All eyes on J. Lo, Mary J. and Jessica

Clothes take a back seat when stars take front seat

FashionWeek

September 15, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - There really are beautiful clothes here. Really. And you'd see them, if only you could keep your eyes on the runway, and off the famous "front row," where the nation's top designers strategically seat their richest and most fabulous celebrity friends during Fashion Week.

Take the recent Marc Jacobs spring 2005 show, held in a huge stadiumlike tent, complete with a red carpet. The show was held up for nearly an hour as the A-list of superstars trickled in, showing that Jacobs is clearly the "it" designer of the filthy rich and famous.

In his front row: Winona Ryder, Josh Hartnett, Natalie Portman, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Steven Tyler, Christy Turlington and Helena Christensen, Liv Tyler, Kate Hudson and Lil' Kim.

But the real holdup at Jacobs' show: support staff struggling to find VIP seats for latecomers Donald Trump and his fiancee, Melania Knauss, as well as Jennifer Lopez, her husband, Marc Anthony, and her seven all-black-clad bodyguards.

You heard it. Seven.

The crush of celebrities at a fashion show generates press for the designer and helps sales, said Nick Sullivan, fashion director at Esquire magazine. But it also serves to irritate buyers and fashion editors who need to see the clothes up close, and often get bumped to the second or third rows when room has to be made for J. Lo and her guards.

"You do see a lot of dark looks emanating from the second row when too many celebrities show up," Sullivan said.

Celebs were a major distraction - or attraction, as the case may be - at Kimora Lee Simmons' Baby Phat presentation, where the front row looked more like a scene from the Grammys than a fashion show.

At Simmons' partylike production, Mary J. Blige and Lil' Kim hugged, and Vivica A. Fox and Venus Williams chatted and swished their hair extensions. Star Jones breezed by, smelling sweet and looking engaged-woman-thinner. Janet Jackson and hit-producer-beau Jermaine Dupri (with a mere five bodyguards) sat quietly at the end of the front row and avoided cameras and fans.

Most shows aren't quite so A-list-blessed. Usually, two or three people of bona-fide star quality are enough to create a pre-show buzz.

When a celebrity enters a show, photographers, cameramen and TV show hosts hover like screeching vultures. Flashbulbs pop, video camera lights blind. On the end of the front row where the celebrity is being held hostage - usually happily - by the press and others, all you can hear is the star's name being shouted:

"J. Lo! J. Lo! Over here! Look this way!"

On the other end of the row, the common refrain goes more like this: "Who's that over there? Is it Paris Hilton?"

The Hilton heiress, unfortunately for her fans, showed up at only a few events, including opening of P. Diddy's Sean John store on Fifth Avenue.

Jessica Simpson, on the other hand, showed up everywhere.

Baltimore's own Michael Phelps - minus his gold medals, even though metallic accessories are definitely in this season - was seated next to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour at a Jeffrey Chow show, but the proximity must not have done much to help his style quotient. According to Women's Wear Daily, fashion insiders have been saying Olympic teammate Lenny Krayzelburg is actually the stylish one.

And the A-list goes on.

Nicole Richie at a morning Vera Wang show and the evening Fusha show. Katie Couric at Cynthia Steffe. Angela Bassett at Carmen Marc Valvo.

Most celebs are brand-loyalists, believing that if you go to Carmen Marc Valvo, you should wear Carmen Marc Valvo - at least to the show.

But even if celebs aren't wearing the clothes, having them in the house is good for the designer, Esquire's Sullivan said.

"In the old days, a designer would be happy if his mother showed up [at a show]," he said. "So it's great to have [celebrities]. They're as influential now as the designers who dress them."

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