Front-row fray

2012-07-13 12:59

The night former model Sonia Booth fought tooth and nail for her front-row seat at Joburg Fashion Week will live in infamy.

Well, at least in the local fashion industry. Many remember soccer ace Matthew Booth’s wife confronting an unknown woman sitting in her allocated seat. Booth ended the show happily enough, in her prime seat.

Fur flies from time to time at these events because fashionistas know sitting in the front matters.

“Front-row seating is life and death for some people,” says PR executive Helga Klizanie, who has worked at a few Fashion Weeks.

“It’s almost as if sitting in second row won’t give you the same experience as the front. Many people want to sit there, alongside fashion editors and buyers,” she adds.

At every Fashion Week, you’ll find a row of media and fashion buyers lined up in front, legs crossed and clad in the latest trends, as photographers snap away at celebrities peppered between them.

“African Fashion International (AFI) personally handles the seating,” says Allana Finley, the company’s global brand and marketing manager.

“Often, seating pairs sponsors with other sponsors and presents business-to-business opportunities for VIPs, sponsors and stakeholders,” she says.

According to Fashion Week organisers, seat planning can take anything up to a week to “plot” the arrangements.

“It’s a pity people miss the whole point of the front row. It’s not about prestige but about giving a clear view to those who will help the designers sell their clothes, like the buyers and fashion writers,” says Felipe Mazibuko, stylist and front-row regular.

Estelle Cooper, a publicist for SA Fashion Week, adds: “We believe the front row should represent the local industry’s opinion leaders and people who can really have a beneficial impact on a designer’s business. That is essentially the international norm too.”

Many agree this includes fashion buyers, media and, to some extent, celebrities, but don’t believe the front row should be a free-for-all.

Veteran event producer Jan Malan says: “Over the years, seating arrangements have changed for the various organisations that host a Fashion Week. It now depends on the kind of branding the company goes for.”

He believes while the front row should have celebrities, it has become, he says, “detrimental and problematic because it changes the platform of Fashion Week from being about designers and clothing to the social aspect,”, he adds.

The amount of money that goes into putting together one show will make you choke.

To have the celebrities and socialites turn this into a mere social event is a slap in the face to all the hard work by designers.”

Mazibuko agrees: “Celebrities don’t buy the clothes. They might push the brand a bit by borrowing the clothes for one night, but they don’t generate any real revenue for the designers. Buyers do.”

However, he doesn’t discount celebrities altogether. If it’s someone of Nicole Kidman or Beyoncé’s calibre, who’d likely wear it to the Oscars, that’s different.

Klizanie says she has had a few local celebrities calling her in the middle of the night begging for front-row tickets: “They tell me they can’t go because they can’t be seen in the second row. They don’t understand there’s a strategy to these things and the people in the front row are there to work.”

Klizanie goes on: “It’s crazy. Not only do we have to deal with celebrities who don’t want to sit in second row, even if they’re not A-listers, we also have some fashion editors who want to sit next to certain people or demand to sit in certain areas like the right side of the stage, towards the middle. And those who want to sit next to the Motsepes so they can network.”

As Finley explains, AFI’s main focus with seating is about bringing together the right mix of people to benefit the designer’s business.

There’s a belief that sitting next to a particular person can make or break you.

These are what Malan calls “empowerment kugels: rich women married to powerful BEE businessmen or politicians...They turn a blind eye to their husband’s infidelities in exchange for a pet business project where they conduct their social politics.”

He says it’s at these events where organisers get to watch as certain married politicians bring their “pretty young things”, who join them just as the lights dim before a show.

“We just have to be diplomatic about these things and be cognisant of all these things happening at one event,” he adds.

Some celebs who don’t make the front row might arrive “late” for a show to make it look as if they are simply too late to reach their front-row seats. Others just hang around the VIP area.

Finley concludes: “While there are casual diva moments when it comes to front-row seats, the ultimate objective is always to look after the designer and treat every guest as if they are a potential client, business associate or fashion influencer.”


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