How Much Do Fashion Shows Cost? Inside the Business of Fashion Week

Leah Bourne

Zac Posen - Runway RTW - Spring 2014 - New York Fashion Week
Marc Jacobs is renowned for his elaborate fashion week shows. In 2011, the designer staged an over-the-top spectacle at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue in New York City that involved a mounted mirrored runway and 20-foot quilted columns. The price tag? At least $1 million, if not more, according to Marc Jacobs International President Robert Duffy. Considering the show lasted for nine and a half minutes, that comes to $1,750 per second.
Hundreds of runway shows take place during New York Fashion Week each season. These shows have long been considered crucial marketing devices for designers looking to get the attention of all important press and buyers—which ultimately helps drive sales. In the process, though, many designers are spending a pretty penny, and nothing seems to come cheap.
While there aren’t many designers spending as much as Jacobs, most attest that it is hard to put on a fashion show for less than six-figures. To get a sense of how much designers are doling out, it’s best to start from the ground up. First and foremost, there is the venue to consider, whether it is borrowed gallery space on up to showing at the New York Public Library—like red-carpet favorite Marchesa is this season. The landmark space’s rental fees start at a staggering $50,000.
The four venues at Lincoln Center (the official home of New York Fashion Week) range between $15,000 for the smallest space up to $50,000 for the largest venue, the Tent. And while Lincoln Center has garnered a reputation as being one of the more expensive venues to show at—when designers begin to take into account that everything from the lighting to the seating is taken care, it starts to seem like a value-driven choice. Designer Anna Sui recently said: “Every season I think about moving, but frankly, economically, the tents make sense.”
Plenty of other expenses abound for designers including fashion show producers, model casters, lighting, backstage catering, public relations, and the stylists who put together the show’s looks. Oftentimes even the celebrities sitting in the front row are paid to be there (some up to $100,000).
Teams of makeup artists can charge from $5,000 to $100,000 per show, though many brands like Maybelline actually sponsor fashion shows, and provide their services for free. Another cost saver for designers? Interestingly, unless designers are using models with a high star wattage, models are often not paid and volunteer for exposure (or free clothes).
Stacey Bendet, who showed her Alice + Olivia collection at a raw space in New York City’s Meatpacking District, told us: “My advice to young designers is don’t show at fashion week unless you have some huge amount of backing and PR, and all of that. Showing during fashion week is just so hard, there is so much going on, and so much competition.”
It seems Bendet might be picking up a feeling that is ruminating in the air, with many designers wondering if showing during fashion week is even worth it. The New York Times ran a piece recently with the headline: “Is New York Fashion Week at the End of the Runway.” Designers are increasingly eschewing live fashion week presentations for digital fashion shows. Even designers with big names are finding the week increasingly irrelevant. Tamara Mellon, the co-founder of Jimmy Choo, is launching a womenswear collection, for instance, outside of the fashion week glare.
Still, considering the fashion week schedule is more packed than ever, with more than 350 shows in nine days, fashion shows and their big budgets, don’t seem to be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Designer Mara Hoffman, who showed at the tents at Lincoln Center this past weekend, admitted that it can cost “a fortune.” Still she said, it is ultimately worth it for her brand. “We get tons of press from it and it really helps sales. It is worth the investment for us.”
The Cost Breakdown of a Fashion Show
Venue: $0 to $100,000
Hair and Makeup: $0 to $100,000
Stylist: $5,000 to $20,000
Public Relations: $10,000 to $25,000 for a monthly retainer
Models: $0 to $200,000
Lighting: $10,000 on up
Invitations: $5,000 on up