By  on February 5, 2007

Once an exclusive soiree for models, designers and socialites, fashion week is becoming a must-see event for even the least fashion-conscious consumer.

Hoping to catch a glimpse of celebrities donning the newest designs, the general public is tuning in to runway shows, and retail experts predict they may even start purchasing tickets to the tents in the near future.

At a recent panel discussion, up-and-coming designers, analysts and consultants predicted what's in store for the future of fashion week. "I think we are going to move into a time when the public is going to really want insider information about how fashion and retailing happens," said David Wolfe, creative director at The Doneger Group. "The same way that during the last 15 years the general public became showbiz experts with shows like ‘Access Hollywood,' and the average person knows what the box office return is on the Nicole Kidman movie from last weekend. I think they are now developing that same hunger for retailing and fashion and I think we can ride this tsunami of interest."

Wolfe said he was intrigued by the droves of people who attended Boston Museum of Fine Art's display of the 2006 Paris collection. "I went two days in a row and it was absolutely jammed with people who will never wear any of these clothes, but loved looking at them," he said. "I thought, so these people pay $25 to come to a museum, why wouldn't they pay $50 to go sit in a tent in Bryant Park?"

Wolfe credits much of this new appetite for fashion to the reality show "Project Runway," which is transforming designers into celebrities.

The annual televised airing of the Victoria's Secret's fashion show, this year featuring Justin Timberlake, is also generating buzz among average shoppers.

"I think the allure of fashion week is who is attending," said shoe designer Etu Evans. "I hear so many common people say, ‘Hey, I want to come out, who was there and what were they wearing, because I want to look like Lindsay Lohan.'"

While most of the over-the-top fashion coming down the runway will never make it to shoppers' closets, the fashion shows create the hype necessary to sell the clothes people will wear, said Gilbert Harrison, chairman at Financo."Maybe the entertainment experience and the shopping experience that we keep trying to gel together are going to separate," Wolfe said. "And maybe you will sit down and see a wonderful fashion show and then you go into another room and actually see clothes you are going to buy."

Retailers and designers may even start looking for innovative ways to showcase next season's styles, capitalizing on technological advances. "The new way is the Internet and it's virtual and we don't even have to make the clothes at all," Wolfe said.

But fashion week continues to play an integral part in the industry, becoming more important every year. "Everybody has a fashion week. Iceland has a fashion week," Wolfe said. "It's just going to get bigger and bigger."

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