Fashion Week Fishing for Perch

As fashion week opens, designers are frantically making their guest lists and checking them twice – but there’s less room than ever for the retail buyers who actually purchase the clothes. “We always try to make room for celebrities and friends of the house,” explains Patti Cohen, Donna Karan’s head of public relations, “and, of course, the retailers.”

“Seating is a logistical nightmare. You have the Umas and Gwyneths being hounded by the photographers and the buyer from Klein’s department store being muscled out from a prime viewing spot,” groans one P.R. chief. “That buyer is going to be the one to actually order 150 pieces from Michael Kors or Bill Blass.” It’s one thing when buyers are muscled out by celebrities who have relationships to a particular designer, and another when the boldfaced name in question turns up simply to ogle the models – and the added attraction of this year’s MTV Video Music Awards is only exacerbating the problem. As are oversize egos: Demi Moore, for example, is notorious for demanding extra tickets for her entourage of bodyguards.

Department-store presidents also add to the VIP gridlock by requesting five tickets for company executives in the front rows. “Their own buyers are getting stuck behind,” gripes another seasoned showgoer. “They’re figureheads, and they’re blocking the view with those heads.”

Those who do get to the front row must adjust to the distinctly unglamorous sensation of being crushed by a horde of photographers trying to get their one allotted shot of Madonna. Dawn Mello, former president of Bergdorf Goodman, knows whom to blame for the celebrity invasion: “Giorgio Armani invited Sophia Loren and Tina Turner to the Milan shows in the mid-eighties. Then Pat Riley started coming to the men’s shows. That’s what started it all.”

Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale’s fashion director and still a regular in the A-list seats, is less miffed by the star shuffle: “As long as there is room for the buyers, I don’t mind. Celebrities make it fun – especially if the clothes are bad.”

Fashion Week Fishing for Perch