An insider's guide to the front row of the fashion shows

By: theguardian


ShoesandDrama.com | Fashion Week front row personalities

From Andy Warhol to Alexa Chung, the catwalk front row offers a snapshot of any era’s biggest stars. With personal recollections from everyone from David Bailey to Daisy Lowe, we get an insiders’ history of the ‘frow’


“So, where are you sitting?” asks the fashion editor.

“Oh, ummm,” murmurs the non-fashion editor, scowling at their ticket, as if it is the first time they have given the matter any thought, any thought at all. “I think I’m in, er, the fifth row.”

“Right. I’m in the front row,” comes the breezy response. “Meet after the show?”

This seemingly innocuous exchange is the traditional precursor to every fashion show, between fashion editors and their underlings, between underlings and their underlings, and even between genuine friends, and it is one fraught with ulterior meaning. “Where are you sitting?” is easily the most asked question during the season, beating even “Where did you buy that?” and “Did you get a discount?” This is because it is not a question: it is a statement of importance and a means of humiliating others. What the above exchange really means, when translated from fashionese, is:

“So, how important are you?”

“Er, not very.”

“Well I am! Ta ta!”

Thanks to films such as The Devil Wears Prada and Prêt-à-Porter, even people outside the fashion world are vaguely aware of the importance placed on the front row. But because both of those films were terrible and written by people who had apparently never been to a fashion show, they didn’t really explain why that is, how it works, and what it feels like to be cast out from the front row. Now I have been to many fashion shows, and I have been cast out many times, so I can probably elucidate this issue better than Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.

As with most things in the fashion world, the issue is simultaneously extremely superficial while having a hint of a useful function. The seating is planned by a designer’s publicist and it is as hierarchical as the most feudal of medieval courts. The row in which you are placed is a public statement, to you as well as to your colleagues, of how important the designer thinks you and your publication are. Thus, the front row is reserved for the most important fashion editors (US Vogue’s Anna Wintour, the New York Times’s Cathy Horyn, the International Herald Tribune’s Suzy Menkes, British Vogue’s Alexandra Shulman) and, of course, the celebrities. Second row is for the slightly less important, such as newspaper fashion editors, deputy editors of international fashion magazines and the celebrities’ partners and children (kids are cute and all but they don’t deserve valuable front-row real estate). Third row is for fashion deputies and high-profile stylists. Fourth row and beyond is pretty much fashion Siberia.

I spent more than eight years covering fashion shows for the Guardian, meaning I spent 12 weeks a year, or 96 weeks of my life, dealing with the whole “So … where are you sitting?” issue. I have seen 30-year-old women screaming at hapless publicists because their ticket has “row 3″ written on it. I have seen 40-year-old men refuse to attend a show because they are not in the front row – even though their publication has spent money flying them to Milan specifically to attend that show. I have seen hugely respected editors lie and pretend they lost their ticket but yes, honestly, that girl over there told them to sit in the front row.

Then there’s the obnoxiousness of those who do have front-row tickets. As they take their seat, they gloat with the self-conscious pride of those who turn left to sit in first class on a plane. They’ll often stand in front of their seat for as long as possible, pretending to talk to passersby. Some “frow-ers”, as the blogs refer to them (nobody in the front row would stoop to using this term themselves), will make a big deal about having to turn in their seats to talk to their underlings; others will suddenly develop blindness to anyone who is not further down the row.

As I said, there is a point to all this, the point being that editors are desperately fighting for reassurance that their publication still matters, even as the publishing industry collapses around them; which seat they are given has become the easiest way to get that. But as I also said, there is a truckload of superficiality and ego going on, too.

It’s easy to mock this kind of behaviour and for years, I did, from my seat in the seventh row. Honestly, all this fuss over a chair? Tchuh. Thank goodness I was so grounded, I preened. But slowly, over the years, the people who fixed the seating began to accept that maybe I wasn’t Jess Cartner-Morley’s charity case and moved me up the rows. One year I crossed the fourth-row boundary. The next year I was deemed worthy of the second row. And then, after eight years, I opened my fashion show tickets and saw the magical words: “Row 1″.

