Daily Context: What a Fashion Show Actually Costs

Starting Thursday, designers will unveil their Fall 2011 collections at New York Fashion Week. While each will undoubtedly take time to discuss his or her inspirations, few will discuss how much it all costs.

Whether a fashion house is showing in one of the official Mercedes Benz Lincoln Center tents or at an off-site venue, presenting at Fashion Week is a major expense. The week has morphed from a trade show for a select group of editors and buyers to a full-on marketing blitz where consumers can watch a designer’s show live on the Web and, in some cases, buy clothes directly off the runway. As such, it begins to become clear why so many designers find it necessary to spend big.

The Behind-the-Scenes Costs:
To get a sense of how much designers are doling out, it’s best to start from the ground up — everything costs money: the venue, the lights, the security, the caterers, the public relations firm making sure all of the right people are in attendance, the celebrity often being paid to sit front row. Stylists, who put the looks together get between $5,000 to $20,000 per day; Teams of makeup artists and hair stylists charge from $5,000 to $100,000 per show. Then there are also pre-show maestros like fashion show producers and model casters. Interestingly, unless designers are using models with a high star wattage, models are one thing designers often don’t pay for since they often volunteer for exposure (or free clothes).
Presentations vs. Runway Shows:
It's easy to see why increasing numbers of designers are opting out of formal runway shows and instead opting for presentations -- a more informal set-up where models stand still and guests get to wander around at their leisure. A presentation can still cost upwards of $10,000, but more freewheeling established designers have been known to spend millions for a single runway show.
The four venues at Lincoln Center, managed by IMG, range between $15,000 for the Box space up to $50,000 for the largest venue, the Tent. The Box, introduced last season, has become a sought-after presentation venue for its affordability (designers like Timo Weiland and Behnaz Sarafpour are showing there this season). Peter Levy, SVP and Managing Director of IMG Fashion Worldwide says, “It is likely chosen as a solution because of its flexibility and ease of reinvention, although I’m sure cost is a partial consideration for some.”
How Designers Are Making It Work: 
Designer Rachel Antonoff opts each season for a non-traditional presentation: This year’s has a school dance theme and is taking place in LaGuardia High School’s gymnasium. “It’s pretty stressful working with a small budget,” says Antonoff. “I want to bring people into a world and create something editorial and dreamy. It’s not easy.” Antonoff cuts costs by doing her own model castings, lookbook shoots, location scouting, show production and press. Interns, friends and Antonoff’s mother, who she says “literally helps twenty-four-seven,” lend a hand to make it all happen. 
Besides volunteer help, many fashion houses are increasingly bringing on corporate sponsors to help cushion the financial blow. Two examples from this season: Mercedes Benz is subsidizing the Hervé Léger show and Range Rover has signed on to support Marchesa. M.A.C. Cosmetics and Milk Studios are entering into their fourth season sponsoring a slew of shows including Altuzarra and Erin Fetherston. Mazdack Rassi, co-founder and creative director of Milk Studios says, "We had designers coming to us saying they couldn't afford to show,” when the initiative launched in the doldrums of the recession in 2009. A free venue including lighting, sound, makeup artists, catering, and live-streaming has made MAC & Milk one of the most coveted fashion week sponsorships. 
And while the fashion world is still recovering from the sting of the downturn, there are glimmers of hope this season that it is rediscovering its footing. Band of Outsiders, Elie Tahari and Honor are making the move this season from less costly presentations to more costly runway shows. Then there are designers like Tommy Hilfiger, who is showing his men’s and women’s lines separately for the first time (ca-ching!). The former is being shown at the priciest of the Lincoln Center venues, while the latter is being presented at trendy downtown eatery The Lion. 
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