A wise man by the name of Tom Murro once said “go front row or go home.” That is why celebrities like Angela Simmons have caused drama in the past when they found themselves assigned the second row. Everyone at Fashion Week believes they are worthy of the front row seat. They all think they are Anna Wintour or Suzy Menkes but unfortunately unless the designer or publicist of that designer decides otherwise, you’ll probably find yourself 3 rows away from the front row.
But who really deserves the front row seat at fashion shows and why?
Here’s a look at the history of fashion shows. In the 1860s French designer Charles Frederick Worth introduced to the public his haute couture collection using models. Paul Poiret took the fashion show to the next level with his designs in the 20th century . More and more designers adopted this style of publicity including Coco Chanel and her rivalry Elsa Schiaparelli.
However back then, photographers were not even allowed at Fashion Shows because designers believed they stole the designs and sold them to department stores or other high society ladies who went to tailors to have the designs replicated . Fashion or haute couture was very exclusive and inaccessible back then . So those in attendance were either people who can sketch or they hired artists to sketch . Which to me defeated the purpose of locking photographers out anyways. But I’m sure the mindset of the 1930s was different. But in 1947 Christian Dior decided to allow photographers in his shows.
Back in the old fashion days , fashion shows were very intimate and made it easy for the invited guests (select few) to easily see the collection as it was paraded. But as the industry grew, so were most fashion shows and it’s demands. The high demand for fashion show invitations led to the seating hierarchy to be invented which led to us having front row seating dilemmas today.
The structure back then which is followed by most fashion weeks with South Africa lacking behind is that , magazines and newspaper editors , fashion journalists, celebrities are afforded the front row. Then the buyers and assistants to editors will then be prioritized, then the rest of the people who actually are just extras will get the rest of the irrelevant rows .
So basically the front row is for the most influential people not only in fashion but also in the entertainment and business side of the industry. Where you are sitting at fashion week determines your status .
For designers the people who seat on the front row are as important as the clothes they design. It’s part of branding and marketing. The bigger the stars at your show the bigger the publicity they will get. It’s basically another way of raising a show’s profile
Now in South Africa , the fashion industry is really small and relatively young . Only recently did one of the country’s first fashion week celebrate a 21 year anniversary. So there isn’t much history yet to back up our own culture. Not just front row seating but the fashion industry as a whole too.
As a fashion journalist, I really did start from the bottom. I remember my first fashion week I was on the third row and for me it was not a big deal because I was just excited to be there. But also for some it’s easy to shoot straight to the front row if the media house they work for is big. I was working for ANN7 back then and the show was Gert Johan Coetzee . For a designer that big, you have to be in good terms with the publicist in order to get good seats. Back then I was just a new kid . Now I have easy access to Gert because I have interviewed him a million times. Also I get the front row seats in almost all shows . But the point is sometimes you have to build the status. It’s not just given to you.
In the last years I’ve attended shows where the fashion journalists were pushed to the second row because designers had too many friends, too many celebrities and lately influencers who in the case of South Africa do not add that much value to the industry. Yes you do have those who wear the clothes, mostly from designer request, they will do insta-stories but all of that vanishes by end of day and you’ll still be left with no lasting content.
And most of these influencers are more concerned about the vibe than the actual clothes which defeats the purpose. It’s reasonable for fashion journalists to complain because journalists are the ones who write about the shows, so they must be prioritized.
Some might say “but you can still write about the clothes from the third row.” ….No you can’t and must not. If they push you back, you must push the story back too. Journalists incorporate social media to their reporting, so it’s crucial that they get the best view which only the front row can afford you. The closer they are to the clothes the better . We all know with the South African fashion industry, designers are not as accessible more especially after fashion shows. You can go back stage like SAFW will normally organize, but it’s chaotic and discouraging.
Also there’s so many shows so you hardly have enough time in between to do the interviews, so the runway becomes the best place for you to see something and make notes.
I applaud designers for having celebrities on the front row more especially the ones that really wear and support local brands. Also having Bongani Matheba or Somizi on your show is good for publicity and your brand as a designer. But prioritizing influencers to me without giving them a mandate of what they should post on their social media defeats the purpose. There’s more to fashion writing that hashtags.
South African fashion shows must prioritize editors, journalists, buyers, celebrities then the rest must be in row 2 which is still a good row. That’s the only way we will be able to properly document our industry. Right now we have a complacent industry because we don’t have enough fashion writers who serve as critics. Everyone think they are doing the right thing. Even our fashion week street style is a bore .
Pictures : AFI