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Fashion's secret of celebrity front row

Designer Nicole Farhi has shed light on one of fashion's darkest secrets: the celebrities adorning the front row of fashion shows are not always there just for the love of haute couture. Sometimes they are paid to turn up.

Knowing that they can get publicity by having a star photographed on the front row of a show, some fashion houses or their PR agents will pay tens of thousands for an appearance.

While rumours about the practice have long circulated, those involved have declined to comment publicly. But Ms Farhi, the French-born, UK-based couturier, has become the first major designer to talk openly about it.

In an outspoken condemnation of the tactic, she says: "It is so unprofessional. I have never paid a celebrity and I will never do it. It's stupid."

Ms Farhi, 65, added that she was determined to expose the practice. Other fashion insiders admitted that front-row appearance fees were becoming increasingly common, but were reluctant to discuss them openly. One said: "It would be professional suicide for me to say anything. I wouldn't be able to tell you how much is paid to whom. It's all a bit cloak and dagger."

Some fashion figures, however, backed Ms Farhi. Abe Gurko, the head of Abe, a fashion talent services and PR company in New York, said: "There is no doubt that it has evolved quickly, as recently as in the past three years. Once word got out that people were being paid, everyone jumped on the bandwagon. The demands kept coming.

"I had a manager say 'she will do it for $125,000 (€94,653).' I said, 'have a nice day'."

"The most I paid was about 18 months ago: $25,000 (€18,930) for flights for two people for a European star, the hotel, clothes, make-up, the car and driver for three days."

He stressed, however, that when it came to appearance fees, "I wouldn't give a dime".

He added: "All this back-room dealing cheapens the whole business. And I don't think it's going to stop."

Sunday Independent