“So,” I said, turning to my colleague and friend with a glittering smile, “where are you sitting?”


60s: David Bailey, photographer

David Bailey and his then wife Catherine Deneuve at a show in December 1965

David Bailey and his then wife Catherine Deneuve at the first Annacat Fashion Show in December 1965. Photograph: Lichfield/Getty Images

When I started in the late 60s, I worked as an assistant to John French and he used to send us to all the fashion shows. I was 19 or 20 and it was incredibly boring – we used to take turns nudging each other to try to stay awake. The early ones had about 350 frocks, with girls holding up numbers [so buyers could identify the outfit]. Fashion shows weren’t meant to be entertaining then.

I went to Paris, London and Rome. Paris was more serious. In London, it was younger. I went to Mary Quant’s – which is the only one I remember having music – because I was with Jean [Shrimpton] at the time and she was in the show. That was unusual. Back then, different girls did shows and photography. There was a snobbery towards the catwalk models and they got paid peanuts compared with the photographic models. Quant was one of the first to change that.

I first saw Saint Laurent’s work when he was at Dior, and it knocked me out. I thought he was the best – well, he was the best. He was about style rather than fashion. I was never that enamoured with fashion – I did it because it was the only way to be creative – but Saint Laurent you could wear for ever. Chanel was good, too – I went to those shows because I used to shoot the collection for American Vogue.

The only people that I would have known at a show like this would have been [Diana] Vreeland [Vogue's editor-in-chief], Alexander Liberman [editorial director of Condé Nast], maybe [the photographer Richard] Avedon. There wouldn’t have been many celebrities. I wasn’t really a party person, so I never did all that backstage stuff. I did go to some elegant American Vogue dinners in Paris and sometimes Yves would have a dinner at his house, which was great; his house was amazing. I think he let me shoot there later with Grace Coddington, who was then the fashion editor of British Vogue.

I went to fewer and fewer shows as the 60s went on. The only ones I have gone to regularly since then were John Galliano’s when he was at Dior – they were like theatre.

• What they wore: Mary Quant, Yves Saint Laurent, Biba.

• What they drank: Chianti.

• What they listened to: The Beatles, the Stones, Motown.

• Where they partied: The Flamingo Club.


70s: Celia Birtwell, designer

Celia Birtwell at an Ossie Clark fashion show, London 1970

Celia Birtwell (just left of model) at an Ossie Clark fashion show, London 1970 Photograph: Paris Match via Getty Images

Ossie’s shows were thrilling events. The show started really late – a very 70s thing, I guess – it was like a happening, really. There was always a celebration afterwards. It was a bit chaotic and unpredictable, but all the better for it. Ossie insisted on music. He was always bringing home LPs and playing them very loudly [Clark and Birtwell were married from 1969 to 1974]. A bit of a rock star himself, he hung around with the Stones and the Beatles. They might well have been at this show. Anyone who was anyone would have been there.

Shows that I went to before this were stiff and formal affairs. This was a very relaxed period. We were all quite naive. Selling was not high on the agenda. It was about showing off with beautiful girls. The models wouldn’t walk down the runway – they would dance, cavort. I can’t remember the name of the girl in this picture but he always used the same models – Pattie Boyd, Amanda Lear.

The designs were about freedom after the cotton poplin of the early 60s. I worked on the prints here. There were trellises with Michaelmas daisies and a patchwork. Working with Ossie, I would print on different fabrics – chiffon, crêpe de chine, jersey – and give them to him and let him choose. We wouldn’t speak much about it but I would often go into the studio when he was designing and watch the design grow, so I would have already seen these dresses.

I have not been to many fashion shows other than Ossie’s. I always go to the [Central] St Martins one now, because my friends teach there and it reminds me of fashion as something about talent, not just money. I like the craziness, that it’s all quite unwearable. The ideas are there and there’s something bohemian about that.

