The Business Behind Fashion's Front Row

As the Paris runway shows start, the mad scramble -- and money -- for celebrity front-row seating hits high gear.

Some of the celebrities with their crossed Louboutined legs in the front row who are hitting the Paris fashion shows (which run until Oct. 3) and already have shown up in Milan and New York might actually be fans of the brands, but spoiler alert: Few stars are attending just for the love of it anymore. There's a reason A-listers plant their fashionable fannies at fashion shows (center front is the celebrity zone; editors get side front seats). It's all about green -- and we're not talking the color of the season. Behind every Birkin bag is an agenda -- and most are negotiated in advance, in a more corporate way than ever before. With major Hollywood talent agencies hiring personal appearance agents to negotiate these deals, stars promoting fashion shows have become a business similar to Olympians endorsing cereal.

The hierarchy starts with ingenues who clamor merely to attend and begin establishing their red-carpet bona fides -- witness Girls' Allison Williams at Prabal Gurung and Peter Som in New York -- and continues upward to six-figure arrangements used by designers to entice celebrities to ring their runways, including any combination of cash, clothes and travel that can feature the use of corporate jets such as those of LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior. (Of course, no matter how good the payday, stars won't attend a show that doesn't enhance their image.)

Retailer and stylist Cameron Silver, who attends the European shows, is the rare insider who would go on record about the practice, which brands have taken pains to "no comment" on for a good 25 years. "They fly them out and put them up," Silver tells THR, "and offer a nice Paris or Milan holiday, unless they're contractually obliged to attend. Others pay them an appearance fee."

At the top of the pay scale is Rihanna -- one British publication reports she was paid about $97,500 to attend Karl Lagerfeld's fall 2012 show in Paris. A wild rumor that Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain was paid $800,000 to do photo ops at last year's Armani Prive show -- Armani loyalists include Anne Hathaway and Cate Blanchett -- was denied by reps, but a stylist insider says, "Of course, a lot of shows do pay, some more than others -- $800,000 is totally exaggerated." (The fee was likely closer to $80,000.) Fashionista. com published a fee list in 2010 indicating Beyonce received up to $100,000 for a front-row perch and pegging Blake Lively and Kim Kardashian in the $50,000 range -- which, along with Chloe Sevigny's $65,000, per the U.K. pub, is in keeping with industry averages.

High-end deals are usually exclusive; if a star goes to just one show (like Jennifer Lawrence, seated next to Harvey Weinstein, at Dior in July), bank on them having been paid in kind or as part of an ad contract requiring their attendance. Still, some actresses come on their own steam just for the PR hit and chance to play dress-up (though those dresses will be messengered back the next morning, no keepsies allowed).

At New York's Fashion Week, which ended Sept. 13, the credo "If the designer didn't pay, the celebrities stayed away" seemed well in place, with few stars spotted anywhere. That is until Calvin Klein's show, where a slew of such boldface names as Amy Adams, Emma Stone and Diane Kruger suggested either rabid allegiance or some sort of financial transaction.

Paris is more of an exercise in contractual -- or social -- obligation. Don't be surprised to spot some Dior faces (Marion Cotillard, Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis or Charlize Theron) in the label's front row. Expect Salma Hayek at the hottest show, the first women's collection by YSL's new creative director Hedi Slimane, in support of husband Francois-Henri Pinault, who runs parent company PPR. Chanel is the exception to every rule: Longtime Lagerfeld fans -- Blanchett, Kirsten Dunst, Audrey Tautou and Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol's Lea Seydoux -- would no doubt give obeisance regardless of pay. You don't get to wear Chanel unless you're part of Lagerfeld's famille.

While the days of cash on demand (with a stack for the agent or publicist) have waned, kudos are still given to those who say they refrain from front-row deals, from Angelina Jolie to Nicole Kidman, who is said to also pay for all her clothes. Brand muses and designer pals (such as Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones with Michael Kors) remain above reproach. As awards season kicks off, count on most A-list bods-in-seats being paid for, as what used to be fashion favors has come out of the closet as a hardcore business.

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