For hair stylists, it doesn’t get much bigger than a gig at New York Fashion Week.

And so Upper St. Clair resident Tamara Artnak readily accepted such an offer when it came in early February. The owner of Luxe Hair Salon in Collier Township asked employee Jane Ondra to join her, and they headed to Manhattan on short notice.

It turned out that they also were on short notice when they went to work on the coiffures of eight runway-bound models.

“They didn’t hand us a timeline until we were already into one model, so I did not know that we only had an hour and a half,” Artnak recalled. “I had no idea.”

But within 90 minutes, each of the young women was ready to walk into the spotlight to display the latest creations of Australian fashion designer Natalie De’Banco and her Bronx and Banco label.

“I was a little nervous at first. I’m not going to lie to you. It took me a few minutes to get my game on, because they never told us,” Artnak said.

“But we’re trained to work fast. We can do it.”

The whirlwind styling session served as the climax to a fast-paced weekend during which she and Ondra made travel plans on Friday, flew to New York Saturday and were ready with their scissors and other tools of the trade promptly at 7 a.m. Sunday.

Artnak actually was scheduled to be head designer for New York Bridal Fashion Week 2020, but the event was canceled right as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She did have the opportunity to meet Arnold Milfort, a heavily sought-after celebrity fashion stylist, consultant and fashion show producer.

And apparently, she made a strong impression going into 2021.

“He reached out to me because we made that connection last year,” she said.

As has been the case with mostly everything during the pandemic, this year’s winter edition of New York Fashion Week featured a different approach. The event was recorded for remote viewing, rather than incorporating a live audience, and everyone who participated in person was subject to rigorous safety precautions, including on-site coronavirus testing.

“They were super-strict about us wearing their particular masks,” she said about the mandatory N95 filtering facepiece respirator. “We had to wear goggles and shields, and we had our own cubicles that were set up when we got there.”

Such protective measures, of course, have their drawbacks.

“It was challenging to connect with people, with them not really seeing your face,” Artnak said. “It was a little harder for me in that sense, because I don’t know any of these people. I’m totally new. I’m trying to network. I’m trying to get my name out there.”

One opportunity she did have was to meet a representative of the international communications agency Purple PR, an industry leader in fashion, beauty, music, art, design, food and travel.

“She thought it was really cool that we flew in from Pittsburgh to style,” Artnak said, and after seeing them complete their given task in short order, “She is going to hire me for future projects.”

Artnak and Ondra also had the opportunity to visit De’Banco’s Bronx and Banco office.

“That was really cool, to actually get behind the scenes. We got to see the whole collection, even some of her past collections,” Artnak said. “There were models trying on clothes for last-minute touches, and a lot of assistants running around. It was totally New York.”

At least, that was the atmosphere in the office. In general, the pandemic has taken its toll on the Big Apple.

“I usually travel there a couple of times a year for work. It’s definitely different,” Artnak said. “We stayed in Soho. You could actually walk out on the street and hear nothing. That is not normal. Usually, the city’s hoppin’ and boppin’.”

That particular city also is somewhat of a departure from the relatively sedate environs of Pittsburgh.

“You definitely could see the difference between the New Yorkers and me and Jane. We stood out,” Arntak said. “Once they started to see our work and that we got it done on time, they started, I think, to kind of appreciate us. Maybe not at first. We had to put our dues in.”

Whatever the case, the New York experience was one for them to treasure.

“I felt so professional. I’ve done Pittsburgh Fashion Week many times. This was nothing like Pittsburgh Fashion Week,” Artnak said. “This was the tops.”

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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