Ladies Buy Design: As Celebs Wane, Socialites Rule Front Row

Socialites are returning to the front rows of New York’s runway shows, seizing not only the best seats but the glare of the spotlight that goes with them.

Rows and rows of socials at the Calvin Klein show

Rows and rows of socials at the Calvin Klein show.

Photo By WWD Staff

NEW YORK — The Ladies are back.

After a few seasons when celebrities as superfluous as Tara Reid and Kelly Osbourne were landing front-row seats at the New York shows, this fall socialites are reclaiming them — and the attention of the paparazzi’s flashbulbs, too.

The New York Times might think fashion has lost its cool, but the Ladies would argue otherwise. Yes, they’ve made their way back to favorite designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors, Tuleh and Narciso Rodriguez, but also to those slowly building a socialite clientele, like Proenza Schouler, Behnaz Sarafpour, Douglas Hannant and Peter Som.

It seems even young designers these days are interested in creating the scenes of Bill Blass in his heyday, with all the swans in the front row. And it’s not just about the flashbulbs; clearly they realize it’s good business, too.

Not only that, while celebrities are content to accept truckloads of freebies and this season are demanding up to $25,000 for their front-row appearances, these Ladies actually buy what they wear, hire their own Town Cars and show up for free. After all, many of them aren’t just Ladies Who Lunch but have strong ties to the business side of the industry.

And they’re coming out in droves. At Klein’s show Tuesday night, for example, the socialites ran deep and wide: 10 across in the front row (Jennifer Creel, Anne Grauso and Gigi Mortimer among them), seven across in the second (such as Olivia Chantecaille, Hope Atherton and Fernanda Niven), and four in row three (Eliza Reed Bolen and Celerie Kemble included). Meanwhile, the only apparent celebrity in the front row was Sarah Wynter, who, let’s face it, is no Cynthia Nixon.

Part of the excitement for the Ladies is the curiosity factor. Muffie Potter Aston went along to Klein just to see what first-timer Francisco Costa could do. “Calvin Klein is a legend and that’s a really hard legacy to uphold,” said Aston, adding she tries to check out one new designer a season. (This season’s was Catherine Malandrino.) “I was interested to see what Costa could do.”
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