For Budding Designers, a 7-Minute Show at Fashion Week Means Everything

PHOTO: Designer Jonny Cota of SKINGRAFT backstage before his show on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 at New York Fashion Week.
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New York Fashion Week is one of the biggest fashion events of the year, where designers live or die by the few moments they have to show a collection they have toiled over for months. Celebrities, buyers, bloggers and taste-makers gather at the coveted shows to decide who moves on and who is left behind.

For the few designers lucky enough to get a spot under the big tent at Lincoln Center in Manhattan, they have minutes, even seconds, to solidify their worth, fortify their presence and claim their position among the fashion elite.

It's not for the faint of heart.

For California native Jonny Cota and his clothing line SKINGRAFT, a small company based in Los Angeles, his show at Fashion Week this year is the chance of a lifetime.

"Today I've been just shut down and curled in a ball, and for the first time I've got all these butterflies and intense nerves and ... finally realizing what's in front of us and what's about to happen," the 30-year-old designer said Tuesday before his show began.

"Nightline" spent a week behind the scenes with Cota and his team leading up to their Feb. 11 New York Fashion Week show as they tirelessly prepared for the biggest opportunity they have ever had. Cota said they had been working towards this moment for seven years.

Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 12:35 a.m. ET

"This is every young American designer's dream," he said, referring to his presence "in the tents."

"For this collection, we've been working on it for five months, and we've been working eight days a week, 28 hours a day getting it ready, and it's been pretty exhausting," he said.

SKINGRAFT's designs are edgy and provocative, known for incorporating lots of black leather. Several celebrities have been spotted wearing Cota's line from Britney Spears to Justin Bieber, who was wearing a SKINGRAFT bomber jacket when he turned himself in to Toronto police last month.

"It was just so perfect, you know," Cota said. "Because the jacket looked great, and he was getting arrested, so everyone's happy."

But unlike some designers, Cota said he doesn't focus on the celebrities who often grace the front row of Fashion Week shows.

"I'm not super drawn to the celebrity culture," he said. "I don't do a huge celebrity push. If they come because they love the brand, amazing, but for the sole purpose of being a celebrity, it's not something I really go after."

In the days leading up to his show, Cota and his team held casting calls for hours to look for models who would walk the runway wearing his line. They reviewed about 400 candidates before settling on 20.

In his models, Cota looks for someone with unusual features.

"I wanted kind of these little alien kids, just like, their proportions were just a little different than what you would expect as like, classic beauty," Cota said. "That's what we look for because I just think it's more interesting. I think it represents our brand much better."

Putting on a show at Fashion Week can cost upwards of $200,000, and while it can alter a designer's career, especially for smaller design houses like SKINGRAFT, it can be a huge financial risk. The night before his show, Cota said his team's credit cards weren't working because they had spent so much money on the show.

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