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2013 September 17

Insiders Spill! The Fashion Flack Tells All

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How do seating assignments work? How do seating assignments work?
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(NEW YORK) In case you missed some of our fave features in The Daily in print as you were dashing from show to show this NYFW, we're rolling out some gems for your post-fash week recovery (or, perhaps, while you're en route to Milan and Paris!). Next, another juicy installment of our insiders package! Nothing gets you chicsters in a tizzy faster than a wretched seating assignment. But what’s the real story behind who sits where? We got one of fashion’s preeminent flacks to anonymously spill his secrets. BY EDDIE ROCHE

Describe the agony and the ecstasy of putting a seating chart together.
I love them. I’ve done it for the last 10 years; for the most part, it stays the same. If you can just concentrate on really seating the first two rows, then the third, fourth, and fifth after that are kind of just about knowing who is important to the industry and who are the hangers-on. So for me they are easy. I always laugh when people are like, “Oh, I have to seat my wedding.” I’m like, well, try seating eight shows a season and putting different personalities together and hoping that they meld together as one!

Is it harder to do a chart for MILK or Lincoln Center, or is it the same?
It’s the same. If anything, it’s pretty much a formula. 

What’s the number one rule that you adhere to? 
The easiest way is to group all of the publications together, all of the major publications: WWD, New York Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar. On a U-shaped runway, any one of the consumer women’s magazines is always seated on what we like to call the “first pass.” 

What’s the first pass?
First pass is anyone in section A, B, C, or D. Anything on that first side where the girl makes her entrance is called first pass. She then comes around the corner, past the photographer pit, and goes down her second pass. A lot of your buyers and second tier magazines are on the second pass.

Where did that term come from?
I have no idea. It’s jargon I picked up from a backstage producer. First pass, second pass, exit, and return. There’s a little industry jargon for you!

So who would always get a seat?
Any of the Condé Nast, Hearst, and what used to be Hachette publications. The Bergdorf Goodman, the Barneys, all of the major department stores. You know, Ken [Downing] and Linda [Fargo] and people like that. If there are any major stylists... And now with the advent of the blogosphere, those blogs with whom you have a relationship and that you work with. At certain shows, for bloggers, you kind of need that name recognition whether it be Leandra [Medine] or BryanBoy or someone else to get those front row photos because they get shot in the front more than a lot of other people as well. 

Do you have to separate major editors?
Of course. You should always separate your major magazines. They are there to cover within their own team. I always particularly like to put WWD, Vogue, and New York Times together. Then you put a retailer in for a couple of seats, then you go Bazaar, then you might have a single retailer or an independent magazine like Paper. In some ways it’s so great to have Mickey Boardman because you can put Mickey in between a retailer and major magazine. So a couple of these little fillers are really great to separate your magazines. I find it to be polite. You would never want them sitting together anyway. But then also dealing with personalities, you just want to give them their own little room and make them feel like they are just as important. You can group them together in the same family. The Condé Nast people are together on one side, the Hearst people are together on the other. 

Have you had experiences where editors, even in the front row, didn’t want to sit next to the people they were sitting next to?
Nowadays they might not want to sit next to a blogger. Or if a stylist has left a particular magazine, you might make an error putting them with their former publication and they might be like, “Do I have to? I don’t want to sit next to...” There’s enough room that if someone were to come up and say, “I don’t want this person sitting next me,” I might be able to say, “Oh, I have a ‘better seat’ for that person, can you come and sit over here?” and that helps move them away. 

If you’re at Lincoln Center, what is the best seat in the house?
Section A and section H are always the best seats. They are at the very end of the runway.

And obviously front row. Is there a bad area of the front row to be in?
Yes, at the return/exit. So if it’s a single way runway, anything that is closest to backstage, because you only see the front of the clothes for two seconds and then you watch the back of the clothes. Also, you’re all the way at the very end. It’s not the greatest seat. It’s usually reserved for friends and family. 

Anna is right near the pit, right? 
There have been different ways of putting her. I’ve always found A-1-1 is the best seat for Anna, not A-1-2; she doesn’t like to be on the end. She’ll stay for the bow, but leave right after. She typically has security with her so it’s easier for her to be closer to the exit [so she doesn’t have] to go around people to get out.

