Handbags at dawn

Last updated 05:00 06/02/2014

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If New York Fashion Week is the Super Bowl of  style, then the process of picking who gets in — and who sits where  - is like a secret playbook.

Sometimes it can be a feat for media, retail buyers, celebrities  and fashion fans just to get their names on the guest list. Scoring  a seat instead of a standing space is even better. Managing to  secure a spot in the front row is a touchdown.

For many designers and public relations firms, it’s a hush-hush  practice that is largely veiled from the public. (A handful of  brands contacted for this story declined to comment on how their  Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week guests are selected and seated.)

‘‘It’s an amazing, bizarre process,’’ says Jimmy Lepore Hagan,  director of digital media for New York-based designer Nanette  Lepore.

Things could get even trickier when the week of runway shows and  presentations concentrated at tents outside the Lincoln Centre in  Manhattan begins on Thursday. This is because the makeshift venues will have fewer seats, making access even more limited.

More generous seating and media passes in recent seasons led  some designers to lament that the atmosphere at the tents had grown too pedestrian.

‘‘The redesigned venue offerings will enable designers to better  control and reduce audience capacities, making invitations once  again an exclusive pass for true fashion insiders,’’ IMG Fashion, a  global leader in producing fashion shows, says in a statement.

More than 100 seats have been cut from Lepore’s runway show on  Wednesday at Lincoln Centre, Hagan says.

Some people pull out all the stops to try to make an impression.

‘‘I’ve seen some crazy stuff,’’ says Erin Hawker, owner and  founder of Agentry PR.

Hawker has worked in the fashion industry for two decades, and  her firm is helping several designers, including Christian Siriano,  orchestrate shows in February.

‘‘People come up with these crazy sob stories,’’ she says, noting  that one reporter even sends a big jar of lollies each year.

‘‘You kind of hear it all.

‘‘The requests that we get a lot are somewhere along the line of,  ’if you act like you’re supposed to be there, someone will let you  in,’’’ Hagan says. 

‘‘I just feel there’s a lot of very arrogant writing that doesn’t  defend itself and assumes its place.

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‘‘The (requests) that are successful are the ones that are short,  honest and express a genuine admiration for the brand.’’

Social media, celebrities and reality TV shows, such as Project  Runway and America’s Next Top Model, have elevated pop culture’s  interest in runway shows as entertainment.

But, in the end, these shows are about boosting business for a  brand.

A guest list should be those who are ‘‘appropriate and relevant  to the brand to get the best exposure and publicity, and hopefully lots of orders from stores,’’ New York-based designer Betsey Johnson says.

Next Wednesday at the Lincoln Centre, she will present her new  collection inspired by American Hustle and singer Rihanna.

Many brands begin planning their guest lists months in advance  for a show that will likely last only about 20 minutes.

Lepore works with a third-party agency that helps organise the  show and compile a list of potential guests. People from the brand  go through the list to make sure information is accurate and to  learn more about the names on it.

For bloggers — a group whose presence has swelled at New York  Fashion Week in recent years — staff members research their  websites’ reach, visual design, quality of work and presence on  social media.

‘‘What we started to do this year is put less of a focus on numbers and more of a focus on aesthetic,’’ Hagan says.

They also try to learn more about people’s positions. For  instance, if one person is an editor-in-chief of a start-up blog  with little readership and another is a writer for a major fashion  website, the writer will take precedence over the editor, he says.

Staff from magazines and metropolitan newspapers, as well as  business partners, are a large part of a runway show’s audience.

It’s about who’s been loyal to you, Hawker says.

‘‘That doesn’t really change.’’

Once a list has been finalised, the seating arrangements begin.  Usually, a certain number of chairs are allocated to media and  bloggers, retailers, business contacts, celebrities, and friends  and relatives.

‘‘You should seat people where you get the most bang for your  buck,’’ Johnson says.

‘‘It’s a hierarchy of celebrities, press, buyers and influential  people in the industry.’’

Shows also have standing sections on hand to accommodate extra  media and brand supporters once seats are filled. It’s not uncommon  for 200 or 300 people to show up at the door the day of the show  and say they’re friends of the designer or personally invited,  Hawker says.

‘‘We save the standing room area for the people who show up at  the door.’’

Overall, brands generally reserve their seats for their  strongest, sincerest supporters.

‘‘Our relationships are organic,’’ Hagan says.

‘‘We don’t pay people to sit in the front row.

‘‘We have to show people what we can give them, and what we can  give them is our genuine admiration of their work by going to bat  for them and giving them a seat.’’

 

-MCT


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