Nicole Farhi: Celebrities are paid to be on fashion front rows
The 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 generate publicity by having a star photographed on the front row of a show, some fashion houses or their public relations agents will pay tens of thousands of pounds for an appearance.
Whilst rumours about the practice have circulated among fashion insiders in recent years, those involved have declined to comment publicly.
But now Farhi, the French-born, London-based couturier, has become the first major designer to talk openly about it.
In an outspoken condemnation of the tactic, she tells The Sunday Telegraph's Stella magazine: "It is so unprofessional. I have never paid a celebrity and I will never do it. It's stupid.
"What do they show you in the papers after a fashion show? Not the clothes, but the celebrities who are being paid to sit at the show."
Farhi, 65, added that she was determined to expose the practice, despite knowing she would face the fury of many in the industry.
She says in the interview, to be published next weekend: "They will all hate me for it. I don't give a ---- because I think it is abominable."
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."
Another said that the fashion world did not want to destroy the magic for the public - "It's a bit like Santa Claus."
Some British fashion figures, however, backed Farhi.
Emma Whitehair, a London-based fashion PR, said: "There need to be more designers like Nicole Farhi who are not paying so-called talent to come to sit on the front row."
Miss Whitehair, who runs White Smoke Communications, said her agency never paid, but admitted: "In other places it was completely the norm, part of what was called 'talent wrangling'. I know for an absolute fact they would pay celebrities to sit on the front row. It's unfair: some people secure talent because they have genuine friendships and the celebrity likes the brand. Others have paid."
Front row appearance fees are thought to have originated in the US and spread rapidly.
Abe Gurko, the head of Abe, a fashion talent services and public relations 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. They [the demands] kept coming.
"I had a manager say 'She will do it for $125,000' [£78,000]. I said 'Have a nice day'?."
Mr Gurko said he would arrange only travel costs and expenses.
"The most I paid was about 18 months ago: $25,000 for flights for two people for a European star, the hotel, clothes, make-up, the car and driver for three days. She was worth every nickel."
He stressed, however, that when it came to actual 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."