It’s total pandemonium!
Oh, for sure. It used to be much different. In Bryant Park, and this might age me, at the height of a celebrity’s fame, it used to be a little bit too intense. So you would try to keep celebrities in a particular area on one side because of the swarm of photographers. I remember years and years ago literally having to stand in front of the Vogue team at [redacted] show with a security guard because a celebrity was too close to the editors and everyone started to push toward them. So, literally, my little self was standing there saying, “You can’t go any further!” It caused a little bit of brouhaha. It’s a little bit easier, I think, for Anna, because people on the PR side always monitor her. First of all, she’s always early. Someone on the seating level will always keep an eye on what’s going on with Anna and be within a close enough proximity so you can always stand in front of her or off to the side so that if people do want to approach her, then you’re kind of, like, “Talk to me first.” She’s open to conversation if it’s someone she trusts; it’s just about deflecting some imposing figure who marches up and says, “Hi, can I get a quote from you?”

Where do the American editors sit in Europe?
The American editors all sit together as one.

They do that in Milan and Paris, why not just do that in America?
Because these are U.S.-based shows and usually U.S.-based designers, so every country is going to treat their own magazines like they are number one. So Paris is going to give more seats to French editors and to the French journalists that are covering, and to the French buyers. 

What about Carine and Emmanuelle?
Seat them separately. Carine has her own magazine now. So you would treat them the same as you would Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar or anything else.

What are the difficulties?
Most of the people in the front row know they are there to cover the show. The difficulties come in the second and third rows. It’s always the people in the third row that keep an eye on the seats that are available in the second, or even try, god forbid, to move down to the first row. Those are the ones you have the most issue with. Once they land in that seat, no one wants to move. I’ve been doing it long enough that everyone on my team has a seating chart with us at all times and you can walk up to someone and say, “Um, you are not this person, you need to get up and come with me and move into another seat.” If there are open seats at the beginning of any show right before the lights go down, we’ll move you. But my thing is, don’t move yourself. Would you do that at a wedding? Would you do that at any other event? If you want to steal a front row seat, you don’t deserve to be there in the first place. 

Oh, damn! How many front row seats do you leave empty in case there is a problem? We usually don’t. You shouldn’t. Benches are a godsend. The idea with benches is that you can squeeze in more people. So MILK does this thing on the U-shaped runway on the second floor—there are two very long benches, but they only account for a certain number of seats so there ends up being open seats at the end at each one of those rows that doesn’t have a seat number on it. They are still in the front row and you can easily maneuver people in. Also, the great thing about Spring shows in September is that no one has a coat with them, so it’s easier to squeeze people in. If there are typically four to a bench, you can squeeze five or six easily.

How many random requests do you get from people? 
I probably get up to 75 requests a day from random people! They range anywhere from a new blog to “I’m representing this stylist” to the most random of things. Those are the ones that are quite hilarious. Like, “Who is this person?” Since the advent of blogs, the number of people that feel they are entitled to attend a show has quadrupled. Only about 20 of these new requests are people who actually need to attend. I miss the days of the regionals. It would be their one big time to come and attend all the shows. They would get their own particular row, second or third row, and they were all very polite going from show to show to show together. You see more and more of these entitled bloggers who don’t understand why they get standing. What is it that you are really trying to do other than try to get in and see a show? That has been the biggest change.

If Hamish Bowles is in the second row of a show...
If he is, you should take another look at your seating chart. He should never be in the second row.

I’ve seen him though, I’m thinking at, like, Carolina Herrera or DvF, where every last Vogue editor was there.
Well yes, maybe at a larger show. Again, you only have a certain number of seats. You know, Hamish is technically a European editor, although now he has the column. So if it comes down to seating him in the second row, it might be because Mark Holgate is there and is actually trying to finish a story on that particular show.

Do you ever have to hound down Stefano Tonchi or Anna Wintour to find out if they are coming?
Any publicist knows the likelihood of them attending a second-tier show is slim to none unless it somehow strikes their interest. There is only so much time in the day. Anna has to see all of the CFDA shows. Stefano is very choosy about his schedule. It’s going to be advertisers, some that he is interested in, and some major shows. You’re covered if you get someone from Vogue, someone from Bazaar, someone from the Times, someone from Style.com.

Do designers want to see the seating charts and have input?
Always. Designers sometimes might get upset if you give someone that gave them a bad review a good seat. However, then you kind of have to play the middle person and say, “OK, but this person needs to be there.” 

What do you think about the potential move to Hudson Yards? 
I will be intrigued to see what happens. I personally miss Bryant Park. 

How would you describe a fashion publicist’s state of mind before a show?
I am...frazzled. Everyone always laughs at me, but I love doing a show in New York. I love the atmosphere and energy and seeing everyone together. By the time I get done with Paris, I’m like, “Please go and sit down and I don’t want to talk to you!” Or you kind of wait from the side and hope everything goes fine. 




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