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Weeks of preparation, all over in 15 minutes

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today Feb 23, 2008
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PARIS, Feb 23, 2008 (AFP) - Fashion shows, aimed at wooing buyers and winning over fickle magazine editors, have become extravaganzas requiring weeks of meticulous planning and an army of co-workers - often all for no more than a quarter of an hour on the catwalk.


Photo : AFP

"Today there is no room for improvisation," stresses La Mode in Images (LMI), a production company responsible for organising around 20 of the 90 shows being mounted in Paris ready-to-wear week, which gets under way on Sunday.

Many fashion houses and designers turn to production companies to showcast their collections.

Staging a catwalk show, lasting only around 15 minutes, can take anything from a week to three months' planning, depending on whether it is a new designer or an established name at one of the big international fashion houses, according to LMI's chief Olivier Massart.

Sometimes the preparation "begins immediately after the end of the previous show," says Alexandre de Betak, head of the Bureau Betak production company.

Production companies take over responsibility for the show from contact with the overall organisers of the fashion event to selecting the models and all the technical and artistic decisions that need to be taken along the way.

They may be involved at every stage from choice of venue to deciding the seating arrangements for all-important celebrities, press, buyers and customers, stage decor, lighting and so forth.

"Some designers know exactly what they want in terms of decor and others tell us about their collection and we need to come up with ideas, it is very much a question of working closely together," Massart says.

Some designers stage their own catwalk shows by themselves without any outside help - like Christian Lacroix, who "decides everything" according to his aides. "Everything gets done in two to three weeks maximum."

"It's getting more and more hectic," says designer Robert Normand. "The models come here from Milan, where they have been in shows all week, so they arrive very late and we only have two days to finalise everything."

"We book them (the models), each of them has to try on their outfit, and we sort out the accessories in two days," explains one of Lacroix' team. "On the day of the show nearly 200 people (hairdressers, make-up artists, models, technical support) are involved back stage."

Nothing is left to chance, and that even includes the attitude of the models as they walk down the runway.

Deciding the seating arrangements is a headache, juggling the priorities of buyers, customers, press, friends and employees of the fashion house. Some houses tend to overbook, so there is an unseemly scrum over seats, while others give out invitations like confetti in "standing", the empty space behind the last row of seats.

The cost of a catwalk show goes from 10,000 euros to a dizzying million euros (1.5 million dollars). "You need at least 400,000 euros to put on a decent show," one insider in press relations at several luxury houses said.

"Even without the clothes, it costs on average between 200,000 and 800,000 euros," but for the grandest houses it comes in at "a great deal more than that," according to Alexandre de Betac.

But the whole exercise is worth it, according to LMI. "Catwalk shows today are planned with photographers, television and the Internet in mind. Everything - the decor, lighting, make-up, and where the photographers and cameraman are positioned - has been carefully thought out to produce the image which will be used by the media and exploited commercially by the brand."

by Dominique Schroeder

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