Ten life lessons from the front row


Much like Henry VIII's court in Wolf Hall, fashion is a world which relishes hierarchy. The front row is like the royal inner circle, where the aristocracy sit in full glare and judgement of the rest of society. While few of us will get to grace its rarefied gilt seats, there is much we can learn from its residents. We asked Alice Olins, who spent nine years on the frow for The Times newspaper and Marie Claire magazine, to reveal its most salient life lessons - and that doesn't mean wearing sunglasses indoors.

1. Consciously un-smile

Remember that girl at school, the one with the self-important icy stare; the one that everyone else thought was, like, Miss Cool? Well she also exists in adulthood: and she sits on the front row. If you want any type of fashion credibility, you need to ditch the smile. Learn not so much to frown, as to passively disengage. Curiously, the less interested you appear in the clothes the more respect you will earn from those around you.

2. Love thy neighbour

Fashion front rows are crowded places. Don’t just sit there in silence. Hold out an olive branch. Strike up a conversation. There is nothing worse than rubbing thighs with someone and not even knowing their name. There are plenty of subjects on which to deliberate: the fierceness of Carine’s pencil skirt, the angle of Suzy Menkes’ quiff, whether there is time to nip into Leon before the next show….


Supermodel Cara Delevingne attempting to strike up conversation with sunglass-wearing Kate Moss (see point 9) while Mario Testino looks on

3. Study the formula

First-rate bag + fabulous coat + bewitching shoes = front row Utopia. On the Frow, as in life, it doesn’t matter if you bought those trousers three seasons ago in Zara, or if your blouse is ancient H&M; as long as the trilogy of bag, coat and shoes are in order, the rest will go unnoticed.

4. Worship your phone

On Planet Fashion your smart phone takes on a godly status. Vehicles of information, photography and social interaction, many fashion councils actually advise serious show-goers to have them surgically attached to their hands for the entire fashion month.

Margaret Zhang Irene Kim 01

Power Instagrammers Margaret Zhang and Irene Kim front row at Tommy Hilfiger

5. Graciously accept your rank

There is nothing wrong with being an eager intern or a dedicated design student. Just don’t do it where another person is meant to be sitting. Forget trying to cram onto an already overcrowded bench, or perch in the seat of British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman because you heard she wouldn’t be attending that show. Here’s some advice: the PRs know the names and faces of everyone on at least the front three rows. Plus, no one can do a Shulman stare like the editor herself.

3 iuJyHLfXsbYYn6RKJjGSOp 9t8qFsbdQzHCLW5gI

The Burberry Prorsum spring/summer 2015 catwalk 

6. Never take the designer’s name in vain

If you don’t like the clothes, keep it for later. There is nothing more crass than accepting a seat on the front row, only to sit there and needlessly savage every skirt, shirt and shoe. Learn to nod politely when the designer takes their bow and always clap with enthusiasm. Even when you’ve just sat through 43 looks inspired by slow drying concrete, remain gracious.

7. Honour your dignity

Keep. Legs. Neatly. Crossed. Because. Knickers. Are. Not. A. Front. Row. Trend.

Screen shot 2015 02 20 at 15.48.03Samantha Cameron, Net-A-Porter's Natalie Massenet and the British Fashion Council's Caroline Rush honouring their dignity

8. Learn the lingo

In Paris, it’s all about the Tuileries [twee-la-ree] gardens and Café de Flore [floor]; in New York, you want to be dropping Estela, Miss Lily’s and Milk Studios into conversations. London requires some knowledge of Somerset House and a range of derelict office blocks around E1. Meanwhile in Milan, it’s the Hotel Principe [prin-chee-pay] or bust. It’s also wise to recognise your flatform from your platform. Fashion types speak their own language, make sure you’ve read the appropriate York Notes.

9. To sunglasses or not to sunglasses?

Anna Wintour plays tennis at 5.30am every day, she then moves into blow dry mode, before swiftly transitioning into chief choreographer of the entire fashion industry. This is tiring business. If Wintour wants to wear sunglasses inside a darkened room, then the rest of us must remain poker faced in her presence. Note: you are not Anna Wintour.

webinstance Rickie De Sole Sally Singer Anna Wintour Virginia Smith Hamish Bowles

Anna Wintour and her American Vogue team front row at Tommy Hilfiger

10. Observe observe observe

Fashion week is a feast. The ceiling at the Grand Palais in Paris; Christopher Kane’s exquisite inventiveness; Alexa Chung’s ability to make denim look fresh; Jourdan Dunn's legs; Sir Philip Green’s waistline. All of these things - and many many more - are special in their own way. Learn to look around, because life outside frow is just a little bit duller.

By Alice Olins