Viewing Fashion Week from the not-so-cheap seats

At fall Fashion Week , Beyoncé (left) and her sister, Solange Knowles, caught the preview of Vera Wang's spring collection.
At fall Fashion Week , Beyoncé (left) and her sister, Solange Knowles, caught the preview of Vera Wang's spring collection. (DONALD TRAILL / Associated Press, File)
Posted: February 05, 2012

New York Fashion Week insiders may get invitations to runway shows for free, but folks who are willing to pay definitely have a more posh experience.

When Mercedes-Benz's twice-a-year fashion-palooza begins Thursday, style reporters, newspaper and magazine editors, specialty store buyers, and models will elbow their way through crowds of celebrity bottlenecks to their seats. Paying invitation-holders will be escorted to primo vantage points, handed cocktails, and allowed to chat with designers.

Here is where Eagles quarterback Michael Vick - who is reportedly on the lookout for NYFW invites - should start taking notes.

Five years ago, American Express began offering its Gold, Platinum, and Centurion cardholders access to the American Express Skybox. The 10-row skybox sits perched above Lincoln Center's two major runways and has its own entry and exits. That means watchers there don't have to wait in the winding lines.

Once seated in comfy chairs under a sparkling chandelier, skyboxers get an unobstructed view of the runway. They don't have to crane their necks to see shoes.

And after the presentations, experts - think celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe and Neiman Marcus' fashion director, Ken Downing - chat with the audience about coming trends. That's got to be better than chasing experts down with notebook in hand.

"It's a really great way for us to offer our customers a complete New York Fashion Week experience," said Caitlin Lowie, director of corporate affairs and communications at American Express.

Amex also offers tickets to emerging-designer shows in the Meatpacking District's Milk Studios. And all Amex members - even your basic greenies - can buy tickets to a special cardmembers-only Tommy Hilfiger show. This year Amex has approximately 700 runway packages ranging from $50 to $250.

Paying for exclusive access to industry-insider-only events is catching on.

One tour company, Novel Experiences, offers packages to the Grammy Awards, the Cannes Film Festival, star-studded movie premieres, and, of course, New York Fashion Week. The company is so exclusive, it doesn't talk to the media. It isn't trying to attract a general audience, the company says.

But most of these businesses want a general audience - after all, those are the B- and C-listers who have to pay for the experience. But here is the rub: The tour companies are not paying for the invitations because they are free.

Most folks get invited to runway shows because they are "friends" of the designer or the public relations firm staging the show. Getting an invitation to the runway show is just a perk. What they do with it is their business.

Selling the invitation for charity is one option. At a recent Flyers Wives Fashion Show, a New York Fashion Week package was auctioned off for more than $7,000. The package included a tour of Nicole Miller's showroom, two tickets to the runway show, a $1,000 Nicole Miller Philadelphia gift certificate, and a dinner for two at Buddakan.

Mary K. Dougherty, who owns the Nicole Miller Philadelphia boutiques, gets a number of invitations every season to the Nicole Miller runway show. This year, she decided to donate two of them to the Comcast Spectator Charities for the auction.

"The folks who set out to win this fashion package have a particular interest in fashion, and they fetch the higher bids," Dougherty said. "But it's a great way to give back because people can't get these packages just anywhere."

Others use their coveted invitations on a strictly for-profit basis.

This year, the Carlyle hotel introduced an "Inside Haute" package. The $6,000 package includes cocktails with designer Zac Posen and lunch with Donna Karan.

The hotel is working in conjunction with Kathleen Beckett, a former editor at Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and Elle magazine.

The Carlyle does not sponsor Fashion Week, but connections are connections, and it was able to secure invites for its customers to Philadelphia-based designer Ralph Rucci's fall runway show, as well as an invitation to the show by celebrity red-carpet designer J. Mendel. The package includes meals and a chauffeured car service.

Maybe paying for access is worth it. Working New York Fashion Week as a journalist isn't as glamorous as any of these packages.

Sigh.

We get what we pay for.


Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704, ewellington@phillynews.com,

or @ewellingtonphl on Twitter.

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