• What they wore: Ossie Clark, Bill Gibb, Halston.

• What they drank: Babycham.

• What they listened to: The Stones, Elton John, David Bowie.

• Where they partied: Tramp.


80s: Marie Helvin, model

Marie Helvin (far left) at an Emanuel ­fashion show, 1985, with Sara Giles, Olivia Harrison, Barbara Bach, Ringo Starr and Michael Aspel. Photograph: Alan Davidson

Marie Helvin (far left) at an Emanuel ­fashion show, 1985, with Sara Giles, Olivia Harrison, Barbara Bach, Ringo Starr and Michael Aspel. Photograph: Alan Davidson


This was a charity fashion show, with clothes by Emanuel [husband and wife David and Elizabeth Emanuel]. At that time, they could pull this kind of crowd: Ringo Starr and his wife Barbara Bach, Olivia Harrison. It’s very London. I doubt you would have Michael Aspel on the front row at Saint Laurent in Paris, but he was big on TV then. Sara Giles, sitting next to me, was a fashion editor at Tatler.

The music might have been Vangelis, the composer of Chariots Of Fire. He was a good friend of Elizabeth Emanuel. They worked with Mike Batt as well; he did classical music but also wrote the theme to the Wombles.

The Emanuels made their name designing Princess Diana’s wedding dress. That was their look – pretty, floaty ballgowns. I mean, who has a ballgown in their closet these days? I remember my clothes by the men I was going out with at the time. The dress I’m wearing here was after I left [David] Bailey [to whom Helvin was married until 1983]. I was with Mark [Shand, the travel writer] at this point. I designed it and got my friend Nadia Lavelle, who owned the store Spaghetti, to make it with me.

The 80s were all about money. Power and money were the most important thing and that was exciting to be around. I don’t think that the clothes were particularly fantastic, though.

I never liked going to fashion shows. I did lots of runway shows as a model and I liked the attention when I was working, but not when I was sitting watching. I was never able to enjoy myself with a camera in my face. The only time I liked it was when I was paid. Designers used to do that, especially in Italy, but once I got flown to Japan first-class for two days just to go to a show. You could also pick out any pieces you wanted from the collection. It wasn’t just me doing it – girls were being flown all over the world.

I haven’t been to a show in years, but the best one I saw was the Alexander McQueen show where the models walked on water [spring/summer 1997]. Isabella Blow gave me and Jerry [Hall] tickets and I was so glad I forced myself to go. It was just unbelievable. That was the beginning of fashion shows as spectacle. Before then, it had been straight runway.

• What they wore: Christian Lacroix, Bruce Oldfield, Katharine Hamnett.

• What they drank: Harvey Wallbanger.

• What they listened to: Wham!, Bananarama, Prince.

• Where they partied: Annabel’s.


90s: Meg Matthews, interior designer

Meg Matthews, Patsy Kensit, Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant at Versace, 1997. Photograph: REX/Mark Large/Daily Mail

Meg Matthews, Patsy Kensit, Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant at Versace, 1997. Photograph: REX/Mark Large/Daily Mail

I went to a lot of fashion shows in the 90s, but this Versace show in 1997 was the most memorable. Everyone was there – Liz Hurley, Hugh Grant, Courtney Love. I had my mouth wide open throughout. They sent a private jet and when I got to Milan I didn’t even have to walk through customs. I stayed at the Four Seasons and there was a dressmaker in my room with a rail of clothes. I chose a grey dress. They usually give you stuff to wear – if you look at pictures of the front row now, people are all wearing clothes by the designer they’re watching.

They think about the seating plan and always sit you next to someone you know, which is good. I wouldn’t want to sit next to a complete stranger. I went to a lot of shows with my friend [party organiser] Fran Cutler at the time – particularly Stella McCartney. I enjoyed going to them because I was this little girl from Norfolk who was passionate about fashion. I worked at Joseph as manager but I would eat beans on toast for two months to save for one piece of clothing.

