StageMedia founder Jacob Kalousek and music designer Scott Ewalt lift the curtain on the Graduation Fashion Show and reveal what goes into the Academy’s annual runway event
“A fashion show is undefined. We’re in an era where anything and everything goes.”
The words of StageMedia founder Jacob Kalousek have perhaps never rang more true than in the age of the modern fashion show, where the performance and spectacle of the show are just as valued as the clothes themselves. And he should know: Kalousek has managed the Academy of Art University Graduation Fashion Shows for the last 20 years. As technical director, he’s one of the people responsible for the spectacle that attracts more than 2,000 people each year. The other is music designer Scott Ewalt, who travels from New York each year to collaborate on the event, which showcases the final work of the Academy’s graduating fashion design students.
Behind the scenes of the spring show, Kalousek and Ewalt do their jobs as inconspicuously as possible. “I’m a grey eminence. I’m in the background. I’ll try to make myself as invisible as possible,” Kalousek said. “A lot of the other fashion shows that I’ve seen are for the effect of the show, not the effect of the clothes.”
Making sure the spectacle of the show does not outshine the clothing is also at the center of Ewalt’s work. “You can make clothing seem completely different with the right music, but it should not be so overwhelming that the models are chasing it rather than it being their backdrop,” he explained. “The one thing that should always be there is a regular cadence beat for the models. It makes them feel secure and allows them to just focus on the clothing.”
Both men grew up as creatives. For Kalousek, who was born in Prague, it runs in the family. His father was an illustrator and his mother designed the first multilingual fashion dictionary. Ewalt, who grew up in Santa Cruz, California, began making mix tapes and experimenting with music as a teenager. However, they both have different reasons for producing the Academy fashion show. For Ewalt, it’s the sense of accomplishment. “I really enjoy when the whole puzzle comes together and the show becomes an alternative reality for 20 minutes,” he said. And for Kalousek, it’s the grand scale of the show. “Academy of Art shows are massive in spirit and physicality,” he said. “Right now, they are the biggest show I have produced.”
The ability to solve problems is an important part of their jobs. This year, Simon Ungless, executive director of the School of Fashion (and the show’s producer), wanted to try something different and also accommodate an increase in the number of attendees. The solution was to construct a runway out of scaffolding, a feat Kalousek finds a little daunting.
“I’m crossing my fingers right now, because I’ve actually never built a stage out of scaffolding,” he said.
For Ewalt, having a back-up plan is key. “I always expect something might change mid-show, so I always have something cued just in case,” he shared.
Hiccups are a possibility. Sometimes a model will miss a cue or a light will stop working. The timing has to be perfect. Producers are only able to see the clothes the day of the show, which means they have to design the shows without the final products in mind. But for Kalousek, the stress is worth it.
“There are tense moments. There are tears. It’s inevitable,” he said. “I realized if you can work with other people, you can actually create magic. Producing a fashion show is like a tempestuous ocean ride.”