The 24 hours leading up to a designer’s show can be a sleep-deprived blur of nerves and botched clothing samples. Designers play truant officer, tracking down delinquent models who skip out on final fittings, or social planner when it comes to fine-tuning the front-row seating chart. Or, in Maria Cornejo’s case, they’re figuring out what to do if a model’s extra-long feet don’t fit the shoes. Pull the model? Or pull the look?
Cornejo, though locally loved, hasn’t yet hit the level of big Seventh Avenue names who can delegate it all. So sorting through the last-minute details for the February 6 show (her line is called Zero + Maria Cornejo) was only one part of her day.
“When I get home, it’s like Cinderella. I’m the one who fills up the dishwasher,” says Cornejo. “Every night before any show, I’m doing dishes and laundry.” She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, photographer Mark Borthwick, and their children, Bibi, 17, and Joey, 10. Borthwick and Bibi are self-sufficient in the frazzled preshow hours; Joey demands more attention. He has long, pin-straight hair that is a point of contention between mother and son; he won’t wash it. “I love his hair. I just wish he looked after it,” Cornejo says. “We have an arrangement now: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, because he won’t wash it every night.” It got so tangled once that a hairdresser had to cut out a dreadlock. “He says, ‘Mom, people think I look like a girl anyway; I don’t have to have nice, neat hair.’ He’s a bit of a rock star … skinny jeans, long hair.”
When the daily domestic routine is finished, Cornejo attempts to sleep. “I’m addicted to Sleepytime tea—two cups. Ambien is the last resort when nothing else is going to work.” She won’t take more than half a pill. And anyway, anxiety dreams always wake her up. “I drive myself quietly mad the night before a show,” she says. “I get up and start making lists—what needs to happen, things I thought of that I hadn’t told someone that need to happen, something about a garment that needs to be finished a different way.”
Only a few hours before the show, at her new space on Bleecker Street, does a manic calm set in when she realizes that some things—like dresses that show up at the last minute—are simply beyond her control. She sees it as mental preservation. “When Fashion Week gets into my head, I get really annoyed with myself. I find it quite polluting of the brain. I like the fact that the night before the show, I’m cleaning up the cat litter.”