Writers’ Strike May Up Fashion Week’s Celeb Quotient

There are no lines to learn and no award for a great performance, but more actresses than ever could be in the spotlight come New York Fashion Week.

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NEW YORK — There are no lines to learn and no award for a great performance, but more actresses than ever could be in the spotlight come New York Fashion Week. That is, if designers are willing to pony up some cash or clothes.

This story first appeared in the January 29, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Blame, or thank, the Hollywood writers’ strike. Many actresses, at least of the small screen variety, are idle these days and are looking for ways to boost their profiles. Plus, with no money coming in from TV shows or films, they need to generate some income and are hoping for either a few thousand dollars for plopping down in the front row of a show or, even better, a contract to do a designer’s ad campaign.

“One of the ways for celebs to make money right now is to forge relationships with fashion houses while this is going on,” said Kelly Cutrone, owner of public relations firm People’s Revolution, noting celebrities can make money through direct endorsements or “a more subtle way — being procured to sit in the front row.”

So instead of the celebrity drought of last season, this time round could see a flood, not only in New York but also London, Milan and Paris. But don’t expect Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman or Cate Blanchett (after all, their respective pregnancies — still unconfirmed in Jolie’s case — are likely to keep them home), but more the likes of Hayden Panettiere, Jessica Simpson, Sophia Bush or Rosario Dawson.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, because of the strike, more celebs seem to be available for press opportunities,” said celebrity wrangler Lori Levine, founder of talent booking firm Flying Television. “Since a large amount of celebrities are on hiatus from their respective shows, they do have free time to come and participate in events like fashion week, the Super Bowl, Sundance, etc.”

Levine works on at least one or two shows every season, and this year she said she has “a huge list of celebs for the Heart Truth Red Dress Fashion Show we are working on.”

She noted that “Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen and Narciso Rodriguez are always the hottest tickets in town.”

Television actors may be particularly popular. For example, two “Grey’s Anatomy” stars, Sara Ramirez and Chandra Wilson, will be in the front row at Angel Sanchez, who didn’t have any celebrities at his show last year. And Ellen Pompeo will be at Y-3.

In addition to the likes of Molly Sims, Demi Moore and Beyoncé Knowles, Levine speculated front rows will be filled with celebrities who have strong relationships with designers, like Jessica Simpson at Michael Kors, Claire Danes at Narciso Rodriguez and Teri Hatcher at Badgley Mischka (whose ties are so strong she told a TV interviewer at Sunday’s SAG Awards that she was wearing the designers because she was under contract to them).

More celebrities may be realizing the benefits of such close ties with fashion houses and may show up this year to forge such relationships — and potential endorsement deals, speculated James LaForce, founding partner of LaForce + Stevens.

“As it becomes more and more possible that people will be used for campaigns with million-dollar price tags, celebrities realize the importance of being visible in the fashion sector,” LaForce said. “I’m hoping the publicists will see that fashion week is a good place to put somebody, especially if they are campaigning for an Oscar.”

Alison Brod, founder of Alison Brod Public Relations, said it does seem like more celebrities want to be front and center at the shows this season, as many wranglers have started calling her office looking for show tickets for their clients. However, they are still making some demands that can’t possibly be considered — for now.

“Some of them are saying that they will come to a show if they can be in the ad campaign,” she said. “Meanwhile, designers are still pulling their collections together for the shows. I really don’t think they have even begun to think about their fall campaigns.”

With that said, Brod said it is still important to get celebrities to the shows. She said for the brands she represents, such as Jill Stuart and Alice + Olivia, it’s key to get young, hot celebrities there. She said since many of these up-and-comers have been out of work lately, some of them are demanding thousands of dollars just to show up.

“Gone are the days when celebrities came to the shows in exchange for a wardrobe,” Brod said. “They want to make money, they come for the money.”

LaForce added September’s shows tend to better recruit celebrities than February shows, which are traditionally wedged between the Golden Globes and the Oscars. But the light schedules this year (and tenuous footing of Hollywood’s biggest award show) could change that.

“We are hoping that it will increase our chances that people will be looking for visibility opportunities,” said LaForce. “After all, this is giving people an opportunity to get photographed in beautiful clothes, and since we lost that with the Golden Globes, everyone knows the entertainment magazines and shows like ‘Access Hollywood’ are starved for things. I am reminding publicists that celebrities have an opportunity to get a bigger picture or a cover in this environment — but I haven’t had that kind of candid response from anybody.”

Cutrone said fashion houses should jump to take advantage of celebrity availability, not just for their ability to cross their legs in the front row, but also to be the face of brands.

“It’s a good time for fashion houses to go out and pay less money for supermodels and get actors instead,” she said.

In the last two weeks of January, Cutrone was waiting for RSVPs from celebrity publicists “who are backlogged with dealing with what will happen with the Oscars,” she said.

“This is a way for them to keep their image going and be more visible,” Cutrone said. “Celebrities and brands have one thing in common: Their success is directly correlated to the number of directly controlled visual moments. Movie premieres are some of those moments, where these women use fashion as a way of making a statement about themselves and, short of that, fashion shows create those moments.”

Paul Wilmot, founder of Paul Wilmot Communications, said he has a “no paying rule” when it comes to luring celebrities to the shows.

“A designer would have to pay thousands and thousands of dollars to get an A-lister,” he said. “I don’t know one designer that has that much money just to spend on a celebrity at one fashion show.”

While Wilmot said he wouldn’t write a celebrity a check to come to one of his shows, which include Sean John, Oscar de la Renta and Monique Lhuillier, he will be happy to offer them clothes.

“Would we give them clothes? Absolutely. Would we fly them here? Possibly. Would we put them up in a hotel? Maybe,” he said. “But really, the nice thing to do is develop a relationship with these celebrities. Then they will actually want to come to the shows because they support the designer.”

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