IF designers are not terribly, terribly worried that Snooki and Pauly D will show up and spoil their party — don’t be alarmed, dears, it’s only Fashion Week — it may be because they have excellent gatekeepers like Billy Daley of Michael Kors.
“I just said no to three celebrities who wanted to come to Michael’s show,” said Mr. Daley, the communications director for Mr. Kors, identifying the type as “very obscure and up-and-coming actresses who may or may not be the next Blake Lively.” Their Hollywood publicists had requested seats to the show, which is on Wednesday.
Of course. You don’t think all those fabulous stars turn up at fashion shows to pay homage to the designer, any more than Nicole Polizzi, known as Snooki, the loud, devouring star of the controversial MTV reality show “Jersey Shore,” is dying to put on one of Mr. Kors’s cute twin sets.
Media reports last week that cast members of the Italian-American beach-house rumpus might be seated with the style mavens at New York Fashion Week produced groans of “Oh, no, not them.”
The reports turned out to be pure ballyhoo, the work of a talent agent for several cast members who said that a number of fashion houses had extended invitations. Later, Emily Yeomans, a communications manager at MTV, said that none of the cast had plans to attend shows, nor had any designers invited them.
The industry’s recoil from a threatened invasion of bad taste exposed anxieties over the changing role of the front row, once the exclusive domain of influential editors, retailers, socialites and celebrity friends of the designer. That fortress was breached long ago, about the time Paris Hilton and her Chihuahua showed up. More recently, bloggers and Real Housewives of New York have plunked themselves down. But fashion still wants its front row to look glamorous, and it obsessively monitors the seepage of image.
Like the Super Bowl and the Sundance Film Festival, Fashion Week, which began Thursday, has become such a media event — beyond showing the next season’s clothes, beyond cozy parties for industry insiders — that the front row has assumed a crazy significance in terms of drawing publicity.
In flush times, fashion houses spend small fortunes in money and time trying to get at least one big catch for their front row: a celebrity whose picture qualifies as an endorsement and will be seen everywhere. Agencies exist just for that purpose, though many designers use Hollywood stylists as go-betweens, and still others, like Marc Jacobs and Narciso Rodriguez, have personal relationships with celebrities — Mr. Jacobs with Victoria Beckham, Mr. Rodriguez with Claire Danes.
“It’s such an underworld in a way, the celebrity wrangling,” said Vanessa Bismarck, a New York-based fashion publicist whose firm, BPCM, represents labels like Preen and Azzaro. She was referring to the deals, trades and exclusive contracts — first-class airfare, hotel rooms for friends, per diems, designer boutique shopping sprees — that miraculously clear a path to the front row for a busy actress. This is especially the case in Paris and Milan, where budgets and appetites for celebrities are that much bigger.
“Their managers and agents realize fashion shows are a money-making opportunity,” said Roger Padilha, whose firm MAO Public Relations represents a number of fashion brands. “If you see an A-list star at a show, that’s because she’s making $100,000 on the deal.”
Yet this season, because of the economy and a general souring on celebrity, many designers are taking a budget approach to V.I.P.’s, paying only for a guest’s outfit for the show and maybe grooming and car-service expenses. A publicist for several New York designers said his clients had been approached by actresses in Los Angeles willing to grace their front rows — provided travel expenses were covered. The designers said no thanks. “Nobody has the money,” the publicist said.
Last season, Ms. Lively, a Gossip Girl, was considered a good get. This week, according to Mr. Padilha, “Sandra Bullock is the get. Even more so than Anne Hathaway.” (Ms. Hathaway, a clotheshorse, made her most recent front-row appearance in January at Giorgio Armani’s haute couture show in Paris. Ms. Bullock is a favorite to win an Oscar for her role in “The Blind Side.”)
The actress Laura Linney is expected to attend Mr. Kors’s show, Mr. Daley said. Also on guest lists, according to KCD, a publicity and show production company, are the actress Zoe Saldana, the singer Maxwell and Alexa Chung, the former MTV host who has her own namesake bag from Mulberry.
Maybe the blunt mercantile aspects of celebrity — your frock for my recognizable face — have turned off the taste-makers. On Wednesday, Mr. Jacobs’s business partner, Robert Duffy, told Style.com that no celebrities were being invited to the designer’s show on Monday, a reversal of years of packing rappers in with famous artists and actors. Mr. Duffy said that “the celebrity thing” had become a bore.
It used to be fun. It used to be glamorous. Anyone who went to a Gianni Versace show in the early ’90s can recall seeing Sting, Sylvester Stallone and Tupac Shakur. Mr. Versace didn’t seek to supplant the editors and socialites, but by displaying an unaffected love for pop culture and pop idolatry he made the role of the front-row celebrity seem new and urgent.
“Some people had a hard time understanding why we invited Prince,” recalled Emanuela Schmeidler, a publicist who worked with Versace for more than 20 years. “Who was this guy?”
Now, like a worn rut in a road, the whole business of celebrity seems so well established as to be old and familiar, and in fashion, hopelessly preoccupied with the new, that makes it worthy of contempt.
Stars, too, find a front-row appearance less of a thrill. They see little reason to put up with the swarming photographers and inane questions from pouncing gossip reporters. Some celebrities strive for loftier images. “Angelina Jolie doesn’t go to the shows,” Ms. Schmeidler observed. “She goes to Haiti.”
Which brings us back to Snooki and the “Jersey Shore” bunch.
Inevitably they will be invited to a fashion show, just as surely as Lindsay Lohan, who only a few years ago was a desired “get” for the front row, will be told by someone’s publicist that there is no place for her now. She’s old business.
“Oh, you know you’re going to see them at something,” Mr. Kors said of the “Jersey” cast. The fashion world scorns anything — camp taste, bad hair — until suddenly it’s in its interest to approve them, and then the idea is genius. Who can say when that will happen? But it will help if “Jersey Shore,” which has just been renewed for a second season, continues to be a hit.
Snooki, through her representatives, was not available for comment.