The Swish Boys Who Build Fashion Week

On Aug. 1, in a 40,000-square-foot warehouse deep in the industrial wasteland of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the ReadySet boys were let out to play. Armed with kegs of beer and cases of vodka; flanked by leggy girls and tattooed friends; accompanied by a cobra (albeit painted on the wall), they were ready for a party—a big one.

This blowout is an annual thing for ReadySet Inc., a full-service carpentry company that constructs photo-shoot sets for high-fashion clients. Last Friday, the fraternity of about 20 carpenters, most of whom are in their 20s and early 30s, sleeved in tattoos and uniformed in T-shirts and jeans, milled about their concrete workspace where, earlier, they’d stacked flats from their current projects (they recently worked on an Annie Leibovitz shoot and have been preparing for September’s Fashion Week), swept away sawdust and hoisted up giant white walls to display some of their personal art (all for sale at the party). The company’s slogan—“Fakin’ shit since ’97”—had been carved into the wooden bar where a few cute girls served drinks. As the sun went down, pretty young stylists and photo assistants paraded in like groups of tourists.

A shaggy-haired brunette in tight black jeans who interns for a sporting apparel company was waiting in line for a drink. “It’s like hot-tattoo-guy central,” she screamed over a screeching guitar, nodding toward a group of the boys who were flirting with a few of her friends. “Everybody is on the prowl.”

Understandably so. Petite young things marveled at the machismo fellas. Meeting men is hard enough in this city—and these guys can build stuff? Swoon!

“It’s like a giant boys’ club,” explained ReadySet carpenter Ronnie Campone. He was standing in the middle of the party’s gallery area, boyishly grinning in a green T-shirt. For his contribution to the art show, Mr. Campone, 31, found a piece of wood from one of ReadySet’s jobs and drew graffiti-style logos and slogans on it, one of which is “F… art” and “<3 tits.” He has been working for ReadySet for a little over a year and rides his skateboard to work. “This is the raddest job ever for anybody who is creative and good with their hands,” he said.

It’s a curious juxtaposition: ReadySet’s carpenters, who usually come from construction jobs around the city, join the company and are suddenly thrust into the world of high fashion. They deliver materials to shoots, build sets on-site (often these are simple walls to provide a basic backdrop, but they can also be elaborate setups like city landscapes or logos) and later break everything down to bring back to the warehouse. Producers like Joe Merlucci, 29, work directly with clients and carpenters to oversee the job, while the carpenter boys work two shifts, one from 7 a.m. to about 5 in the afternoon, and another that begins around 1 p.m. and sometimes won’t end until about midnight, depending on the job.

“The guys came back one time with this story about a shoot and Gisele was making them cappuccinos,” chuckled ReadySet’s general manager, Jameson Allen, who is 44. “I don’t know if it’s true … but we love it when things like that happen.”

ReadySet’s owner, Joe Keefe, 42, is a kind of coach to his team. With fair, freckled skin and a mild manner, he is described by his workers as patient and kind, willing to take young construction kids off the streets and show them set-building skills from scratch.

“This is the best group of guys we’ve had in a long time,” Mr. Keefe boasted. He was standing in the back office, which smells like drying paint and fresh paper. By the kitchen, there’s a wall lined with blue lockers. Each one is labeled with a carpenter’s name and, tucked underneath, there’s a pair of boots or sneakers (Nike and Adidas styles are popular).

The Swish Boys Who Build Fashion Week