Stars paid 60,000 to sit on a fashion show front row: The Mail investigates the catwalk's dirty little secret
02:02 GMT, 10 March 2012
Pole position: Singer Rihanna draws the paparazzi's focus to a Karl Lagerfeld show in Paris
As fashion statements go, it was hardly vintage Chanel. Sitting in the front row this week — at the most important fashion show of the label’s year — was a heavily made-up young woman with bright blue hair and rather unsightly black roots.
Not that anyone was paying attention to her hairstyle, given the manner in which her impressive decolletage was on display to the world in a see-through dress.
The occasion was Paris Fashion Week, and Katy Perry was the star attraction. Never mind the clothes — the presence of a pop star guaranteed global headlines.
Yet no one in the hand-picked audience at the Chanel event paused to ask why Miss Perry, a native of California, had taken time out of her busy schedule to fly over to Europe for a fashion show. They did not ask because, among the fashion elite, the answer is an open secret. While millions of women would give anything to attend such an event, for certain celebrities a more pragmatic — and lucrative — arrangement is in place.
It has been going on for years, yet due to a long-standing pact of silence no one has been prepared to discuss it. Until this week, that is, when the London-based designer Nicole Farhi broke ranks to spit venom at a practice she described as ‘abominable’.
‘It is so unprofessional, I have never paid a celebrity and I will never do it. It’s stupid,’ blasted the 65-year-old French-born designer.
‘What do they show you in the papers after a fashion show Not the clothes, but the celebrities who are being paid to sit at the show.
‘They [fellow designers] will all hate me for [saying] it. I don’t give a s*** because I think it is abominable.’ These uncompromising words have opened an extraordinary can of worms. For far from being some outlandish slur, they are the unspoken truth.
Cash for celebrities, it transpires, has long been standard practice. So when you spot Rihanna sitting in a fashion show, what you don’t see is the 60,000 she has reportedly been handed in return for the favour.
Beyonce, her fellow A-List pop star, is said to attract a similar wage, while the more penny-pinching labels might secure American actress Chloe Sevigny for a mere 40,000.
These figures — revealed by the respected website Fashionista and picked up by a number of mainstream news outlets in the U.S. — are just the tip of the iceberg. In a rapidly changing world where bloggers are now major players and given plum seats at all the shows, Fashionista is no mere gossip rag.
A spokesperson for Chanel confirmed the working relationship with Katy Perry, but declined to elaborate on the financial arrangement, saying: ‘Katy Perry is a client, and as a company policy we do not communicate on our clients.’
To the average civilian, this may come as a shock. To those within the industry, it raises barely a shrug.
As Jeff Banks, the veteran British designer, told me this week: ‘It has been going on for 25 years.
‘These days, hiring celebrities is an integral part of the big labels’ marketing strategies. Whether they’re wearing your clothes on the red carpet or sitting on the front row at your show, the effect is the same. It’s expensive, but some labels will consider it money well spent.
‘And if you’re going to pay Charlize Theron 1.3 million to advertise perfume, why not apply the same logic to getting coverage for your fashion shows’
It is a message the fashion world has taken to heart. During any fashion week, a celebrity at your show gives you twice the media exposure. Media alerts are sent out daily, with a list of celebrities expected to attend events. The stakes are high.
Pop princess: Singer Katy Perry shows off her distinctive blue hair at the Chanel show during Paris Fashion Week
During London Fashion Week, different houses battle it out for an estimated 100 million spent on orders during the six days of events. With around 100 shows taking place, competition is fierce for coverage in the next day’s newspapers.
This year, the most notable example of this was Burberry’s show, which saw its front row packed with a host of well-known faces including Alexa Chung, actor Jeremy Irvine and model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
Mulberry also saw its show splashed across websites and papers after it boasted a celebrity-filled front row including stars from ITV drama Downton Abbey.
Counter-intuitively, however, it is understood that neither of these shows paid for the celebrities to attend. So how did they pull it off
‘There are three reasons celebrities sit on the front row,’ says Imogen Edwards-Jones, whose bestseller Fashion Babylon exposes the inner workings of the rag trade.
‘Either they are paid, they want the publicity themselves — which I think was the case at the Mulberry show — or they are friends with the designer and go as a favour.’
Supportive: Sienna Miller has been very close to designer Matthew Williamson for years and often appears at his shows
She adds: ‘Sienna Miller, for example, has been very close to [fashion designer] Matthew Williamson for years and will always go along to support him. But an awful lot of them are being paid — in cash or by other means.’
