NEW YORK — The circus is coming to town — and we’re not talking elephants, trapeze artists, clowns and lions.

The fashion flock on Thursday will descend on Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center for the kickoff of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which promises to see its own kind of cat fights, juggling acts, monkey business and high-wire acts.

There seems to be more at stake this season than in recent years, not including the $770 million the twice-yearly fashion weeks generate for the city. A glamorous, high-profile new venue farther uptown, combined with a similar number of shows taking place way downtown and across town as well, means fashion editors, buyers and the rest of the crowd will be trying to work out travel logistics that have suddenly become more complicated than air traffic out of LaGuardia Airport. Then there’s the ongoing economic malaise hanging like a cloud; the start of the shows, as well as Fashion’s Night Out, taking place on Rosh Hashanah, and the simple, shocking thought of, What, another season already?

So it begins — the crush at the door; the long delays never really explained; the rain (you know there will be rain), and the ogling of the front row as one wonders, “Who is that person and why are they taking her photograph?”

The rush for celebrities is on as designers who would never otherwise gain a mention in the tabloids aim to do so. And blame it on the recession or other reasons, but celebrities are being equally aggressive about appearance fees at the fashion shows.

“A lot of money is being exchanged and deals are being done for front row [appearances] and Fashion’s Night Out,” said one insider. An author in her own right, she said three retailers approached her about signing books during FNO, including one that offered to pony up as much as $20,000. Even bloggers like Tavi Gevinson are commanding fees for their cameos.

One publicist familiar with negotiations for celebrity appearances said socialites were being suggested as “fall backs” or more affordable options to celebrities. But “most celebs were taken in the big feed,” she said. This season’s going rate for shows ranges from $30,000 to $50,000. Bold-faced names are requesting $75,000 just to show up at FNO events, and the more enterprising ones are trying to wrangle advertising campaigns as well, sources said.

While little is definite until actresses, celebutantes, reality stars and the like actually show up for their designated photo ops, there are already rumblings of alliances. Diane Kruger is supposedly a shoo-in at Chanel on FNO. “Mission: Impossible IV” starlet Paula Patton is expected at Friday night’s opening of the CH Carolina Herrera store where Vanity Fair’s Robert Risko will be sketching illustrations for guests. Models Jessica Stam and Burberry poster boy Tom Guinness will be spinning at Aldo. Edun’s Ali Hewson isn’t counting on her husband, Bono, for the brand’s FNO musical entertainment at Edun’s pop-up store in the Meatpacking District; instead; Jaleel Bunton from TV on the Radio will be behind the turntable. Alexander Dexter-Jones will DJ at Longchamp’s store.

Meanwhile, Blake Lively and Leighton Meester, fashion week mainstays since “Gossip Girl” hit the air, will be hosting FNO’s events as well as attending shows later in the week. (Look out to see if Lively attends shows on the arm of Anna Wintour, as she did at the couture shows in Paris this summer). And Alexander Wang’s after-show bash — held this year at an undisclosed West Side parking lot — will draw its usual crowd of hipsters. Other celebrities expected at FNO include Naomi Campbell at Dolce & Gabbana, Angela Lindvall, Bar Refaeli at Armani and Jessica Alba at Ralph Lauren, to name a few.

As for the parties and other social events, the bit of variety seems tobe at the many screenings that will be held after-hours during the week:Sting at a showing of “Trophy Wife,” featuring his daughter MickeySumner, at the Tribeca Grand; Carey Mulligan at a Peggy Siegal-hostedpreview of “Never Let Me Go” on Sept.14; Woody Allen at MoMA for aCinema Society event for his new flick “You Will Meet a Tall DarkStranger” on Sept. 12; Chris Noth and Matt Dillon at a screening ofPhillip Seymour Hoffman’s “Jack Goes Boating” held, on theme, at the NewYork Yacht Club on Sept. 16; Ryan Reynolds at a showing of “Buried” atthe Tribeca Grand on Sept. 16 (another Cinema Society shindig), and ZachGalifianakis at “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” at Landmark SunshineCinemas on Sept. 14. In addition, there’s a promising lineup of musicalacts: The Strokes will be performing at Tommy Hilfiger’s 25thanniversary bash at the Metropolitan Opera House on Sept. 12 (for whichthe designer is also likely to draw a few A-listers), and Florence &The Machine will perform at a party for Mulberry held on the roof ofthe SoHo House on Sept. 14.

In terms of who to expect in thefront row, up-and-coming British crooner V.V. Brown will be a specialguest at Jason Wu’s show. Otherwise, there’s a chance thefashion-forward Mulligan will take in a show while in town (she’s shownsupport for The Row in seasons past) and a possibility that Reynolds’wife, Scarlett Johansson, might show up at something.

As forsocials, the European contingent will be out in full force — jewelrydesigner and “It” girl of the moment Gaia Repossi will be attendingshows of young designer friends like Alexander Wang, as well as CocoBrandolini, who will be with Meester on FNO at the Roger Vivierboutique.

Then there are celebrities of a different world: NewYork Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, fighting for reelection, will be visitingNanette Lepore’s Madison Avenue boutique given she’s a proponent ofLepore’s plight to save the Garment Center and thus save jobs and boostthe economy.

Each year, the fashion weeks attract some 232,000attendees. Restaurants, hotels and retailers around Lincoln Center allstand to benefit from a substantial boost from the influx of visitors,and designers and editors said they’re eager to try out some new places.More than $40 million annually is spent on meals at local restaurants;nearly $30 million on taxis, Town Cars and public transportation, and anadditional $56 million at area hotels during New York’s fashion weeks.

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