With New York Fashion Week coming up next month, all eyes are going to be on the front row seats of runway shows, as much as the catwalk.
We know that celebrities and A-listers sit front row at fashion week shows to boost their profile, strut their latest styles, and show their loyalty to a brand.
And the brands benefit from the celebrity cachet, and the buzz that comes along with it. Whether it’s influencers or actors, stars sitting front row at fashion week has practically become a proverb. But has it always been that way? It was long before Anna Wintour and Nicki Minaj shared the front row together.
As long as runways have been around, there have been front rows. Granted, makeshift fashion runways have been around since the 1860s, when Charles Frederick Worth displayed his collection on models at Longchamp Racecourse.
But it wasn’t until the 1920s, when Parisian designers like Coco Chanel, Madeleine Vionnet, and Elsa Schiaparelli had socialites attend her intimate couture salon shows. In 1931, Elsa Schiaparelli showed a collection at Saks in New York, but photographers were not allowed to attend. Still, from there, a front row culture developed.
But when it comes to front row fashion photography, was it officially Christian Dior’s 1947 show—the first time he allowed photographers inside—the start of it all? He certainly had its A-listers. Take this photo above, by photojournalist John Chillingworth, which has Harper’s Bazaar editors Marie Louise Bousquet and Carmel Snow seated front row at a Dior show, with Avedon wedged behind them in the second row—all industry top talents.
In fact, Dior’s runway shows were always filled with socialites and even royalty. Below, a photo shows that time Princess Margaret attended a Dior show at Blenheim Palace in 1954, seated on an armchair between John Spencer-Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, and his wife the Duchess of Marlborough Alexandra Mary Cadogan Spencer-Churchill. Talk about fashion royalty.
It became more of the norm in the 1960s, during the rise of French designers like Yves Saint Laurent (who opened his Rive Gauche boutique in 1966) and Pierre Cardin. Stars like Barbra Streisand, Marlene Dietrich, Catherine Deneuve and Bianca Jagger would attend Saint Laurent shows in the 1960s and 1970s, drawing buzz to the brand.
One of the first celebrity brand collabs was the friendship between Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn.
It wasn’t until 1973 that the world saw the first recognized Paris Fashion Week (New York Fashion Week was founded in 1943). Cardin, below, attends a Thierry Mugler runway show in 1980.
By the time the 1980s rolled around, Andy Warhol and Brooke Shields were sitting front row at the Valentino show in 1982. And of course, Halston had his own camp of celebrities, too.
His friends, like Studio 54’s Steve Rubell, Jagger and his model pals sat front row, like Lauren Hutton, Marisa Berenson, and Karen Bjornson all sat front row. They were all stars, but it felt personal. They were his friends, it didn’t feel like a corporate partnership.
In Italy, there were runway shows in Florence through the early 1950s, featuring designers like Simonetta Visconti, Schuberth, and Emilio Pucci.
Meanwhile, in Paris, London and New York, Chris Moore, the undisputed king of catwalk photography, photographed runway shows from the 1960s onward. He shot mostly models, and recalled one standout designer—Kenzo founder Kenzo Takada.
“Kenzo Takada changed everything about fashion presentation; in the early 1970s when most ateliers were still showing to small, somber gatherings in stuffy venues, Kenzo took Paris by storm with shows that had more of the atmosphere of a music festival,” wrote Moore on Instagram.
“Happy, laughing models [were] full of energy and having a good time, of course reflecting his own sunny, upbeat outlook and smiling visage.”
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