By and  on May 16, 2006

It takes 45 minutes to get to a secluded warehouse somewhere on the edge of the city. Heavy-handed security guards corral the crowd, grudgingly allowing entry into the raw space, where temperatures rarely fall between tropical and arctic. The path to one's seat involves fighting through hyperactive paparazzi who have taken the runway hostage and will stomp on anything that gets between their lens and the ubiquitous Parises, Ashleys and Mandys. The assigned seat proves to be no more than a sliver on an overcrowded bench; the show won't even kick off for another 40 minutes because Lindsay Lohan may or may not come, and there isn't a restroom in sight.

Welcome to the 21st-century fashion show.

A particularly grueling international circuit this season left retailers and journalists questioning the overblown fashion-show system, which made for a lively debate. Fashion people, after all, are champion complainers, and they had plenty of reasons to gripe this time around, from the paparazzi frenzy in New York to Milan's compressed schedule and Paris' hard-to-reach venues. In the future, show weeks in Europe are likely to become longer still, creating even more challenges for organizers and attendees.

And really, what's the point, given that the vast majority of collections are already presold? Where once a fashion show's sole purpose was to present the coming season to buyers and editors, its meaning has shifted in recent years—a point that was driven home during the spring 2006 collections. "Each city had its own set of problems," says Michael Fink, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. "Let's turn it back into a professional event."

That's not as easy as it sounds. In New York, fashion shows have become a profit-seeking business enterprise, where actual clothing has taken a backseat to celebrity photo-ops, marketing initiatives and corporate sponsorships so blandly familiar that some venues resemble suburban shopping malls. In Europe, the celebrity onslaught hasn't been as widespread, though houses such as Versace, Chanel, Valentino and Dior have always sprinkled their front row with a Nicole Kidman here, a Gwyneth Paltrow there.

In Milan, the concerns center on the schedule, clogged with shows for secondary lines and double-headers (a show each for press and buyers), all held helter-skelter throughout a city prone to gridlock.

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