Local fashion show producer offers peak inside the runway life

A view of Margaret Merritt preparing for a fashion show. (submitted photo)

Behind the scenes, not within the photos taken on the red carpet, on the runway or in the crowd is Phoenix resident Margaret Merritt ensuring the fashion show goes off without a hitch.

Every year thousands — if not millions of dollars — are raised through charity fashion spectacles across the nation.

Catered food is ordered, tables are set, flower arrangements are displayed, all while Ms. Merritt is putting her decades’ worth of experience to guarantee each event raises the most funds possible.

Everything from clothing steamers and rogue hangers, to stylists and fittings occurring days before the anticipated event, are a part of the job that guests never witness.

Show after show, city after city, Ms. Merritt, travels around the country to put on flawless fashion show events, oftentimes, raising money for any given charity.

According to the show producer and past talent agency owner, 99 percent of local fashion events in the country are for charity. Local efforts range from scholarships for students at Brophy College Preparatory to ChildHelp’s work to raise money for neglected children.

Rising through the ranks of the fashion industry, Ms. Merritt, now 60, owns and operates her own company that produces fashion shows for clients ranging from New York Fashion Week, to small women’s groups.

While the charity spectacles are a large portion of her business, she also is the show producer for Neiman Marcus and stylist to Ken Downing.

(submitted photo)

Ms. Merritt has been involved in the fashion industry since the 1980s, but might be most known locally for opening The Agency Arizona, a Scottsdale-based modeling and talent agency, in the early 2000s.

“Arizona is a map for discovering fresh faces that are finding success all over the world,” Ms. Merritt said.

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Ms. Merritt was involved in ballet while growing up and credits her success on learning to be backstage at a young age.

“I think it kind of segues, coming from an artist background, being in the theater, being backstage. I think there’s a lot of similarities,” Ms. Merritt said of her career during a May 1 interview.

After Texas, Ms. Merritt lived in Hawaii where she was an agent for the Kathy Muller Agency, before moving to Phoenix in 1985.

“When I came here I went to work for the Robert Black Agency, he wasn’t Ford at that time,” she explained. “After that a lot of other agencies opened. When we first opened the doors, we were like ‘is anybody going to call?’”

Ms. Merritt recalls the lack of available models within the Valley of the Sun, stating men and women would be shipped from Los Angeles for jobs.

“One thing I identified was how do we keep that from happening? We have to groom our own models here in Phoenix,” she said.

Ms. Merritt says when designers and representatives would come to Phoenix they would be surprised at the quality of models.

“That was kind of the beginning. Now we’re definitely a competitive market,” she said.

Ms. Merritt left the Robert Black Agency to open her own firm in 2004.

“That was a really exciting time, I didn’t plan to do that,” she said of opening The Agency Arizona. “You never know when you’re going to do something like that, how it’s going to work. I got a lot of support and a lot of models came with me, and we kind of hit the ground running.”

Ms. Merritt has since sold the agency to Terri Camberlango, who she says has continued her vision.

Her company now, Margaret Merritt Productions, is mostly run from an iPhone, and airplane cabins or hotel rooms. She travels for a week at a time, spending several days in the city of each show.

“Almost every fashion show in a market like this is for charity, it really helps raise money,” she said. “Sometimes we lose sight of that, but it’s pretty cool because there’s a lot of them.”

One show in particular, the Brophy College Preparatory Fashion Show and Luncheon, Ms. Merritt has been involved with for over 20 years.

According to Independent records, the 2015 Brophy fashion show was attended by 1,250 people, and raised more than $700,000.

Ms. Merritt says she would consider herself successful in the industry she loves, citing the entire team of people it requires to put on a fashion show.

“Yes, I have many independent contractors who work for me providing backstage support such as styling, dressing, seamstresses, calling the show and so on,” she said.

“I do the initial meetings and help plan and execute the event, advise on what they need for support. Success is in our reputation which is intact and well respected. I am very proud of that and the standard my team maintains.”

News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be reached by e-mail at mrosequist@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Mrosequist_

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