Pollini S/S 2009, photo by Nick Ponton
Each season fashion week goes off without a hitch and we are none the wiser to the work that goes on prior to those fleeting moments on the catwalk. Months of dedication and planning are poured into each and every successful runway show and the force behind many of our favorite designer’s showings is none other than Monicka HanssenTéele, the CEO of MHT Productions. With a clientele that encompasses the best and brightest of fashion – Calvin Klein, Valentino, Ungaro – and over a decade of experience creating seamless shows and events, Monicka is an unquestioned leader in her field. MDC catches up with the powerhouse on a rare free moment to discuss her unique career and all that happens behind the scenes.
Monicka HanssenTéele | Photo Betty Sze for MODELS.com
MHT: There is — I played for three years.I grew up in Norway, went to university in Paris and it was there that I was a professional soccer player on Paris Saint-Germain.
How did you transition from that and into fashion?
MHT: I moved to New York and was introduced to Calvin through a friend. Things just started from there.
How do you prepare for something as multi-faceted as creating fashion shows?
MHT: I studied interior design, but that doesn’t really encompass all that I do. This represents a culmination of all I have learned over the years. I was my dad’s handyman and helped him build houses at home – I learned more that way. In order to do this job you have to be extremely organized and be able keep 10 things in your head at once.
You worked on the production at Calvin Klein in-house for several years. What made you decide to start your own company?
MHT: It all came together after 9 years – it was time. It was time to do something different, something more and expand to a broader clientele.
How do you begin the process of bringing a designer’s show to life?
MHT: We start very early to discuss the concepts. We begin to do research and then we choose materials, create 3-D renderings and then we come to a solution. With some of the clients I start to work with them on the next season as soon as the previous season finishes. By the time it’s February we’re already thinking about September. Then there are times when the client might decide two days before the show to change everything. We are involved in every aspect of the production – the set, the lighting, the video, the hiring of hair and makeup – everything to do with the show. It’s all-encompassing.
Are there certain people who you choose to work with time and again?
MHT: It depends on the situation. As much as possible, I work with the same lighting designers, sound designers and staging crews, and we have long track records of collaboration together. But it’s also true that you sometimes have to make adjustments, or source new vendors in reflection of a certain budget. The history becomes important though, because sometimes we manage to be able to help out the younger designers because we all work so much together – ultimately, it means that we can bring that level of talent to the production of a new designer’s show.
You work with a variety of clients from a large corporation like the GAP to a fresh designer like Jen Kao. What would you say is the difference between working for a larger client and a smaller one?
MHT: It’s more work with the smaller designers because you end up having a smaller team so you end up personally doing a lot more. With a huge budget, I have massive teams and I can delegate. I get personally involved with all my clients, though – you have to be. If you’re fortunate to have some of the larger clients, it allows you to work with and bring your eye to some of the younger designers, which is great. It allows you to give them the expertise that they can’t really afford just yet. I’ve worked with people like Esteban Cortazar who I’ve known since he was 14 and now he’s the designer at Ungaro. Working with them from the start gives you a chance to see them develop, and we all know that young designers represent the future of fashion.
You have a reputation for being something of a perfectionist – how did you develop your eye?
MHT: I come from the school of Calvin, so that is perfection for me. Minimalism and perfection trains your eye – you cannot have one spot that is out of place. Working with him helped me become really attuned to the smallest of details.
MHT handles a great deal of charity work as well. Why do you feel it’s important to be involved with such causes?
MHT: Personally I think we all have to give back and the cause is really good (Editor’s note: This interview takes place backstage at Jeffrey Cares). I’ve been working with them for five seasons and with this charity is really good because 96% of the money goes to the charity. I always try to have a charity event that I do each and every year.
Do you think the current economic troubles have affected the business of fashion?
MHT: We’re all feeling the recession – everyone is feeling it. I don’t think visually you’re going to notice it right now, but we’re all feeling it.
You’ve had the opportunity to work with so many amazing people, what moments stand out to you as being memorable?
MHT: One of the first shows I worked with was at Steven Spielberg’s house. It was when I first started at Calvin and I was working primarily with celebrities – dressing them for the Oscars or Grammy’s, etc. I did that for three years – it was great, I worked with really lovely people. The fashion show at Spielberg’s house was actually a charity event and every celebrity came to the event – it was more of a sit down lunch at his house on the tennis courts. Last summer I was fortunate enough to work on the Valentino 50th Anniversary and that was pretty amazing as well — if you’ve seen the movie, you know it was quite incredible.