursue.

Off-White FW17, Photo: Mathias Wendzinski

Ah what languages do you speak?

My dream is to speak fluent Italian, Spanish, and French before I turn 30. Right now I speak fluent Spanish. Since I’m in Paris so often, I’ve been learning French pretty quickly too, though the accent is not easy.

So what’s the company culture at Eyesight?

It’s a super close-knit team. The offices in New York, Paris, and Milan have direct contact several times throughout the day. We take careful consideration to listen to each designer we work with, what they say and what they do not say. We treat each designer as they are the only one because they are so important to us. Regardless of a brand’s budget or the amount of time we’ve been working with them, each brand is, almost like family–that’s what's special about the company. We focus on every detail, even if a client wouldn’t notice. At Eyesight we take pride in our dedication, and I think that’s unique.

We all get along so well, both the New York and Paris offices. It's a real team culture. Everyone in the New York office jokes around with one another, and this is why we can be serious too. It’s just about balance. I love the people I work with and I think that's really special.

Acne FW17, Photo: Mathias Wendzinski

How big is the team?

We have 13 people in Paris, 5 in New York, and 2 in Milan. Having such a close-knit team has been great because I’ve gotten to know everyone really well. I enjoy spending time with the Paris office when I’m there for the shows. During Fashion Week in New York, the Paris team comes here as well, so it's like a little bit of bonding time.

How do you deal with the time difference?

With the internet, it’s almost as if there isn't a time change or a long distance between us. We make little adjustments, so we're in the office early to communicate with Paris. It also seems that Thierry never sleeps!

Paris reviews everything at night, so we get their responses first thing in the morning. It’s like we’ve developed a schedule that eliminates the time change, so we operate efficiently during the day. We have two weekly minimum Skype meetings, and we're back and forth on the phone a lot, so it's kind of like a remote office. If we have to, we’llcomee work late when it’s busy. We know that we can communicate with Paris past normal office hours, too. So basically we've just found a natural way to make it work.

How would you describe your role now?

I'm partner (!!) and project director of the New York office. I oversee a lot of the business development, budgets, clients, projects, and each show or event. I also oversee day-to-day communication with the designer and the press offices (who are also very important).

What have you learned from your role so far?

I don't know if I've learned from the position, but I've learned from being at the company and working closely with Marie and Thierry, who are so knowledgeable. Regardless of how long I've been there, I still feel like I have so much to learn. Marie and Thierry are incredible to work with, and I feel honored to be a part of their team.

How did you make yourself stand out at Eyesight?

I just worked hard. I don't know any other way of being besides working hard and seeing everything through to the very end, all while focusing on every detail. So from intern to assistant to where I am now, that's what I've done every day. That's really all it takes, is just hard work and smart work. Marie and Thierry also believe in sharing and meritocracy which is very rare.

Where did you get your drive from?

I don't know. I really don't know. I think I've always had it. In college, school was very important to me. At the same time, I was waitressing on the weekends. I did some modeling in Boston, which is 4 hours round trip. So I would go to class in the morning, drive to Boston and back just for an audition, photoshoot or small show, and then race back to the library to study all night for an exam the next day. Obviously, in college, there are parties too. Even back then I was just going full speed. So yeah I guess I've always had it.

Raf Simons Pitti Uomo SS16, 20 Year Retrospective, Photo: Mathias Wendzinski

Do you have a favorite show or project that you’ve worked on?

It's so hard to pick because there is this special energy around every single one. We build a relationship with every designer and their team and so much work and focus goes into every one that it's hard to pick. Every event is just as exciting as the last. Some are more complicated, so they take more time, but they’re all fun and unique.

Is there one experience in particular that made you grow?

Kind of. When I first started as an intern, it was a very small office. I had been interning there for 6 months when the team in New York said, "We need to hire Alex.” And Thierry believed in me, so I came on as a production coordinator. Then about one month before the SS15 shows, my 2 colleagues in New York left. One of them managed budgets and the other managed clients.

So… I had one month before Fashion Week to figure out how to manage and create the budgets while also managing and learning all of the clients, the venues, and the entire process on my own—obviously with a great daily support and help from Paris, but it was scary nonetheless. I put my head down, worked really, really, really hard, and that's where I think I really stood out. Things got easier from there, but I’m still learning every single day.

It’s the scariest positions that make you grow. And they also give you a chance to stand out. I hadn't met many of the clients yet, and having to do huge budgets was daunting, but such a fun challenge and I'm so happy I got through it.

Does Eyesight work on shows and projects or…

Eyesight as a company is mainly focused on fashion shows and events while Thierry has his own separate atelier. He works on other projects such as Silencio, Versailles, etc. Thierry is also designing light for the upcoming Met exhibit for Rei Kawakubo.

