Paparazzi's Paradise: Clothes Take Backseat To Celebrity Photo Ops

The debate over whether front-row celebrities are good or bad for designers continues, as well as whether there are enough A-listers to keep the buzz.

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NEW YORK — Imagine receiving a fashion show invite featuring a "No Celebrities" disclaimer.

It is increasingly looking like a fantasy. By Tuesday, halfway through fashion week, the scene inside the tents and in off-site venues had struck a note too familiar. Show after show, celebrity appearances have triggered a frenzy with photographers shouting "Eva, look back!", "Lindsay, this way!" or simply "Paris, Paris, Paris!"

Add to them a bevy of hangers-on who push into the mix to get a celebrity snap and autograph, and the shows have become a ruckus worthy of the World Wrestling Federation.

"It's absolutely fascinating," Simon Doonan, Barneys New York's creative director, said Tuesday. "It generates excitement, but it's obscuring the need to design and produce amazing product. So many shows are now judged on how many celebrities a designer can get."

In other words, more than ever, it's all about the photo op.

And why shouldn't it be? After all, even designers admit that up to 80 percent of their sales have been booked long before fashion week, via their increasingly important pre-collections. It makes the shows the cherry on the icing on the cake.

No wonder designers are spending more effort — and money — to lure celebrities. Rumors of celebrity payments keep on appearing each season, and are subsequently killed by designer publicists. Not one person is willing to go on the record about payment, but word has it that some New York designers pay celebrities $10,000 and up for front-row appearances in addition to first-class flights into New York and top-notch accommodations. It would almost seem more lucrative to pack up the tents and set them up somewhere in Hollywood.

Luca Luca's Luca Orlandi on Sunday tapped Mary J. Blige; Brandy; Ashanti; Venus and Serena Williams; Paris Hilton; Kelly Osbourne; Anne Hathaway; Carmen Electra; Amerie; Damon Dash and his wife, Rachel Roy, and Cam'ron for his front row. Oscar de la Renta's was also graced by the Williams sisters, as well as Donald and Melania Trump, Kerry Washington of "Boston Legal" and Eva Longoria of "Desperate Housewives" (interestingly, there's been no sign of the show's fashion plate Teri Hatcher). Scarlett Johansson not only appeared at Narciso Rodriguez on Tuesday night, she even walked the runway for Tara Subkoff at Imitation of Christ. Rachel Weisz, riding raves for her performance in "The Constant Gardener," set the room alight Tuesday at Rodriguez, who also drew Claire Danes and Erika Christensen.
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