I went to all of John Galliano’s, until I worked for Peta [Matthews is celebrity liaison officer for the animal rights organisation], then the fur got to me. I went to Dior and Alexander McQueen as well. They were the best two designers of their generation and they had me front row, but Closer magazine was always dissing my outfit. I hated every minute of the paparazzi part of it, when you arrive at the shows and 40 people are shouting your name. It’s daunting.

If a really good friend like Jasper Conran or Vivienne Westwood asks me now, then I’ll go, but my priorities have changed. Anais [Matthews' daughter with Noel Gallagher] is signed as a model but she’s not walking down a catwalk any time soon – she’s 13. She was front row at Moschino in February, but she did the shows with me when she was little. She went to the Dior show at Versailles when she was five, but she doesn’t care. She was just with her mum; she could have been sitting anywhere.

• What they wore: Versace, Matthew Williamson, Ghost.

• What they drank: Pommery Pop champagne.

• What they listened to: Blur, Pulp, the Small Faces.

• Where they partied: the Met Bar.


00s: Carine Roitfeld, editor

Carine Roitfeld (second from right) at Calvin Klein in 2009 with, from left, Jamie Dornan, Eva Mendes, Kerry Washington, Rose Byrne, Thandie Newton and Alexandra Shulman Photograph: Rex Features

Carine Roitfeld (second from right) at Calvin Klein in 2009 with, from left, Jamie Dornan, Eva Mendes, Kerry Washington, Rose Byrne, Thandie Newton and Alexandra Shulman Photograph: Rex Features

When I first started going to shows in Paris, I remember waiting outside, not getting in, and then the standing tickets when I was still an assistant. It was so exciting. I remember a Gaultier show where people outside were desperate to get in. They were fighting, like it was a Rolling Stones concert, not a fashion show. I think about that now when I do 11 shows in one day.

This was while I was still working at Vogue Paris [Roitfeld was the editor-in-chief of the magazine from 2001 to 2011]. Now I sit with the American press [Roitfeld edits CR, a magazine based in New York], so I have a totally different view of the show. They rarely start on time, so you’re used to being late. Marc Jacobs is the only one where it’s a bit stressful. He has started on the dot since he had a very late show in 2007.

Celebrities have been there since I started going to shows. It makes things more fun. I met Eva Mendes [pictured here to the left of Roitfeld] and we got on very well. They are like oxygen – they bring energy.

The number of bloggers really grew in this decade. It means a bit of a routine before you go in. It’s a bit sad because that has become more important than the show, but it’s best to enjoy it and smile. They’re working hard outside, sometimes in the rain, to get their picture.

You don’t have to wear heels on the front row, but people see the shoes first so you have to think about them. A pair of high heels gives you attitude. I wear them so much they are like part of my leg. Otherwise, I keep my uniform simple – a pencil skirt, a jumper – it’s a kind of armour.

I am leaving to go on the latest round of shows. I will be on the road for two weeks but I pack light – I only have two bags. I have family and friends all over the world so I get to see Tom Ford in London, my kids in New York.

• What they wore: Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Balenciaga.

• What they drank: Bollinger.

• What they listened to: The Neptunes, Razorlight, Destiny’s Child.

• Where they partied: Fabric.
• Madameoiselle C is released in cinemas 20 September and available on DVD and download from 28 October.


2013: Daisy Lowe, model

Daisy Lowe (far right) at Topshop Unique, 2013, with, from left, Olivia Palermo, Michael Polish and Kate Bosworth (centre), Louis Tomlinson, Eleanor Calder and Pixie Geldof. Photograph: Getty Images

Daisy Lowe (far right) at Topshop Unique, 2013, with, from left, Olivia Palermo, Michael Polish and Kate Bosworth (centre), Louis Tomlinson, Eleanor Calder and Pixie Geldof. Photograph: Getty purchase viagra in canada Images

The first show I went to was Julien Macdonald, when I was 14 or 15. I went with my mum and remember thinking it was really cool and glamorous – I loved the power the women had as they walked. I think Naomi Campbell was in it, which was thrilling. This experience was in my head the first time I walked in a show – you’re terrified but you get a rush. You finish and you want to do it again. It’s really lovely when you’re watching, though, because you don’t have that fear.

