By  on February 2, 2007

The lines between fashion and beauty, art and commerce, continue to blur. Today marks the official start of New York Fashion Week, and for many top beauty companies, it represents the chance to highlight their brands’ fashion positioning even as they increasingly sign celebrity faces.

But fashion doesn’t come cheap. Just for the privilege of working backstage, companies invest $30,000 or more per show, according to estimates by industry sources — which can add up to more than $1 million for a brand like MAC Cosmetics, which will do 70 shows in New York this season.

Some beauty companies, such as Shiseido, pick up the tab for a designer’s entire show, which can cost $100,000 to $500,000 or more.

But for brands like MAC, which does little advertising, the investment is clearly cost-effective. MAC is the official makeup sponsor of the New York shows and one of the first brands to successfully link runway and beauty in consumers’ minds.

Although MAC officially assumed the sponsor role three years ago, the shows have always been part of MAC’s DNA, noted John Demsey, global president of the MAC Cosmetics and Estée Lauder brands at the Estée Lauder Cos.

“Fashion week, artistry, creating looks and exploring the way that makeup can be used — as well as being commercial — is what this brand has always been about,” said Demsey. “MAC has been involved with the shows for at least 15 years because it makes sense. It originated as a makeup artist brand, and there is a strong association in terms of backstage support. Fashion is in the veins of MAC.”

On the other hand, noted Demsey, “Estée Lauder [the brand] derives its fashion authority from reinforcing an aspirational lifestyle. Could Estée Lauder do shows? Sure, a lot of brands could. But the Lauder brand relates to fashion in a different way, which makes more sense for that brand. It’s a core defining difference.”

Demsey views MAC’s involvement with the shows as a creative partnership, one which allows the brand’s artists to do professional outreach while enabling designers to realize their visions. “If we couldn’t do that,” he said, “we wouldn’t be asked back. People can sense those things that emanate from being real, and those that don’t.

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