Those ‘other means’ have, by all accounts, been rather colourful in the past. Imogen adds: ‘I know of one major fashion label which, back in the Eighties and early Nineties, used to send celebrities a package containing a wedge of cash, a designer dress and a wrap of cocaine. That was their way of ensuring the after-show party went with a bang.
‘Times have changed, though. These days, the big labels are almost entirely owned by multinational conglomerates, so it’s a more businesslike arrangement.’
Simply coming up with the cash is not enough, however. Fashion houses agonise endlessly about the kind of celebrities who will ‘synch’ well with the brand. Then they have to persuade them to make an appearance.
This is when the process tends to go off-the-record. Besides cash payments, there are more subtle methods, such as the offer of free first-class flights to Paris, Milan or New York, complimentary suites in luxury hotels and lots of expensive goodies.
Most of the time the celebrities keep quiet — but not always. Pop star Lily Allen, for example, was deliciously indiscreet about being given the front-row treatment at the 2007 Paris fashion shows. ‘The reason I went to the shows was to get the free stuff,’ she gleefully revealed. ‘How much is there Loads.’
Following the Yves Saint Laurent show, she was taken to the flagship store and told to help herself — emerging with 5,000-worth of dresses, handbags and accessories. She was also treated royally by rival fashion houses Sonia Rykiel and Cacharel.
For some reason, however, the fashion houses are not keen for these matters to be in the public domain. So when Versace was accused of paying pop star Prince to attend its show in Paris, putting him up in a plush suite at the Ritz and paying his airfare, the company’s press representatives vehemently denied the story.
There is a certain piquancy to the denial, however, given Versace’s dubious status as the label which invented fashion’s celebrity culture in the Eighties.
After Giorgio Armani dressed Richard Gere in the Eighties film American Gigolo, Gianni Versace went all out for superstar endorsements. Speculation was rife as to just how much either designer was prepared to pay anyone to attend their shows.
Starry line-up: The front row at Burberry's London Fashion Week show was packed with well-known faces. From left, Amir Khan, Sonam Kapoor, will.i.am, Alexa Chung, Jeremy Irvine, Clemence Poesy and Eddie Redmayne
/03/10/article-2112982-121A90C2000005DC-418_310x377.jpg” width=”310″ height=”377″ alt=”Celebrity style: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Mario Testino and Kate Bosworth also appeared at the Burberry show” class=”blkBorder” />
Celebrity style: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Mario Testino and Kate Bosworth also appeared at the Burberry show
A swift look at the Hussein Chalayan website suggests an explanation for this new-found coyness. ‘Look who’s wearing Chalayan,’ swoons the blog, accompanied by photographs of Rihanna wearing a Chalayan sweater, along with actresses Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett in a brace of his creations on the red carpet.
There are at least some designers, besides Nicole Farhi, who go public with their criticism. Two years ago, Marc Jacobs denounced celebrity culture as ‘boring’ and has since banned stars from his shows.
He, however, has no need to court publicity. As creative director of Louis Vuitton, he is one of the most influential names in fashion, with the High Street eagerly awaiting his offerings each season to churn out their cheaper interpretations.
And as he demonstrated just this week, turning up at his own show in a pink dress and pirate buckle shoes was quite enough to grab the attention of the paparazzi, without celebrity help. For much of the industry, however, the practice of paying celebrities to attend — known as ‘wrangling’ — continues unabated.
Emma Whitehair, who runs the London-based fashion PR business White Smoke Communications, says: ‘I know for a fact they would pay celebrities to sit on the front row. It’s unfair: some people secure talent because they have genuine friendships and the celebrity likes the brand. Others have paid.’
Her view is corroborated by Abe Gurko, who runs a fashion talent and PR agency in New York. He says: ‘Once word got out that people were being paid, everyone jumped on the bandwagon.
‘They [the demands] kept coming. I had a manager say: “She will do it for $125,000’ [78,000].” I said: “Have a nice day.”
‘All this back-room dealing cheapens the whole business. And I don’t think it’s going to stop.’
And so the celebrity bandwagon rolls on. Yet is it really such an ‘abominable’ practice As Jeff Banks puts it: ‘Sports stars are paid appearance fees all the time and nobody bats an eyelid. It’s how the likes of Usain Bolt and Mark Cavendish make most of their money. What’s the difference
‘Fashion houses can spend their budget however they see fit. It’s business, not something to be ashamed of.’
Yet for as long as the conspiracy of silence persists, this cash-for-celebrities culture will endure as fashion’s dirty little secret.