This was my favourite Topshop show so far. I’m next to Pixie [Geldof] but Demi Lovato [the teenage pop star] is on the other side, which I didn’t realise at the time. My sister is a huge One Direction fan but I chickened out of getting my picture taken with Louis Tomlinson. I have been in the industry for seven years, so I usually know quite a lot of people. Over the season, you see the same people every day which is quite comforting. You can have a laugh.

You’re usually sent clothes to wear. The jacket and trousers I’m wearing here are Topshop Unique. You usually have to give everything back but I got to keep these because I did a shoot in them, too. The most amazing thing I have worn was a piece with the cone boobs and see-through sides from the Jean Paul Gaultier archive. I felt like I was the perfume bottle.

There’s always a massive rush to get in. Then we cram on to these little benches and there’s lots of photographs taken. My retinas are often ruined for a while – it can be really embarrassing when people think you’re ignoring them but you actually can’t see them. It used to terrify me. It can catch you off guard but I know what I’m in for now. You just make sure you cross your legs if you’re wearing a short skirt.

I hope to go to Christopher Kane this time, and Topshop. I’d also like to go to Viktor & Rolf, Jean Paul Gaultier. The Paris fashion week shows are always something to behold. Louis Vuitton’s are out of this world. But the craziest front row experience I have had was at Matthew Williamson in 2007: Prince performed and then sat down one person away from me. I had him in my line of vision for the whole show.

• What they wore: Topshop Unique, Christopher Kane, Céline.

• What they drank: Vitamin Water.

• What they listened to: The xx, Angel Haze, Zebra Katz.

• Where they partied: Shoreditch House.


2020s: Hadley Freeman looks into her crystal ball

Bee Shaffer Anna Wintour’s daughter and already a regular frow-er in her 20s. Will be editing one of the Vogues (French, possibly) and wearing head-to-toe vintage Oscar de la Renta with Chanel sunglasses.

Julia Restoin Roitfeld Daughter of Carine Roitfeld, the former editor of French Vogue and general fashion badass. Will be editing the most cutting-edge fashion webzine and wearing vintage Alaïa.

Margherita Missoni The youngest and very photogenic member of the Missoni tribe, Margherita is already a favourite of fashion magazines and bloggers. By 2020, she will be comfortably ensconced in her favourite front-row seat, wearing her usual uniform of hippy-chic long Missoni dresses.

Harper Beckham Harper will have reached the grand old age of nine by 2020, and already she will know the front row better than other kids her age know their dolls’ house. She will, of course, be wearing her mother Victoria’s new range for children but will also sport Saint Laurent, Chloé and Chanel, all designed specially for her.

Blue Ivy Carter Another youngster, Blue Ivy will be eight in 2020 but will have developed a taste for fashion that occasionally outshines even her parents. From her mother, Beyoncé, she’ll know how to work big, gorgeous prints. From her father, Jay Z, she will have inherited a fearless attitude to accessorising. Expect to see her in lots of Kenzo.

Apple Martin A teenage Apple will be there to keep an eye on little Blue Ivy. Like her mother, Gwyneth Paltrow, Apple favours a mix of deeply-boring-I-mean-classic clothes from old-school designers such as Armani and Calvin Klein, mixed with decidedly more outre offerings. Her extensive wardrobe of vintage Tom Ford will be the envy of teenage bloggers around the world.

North West The daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West will be the youngest member of the front row. Organisers will have to work overtime to figure out where to place little North (never near Blue Ivy or Apple), but the paparazzi coverage she brings will make her worth it. She will be wearing dresses made of diamonds, designed by her dad.