That's amazing. Are you working on that?

Yes, Thierry and Eyesight. Our team is overseeing some of the technical elements.

She's one of my absolute favorite designers.

Yes, she is incredible. I was at the Comme show on Sunday, and her way of being and her creativity is unparalleled. Every show is almost a historic moment, just being there and seeing it is incredible. It's like you're somehow seeing history happen live.

Comme des Garçons FW17, Photo: Mathias Wendzinski

How do you immerse yourself in a designer's world before the collection is released and when decisions are still being made?

So shortly after a show, first we debrief on the notes of all that we could do better, then, we begin discussions with a designer and their team about venues for the next season, as venues in New York go very fast. During these meetings, we look at the preliminary mood boards, inspiration images and emotions the designer wants to evoke, which helps us speak with the designers about the direction of the venue and the aesthetic for the upcoming season.

Each designer, each brand has his own specific world, and our goal is to be the translator, bringing this world into 3-D. As soon as the venue is decided, Thierry works on designing the set/light and Marie is with the NY team and myself overseeing that the proposed set is clearly within budget, etc.

A few days before show day, Thierry, and I go to the showroom or to the designer's studio space to see the clothes, the fabrics, and the looks so that we—especially Thierry—can understand for lighting purposes. Throughout the process visual communication is a huge factor, we’ll be sending each other inspiration images along the way so that we’re both on the same page for the set and we can better understand their ideas.

Also it’s so fascinating creatively to see the clothing before anyone else. I love being able to understand the client and the designer's visions, inspirations and how they created these works of art.

Thom Browne SS16 Mens, Photo: Nadia Anderson

Also, you’re more on the artistic side of the industry than the commercial side, which is pretty cool.

Exactly, and that’s where I learned what I wanted to be by working for different fashion companies as an intern. I realized that I didn't want to be on the marketing/more commercial side of things. I wanted to be more involved creatively, or in a more organizational element like production. Even if the commercial side and marketing sides are absolutely involved in each and all of what we do.

How much time do you spend at a desk versus doing hands-on work?

I spend about 50% of my time working at the desk and then 25% going to visit venues because I help manage all venue scouting and venue proposals for our clients and our events. So I’m constantly following and visiting venues. Yesterday I visited 4 venues back-to-back. Now that it's not as busy with the shows, I spend a lot of time looking at new spaces, too. The other 25% involves meeting with clients and networking. So it’s a good mix of work because I’m not always at the office. I spend the rest of my time out and about in the city, seeing spaces and interacting with people. So it's really fun.

How do you go about finding the venues?

There are common New York venues that everyone knows, but then there are also a lot of different companies now that represent a wide range of venues. So I keep up with all of that, and then sometimes venues close, go under reconstruction or are already booked far in advance, so I have to keep up on that as well.

Do you have a favorite?

I have several…BUT I love working with Skylight Studios. I think of them because I saw them yesterday. Skylight runs the Skylight Clarkson, where they do IMG NYFW, and Skylight Modern, among other spaces. Their team is incredible—I was actually having drinks with one of the directors, Grace, yesterday. It’s all about having good relationships with people. We love working with Skylight because they're so good at what they do.

What goes into creating a show from start to finish?

Once we agree to work with someone or once we build a new relationship, it's about listening and understanding them. The aesthetic of the brand, their specificities and their vision. It also involves understanding the trajectory too, because it’s much more than just a fashion show. It has to coincide with the campaign, the store front, the brand name and so once we discuss these things and understand everything, we have to find the venue, create a budget, design the scenic lighting, and organize the backstage and all of the details. Once you find the venue, it all just happens very fast.

Victoria Beckham FW17, Photo: Nadia Anderson

How do you think the lighting and the venue help editors and show attendees see the collection?

Well, they wouldn't see much of the collections if it was in the dark! We use the lighting to emphasize the clothes, to create an emotional moment for the audience, to help create a memorable experience and love for the collection. For seasons now, Thierry has also worked on changing his light design to integrate the social media needs which have become 1/3 of the target. With social media, we also have to consider how a show will be captured on an iPhone.

Do you go to any lengths in order to make sure that the collection is captured well on an iPhone?

Not any great lengths but we do take it into consideration while we’re designing the set, the lighting and the movement of the models.

How do you ensure that what you’re producing in the venue doesn't overshadow the collection?

We never decide a scenography without understanding a brand. We do not copy and paste ideas from other designers as inspiration. Each set is unique and related to the brand.

How do you all schedule the shows you work on?

The ideal way of working would be to do one show a day. But for the most part, we aim to make sure that there's a 4-hour window between each show for the backstage call because it’s important for the whole team to be on-site at each show. Imagine that Thierry focuses each lamp himself, I oversee every backstage, show space and room with Marie. No one can delegate her or his own eyes! That would be pure business and we do not see ourselves as a pure business.

