Only a few seasons back, fashion week was just work. Designers showed their collection to the invited buyers and magazine editors, hoping either or even both would embrace it for the coming season. The rules were simple: the most important magazines and buyers (think Vogue and Barney's) sat front row and the further back one sat, the less important in fashion's hierarchy. Doing a big spread on a designer might result in moving up a couple of rows, as would buying and selling most of the collection. Life was simple. Visiting fashion week meant business: rushing from one place to the other, the lucky ones in a car with driver, the less fortunate getting lost in public transport. Press interest was minor, as we wouldn't need to focus on the new trends for at least half a year, and the paparazzi were still stalking Sienna Miller. How different things are now.
Fashion week has turned into one of the biggest PR events of the year, with everyone desperate for a slice of limelight. The front row has gone from a functional place setting to a spectacle-driven, celeb-studded line-up: you have to be in the spotlight to sit close to them. With the increased speed of the industry's style turnover, fashion shows are the place to pick up on new trends, inspiration and icons - no wonder the mobs of photographers increase every season - as do the number of outfit changes for most who attend. For an event that, in essence, takes ten minutes, it's one of the quickest means to crawl out of obscurity. When Kanye West took the eccentric Amber Rose as his front row date, she was the talk of the town - as was designer Kriss van Assche, whose show they attended.
With the heightened interest in celebrities, designers are cleverly using models, actresses, and singers to flog their goods - a star-studded front row ensures coverage and sales. After all, everyone wants the latest snap of their favourite celebs and these will have the designer's name all over it. But it's not just for the designers' sake: they return the favour by launching a starlet as a fashion icon. She'll be sat front row and will have been sent an array of outfits to choose from to make sure she looks presentable. Paps will pick up on her style, she'll feature on blogs and in magazines and a new style icon is born. Bring on the endorsement deal!
For some soon-to-be-celebrities attending fashion week is nothing more than another entry in their PR diary. The Kardashians promote their reality shows with a front row seat, and numerous actresses pop by to get some newspaper columns that mention their current film. Blake Lively put in some stylish effort in the past few seasons and has now been knighted one of Karl Lagerfeld's new muses, securing a deal with Chanel. Her Gossip Girl colleague Leighton Meester did the rounds to push her music career, and Misha Barton and Jessica Simpson would probably even attend the opening of an envelope.
So, what has happened to the original audience now that the front row has been usurped by fame? Where magazine editors previously had a prime spot to ensure they'd fall in love with the clothes and put them in the magazine, it's only those that have cultivated a celebrity status that have maintained their front row seat. Others have been forced to move back a row to make space for fashion darlings like Olivia Palermo, Sarah Jessica Parker, Alexa Chung, Chloe Sevigny, Rihanna, Gwen Stefani, Diane Kruger and Kelly Osbourne. Most controversially, with the blogosphere ruling the fashion world, internet celebrities like Tavi Gavinson and Bryanboy no longer need to hide under a fur coat to get in and invisibly squeeze behind the back row, but get personalised invites.
With this focus on celebrities, who's still cool enough to have kept their editorial front row seat throughout the last decade? We'd have to look at newcomers like Taylor Tomasi-Hill (US Marie-Claire), Kate Lanphear (US ELLE) and Giovanna Battaglia (Vogue L'Uomo) sharing seats with veterans Anna Dello Russo and Andre Leon Talley. But of course, there's the undisputed ruler of the runway, who wouldn't even need to attend as she sees most collections at designers' ateliers: Anna Wintour. After all, there is no front row princess, duchess, countess, or mere commoner who wouldn't give up her seat at single blink of fashion's queen herself.