Pinching Pennies: Designer Runways Take Budget Route

It’s chic to be fashionably frugal. While fashion spectacles still can run over $500,000, the days of extravagant spending are more or less on the wane.

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And while some houses will mount the same extravaganzas they always do, producers assure that suppliers will all have been squeezed for the best possible deal, from the guy who rents lighting equipment to models to hair and makeup artists. Negotiation is now the name of the game.

Some of the changes might go unnoticed. Instead of velour backdrops or seat cushions, a design house might go for cotton. Makeup artists and hairstylists may be asked to forgo having assistants. Or models might be asked to show up one hour before the show instead of three.

"It went from, ‘I want this. Let’s have it,’ to, ‘This is as high as we’ll go,’" said the show producer. "The booker for Gisele doesn’t negotiate much, but models who aren’t superstars are negotiated all the time."

To wit: One top modeling agent, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the top models are still generating the bucks. "When a house wants the top girls, they’re willing to spend. It’s become a different story for the less well-known faces. There’s some negotiating going on there."

Marco Macchi, director of Milan’s Riccardo Gay agency, which currently manages about 20 girls, said models’ salaries have been on the decline since the heyday of 1999 and 2000. He estimates that overall salaries have dropped about 30 to 40 percent from those swinging years.

He noted, however, the fashion houses still vie for the fresh faces, even if only the big houses have the resources to hire the ultrafamous.

"The rest of the companies have budgets that are continually shrinking," he said. "That forces them to use new girls that cost less."

"Certainly there are lower budgets," said a Milan-based hair and makeup agency that will do 30 fashion shows there. "When it comes time for [fashion houses] to give us their deposit, we discover that they’ve found some other solution."

Enzo Di Sarli, who runs Milan-based makeup and hair agency Face to Face, which counts clients such as Philosophy by Alberta Ferretti and Trussardi, said the situation isn’t nearly as dire. He thinks most fashion houses are cutting costs on internal waste like catering, while maintaining image-related expenses for shows.
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