Fashion Week starts today, but it ain't what it used to be. A prime front-row seat no longer means you are one of the most important hundred people in the room, or that photographers should kill themselves trying to take your picture, or that people behind you should fear accidentally kicking your seat back, but most important, envy you. Sometimes celebrities, told they can't get front-row seats, cry.
"I've seen meltdowns, I've seen tears," [PR executive Paul] Wilmot says. "It's just math. If there are only 100 front row seats, and 200 people who want to sit in the front row, it's not going to work."
But nowadays those seats — that status, that self-importance — can be bought.
Sample-sale site Gilt Groupe sold fourteen Fashion Week packages to members of Noir, the site's invitation-only club for their biggest spenders. And so member Nina Koduru, a 30-year-old research fellow at Cornell Medical School, bought a front-row seat at Richard Chai as part of her $2,100 package. She also gets a dress and sweater of her choosing from Chai's fall 2010 collection, in the same way a celebrity might get free clothes as kickbacks.
"I am excited to cross 'getting into the front row at New York Fashion Week' off my 'Impossible Things to Do' checklist," Dr. Koduru says.
However, Gilt isn't the only one selling seats to shows. American Express has sold tickets to its skybox in the Tents for seasons, where guests can enjoy carb-laden pastries out of view of the regular fashion set (no one wants to be seen eating the free cookies they hand out in the foyer).
And still other tickets are sold on eBay or other websites. IMG, intent on preserving the sanctity of the front row and seating-system-determined industry hierarchy, say they get their lawyers on the case as soon as they catch any of these online auction attempts. Yet Janelle Heiser, a 37-year-old wine consultant from Canton, Ohio, bought a seat to Carolina Herrera online a few seasons ago for $600.
With the rising number of shows streaming online, one doesn't even need money to have a great view of a live show. In fact, people watching online at home will have better views than most people at the show. The ubiquitous Derek Blasberg is nervous about what this means. He tweeted:
With all these shows streaming live online (Marc, Calvin, Burberry etc), I shed a tear for the ultimate end of fashion week. It's coming.
Oh, NO. How will everyone know who matters and who doesn't? And more important, what will Blasberg tweet about? Everyone had better really ham it up on the front row this season. Status may soon be a thing of the past.