Thierry still goes to every show?

Yes, for sure, he oversees each lamp, model, set and I do as well. We have to make it to the show in order to call the models, organize the backstage, run the lighting and make sure that everything is perfect for the designers. It’s a matter of being able to dedicate our full focus and attention to each client.

Zadig & Voltaire FW17, Photo: Mathias Wendzinski

That’s a smart way of doing it.

Yes, and I think it's really hectic with 3 or 4 shows in one day unless the producer has a huge team where everyone is a very strong element of their force. Even though, again, your own sensibility and your own eye cannot be delegated. It's hard to dedicate your best staff to 4 different shows at the same time. Someone needs to be there to run the lighting, etc. So yes, allotting enough time is crucial and vital to us because designers work so hard for those 10 minutes and we want them to be incredible.

Do you think of yourself as a brand?

I'm just a normal person that loves my job, so no.

Why not?

A lot of people say things like, “This person created a brand,” or “This person is a brand.” In a way, we could all say that we’re our own brands. People are different from one another, and we're all unique. We all play different roles in the world, so in a way none of us are brands, but in a way, we could each be our own brand.

What does it mean to be a strong assistant?

Hard work, problem-solving, learning and listening, listening, listening, and asking questions. However, if you can easily google it, don’t ask it. So proactivity and figuring things out on your own is important and surprisingly lacking today. I think people are more dependent now. Working hard means getting your hands dirty and figuring things out on your own. I think that's becoming less and less evident in younger generations.

Which is evident for whenever I have to look for interns, it often becomes a very long, tedious process because it's hard to find good help and passionate help too, you know. It’s not enough to say, "Oh I want to work in fashion.” I like someone whose energy, dedication and an overall excitement for what we’re doing can be felt.

What does it mean to be a good boss?

It's so funny because I don't consider myself a boss, I have a plaque on my desk that says, 'Girl Boss' from one of the Refinery events that Thierry got me as a joke.

That’s cute.

Yeah, it's really sweet. But I just consider us a team. That includes my interns and everyone else in the office; we're a team. I think as far as being a boss goes; it just means I have more responsibility, and I have to oversee a few additional things. But I treat everyone as equals; we're a team together.

My intern comes to meetings with me, too. I try to sit down with her to explain things so that she can learn. She’s also on emails with me, overseeing projects so she can see and understand the whole process. That’s important because I want everyone to enjoy being a part of the team and working with me. I’ve also been very fortunate to have the most incredible interns over the last 3 years.

Self Portrait FW17, Photo: Nadia Anderson

How has the influx of digital media affected fashion show production?

Yes, so we have to take social media into the consideration now when we’re working on lighting and sets. Some brands want a more Instagram-able set, and others want backstage elements for Instagram. The shows used to be for private, exclusive groups who got to see the collections before everyone else, but now they can be seen around the world within seconds.

That's what led to kind of the see-now, buy-now model. Everyone’s seeing the clothing right away, within seconds of a show, so it almost makes sense to start selling the clothes amidst the excitement of all the new collections.

What do you like about working in the fashion industry today?

The world is such a diverse and unique place today, from people’s cultures to their interests to their backgrounds, and I feel like fashion is finally starting to apply to every walk of life. From streetwear to, to chic womenswear, to men's suiting, and good day-to day-outfits for every moment from day to evening. Fashion today is so universal, and that’s exciting. It’s exciting to see how it’s progressing. There’s so much of it, too.

How would you like to see this industry evolve?

I think it's best when things evolve organically and naturally, so it'll be really interesting to see how this happens in the next few years and to see what this means for fashion shows, presentations, and brands. Luxury is time and successful fashion is always ahead of people’s desires and expectations.

Where do you think this generation is headed?

I think it's hard to say because it depends on what's happening in the world and how things are developing globally. It’s an exciting time because I feel like younger generations are starting to have more of a voice and more of an opinion about the current state of the world. It’s almost like a resurge of the 70s, which is exciting and challenging our notions of freedom, standing up for something, free speech, love and respect of each other and our environment.

And what advice would you give to someone who looks up to you?

I would say that you can always follow your dreams if you work hard. You have to really want something and work for it. If you dedicate enough time, energy and passion, you can reach your goals. Anything you want to do, you can do. I have so many examples of how and why that's true. So many people give up, but if you want something, don't ever give up. Doors will open, people will notice, and unexpected things will happen. It’s all about saying yes and being open to the next opportunity.

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for inviting me to be featured on This Generation amidst so many young, talented people. And to those behind the brands who believe in us each season. 2017 is going to be a great year and has already started out the best yet.