How Much Does a Runway Show Cost?

This month, Cicilia Brognoli looks into the cost of runway shows.

Nowadays, fashion shows are easily accessible to anyone. In a few clicks, you can find yourself catapulted into a completely different reality, an almost extra-terrestrial atmosphere dominated by a dazzling setting. Many people share the desire to take part in one of the most fascinating fashion shows – and everyone can become part of that apparently inaccessible world simply by holding their smartphone in the palm of their hand. At first glance, clothes are the focus of the fashion show, but they are often so captivating because they are presented in a specially created context.

The first fashion shows, dating back to the beginning of the 18th century, were held on the street, a place of vital importance where designers identified new trends while preserving the upper middle class and nobility. Charles Worth decided to start showing his fashion collections to a circle of a select few in the fashion shows that were held in his Parisian atelier. At that time, the use of living models to display clothes was a new and brilliant invention and a few dozen chairs were enough to offer the selected audience the opportunity to take part in a truly exclusive event.

The concept of exclusivity in fashion has strongly evolved, and fashion shows aim at presenting the new collection mirroring both the designer’s ideas and the brand vision. This happens in an artificial environment, very often, far from the minimalistic set of 19th-century Parisian ateliers.

Today, anyone can virtually take part in the most beautiful and exclusive shows, but a very small selected audience can be physically present in these lavish events. Although the circle of guests is well restricted, the cost for setting up a show is often a six-digit number. Depending on the brand’s economic possibilities and the artistic, marketing, and communication choices made, a US-based show can cost, on average, between $10,000 and $300,000. Many of these figures could make your head spin, but there is no limit to creativity. Every inch of the chosen venue must be in line with the collection ready to tread the catwalk, and therefore make the designer’s artistic vision tangible and captivating from every point of view.

The budget dedicated to the fashion show is divided depending on the artistic vision and desires of the designer. The venue hire, and especially the set design, can increase the cost of the fashion show. Indeed, according to the designer’s venue choice, customisation costs can skyrocket.

First and foremost, the designer has to choose the location. This step can look easy , but spotting the perfect location is fundamental to delivering the perfect experience. Many cool venues in the “big four” fashion capitals (Milan, New York, London, and Paris) have high hiring fees. For example, in New York, hiring a small space won’t cost less than £15,000, and choosing a bigger place can cost anything between $50,000 to $100,000. This generally includes complementary setup and use of sound and lighting equipment.

A nice location without a great setting is not enough to stand out in Fashion Week, a jungle of creativity

and glitz aimed at capturing the attention of thousands of people.

The designer Christian Siriano stated that each of his shows cost between $125,000 and $312,000, and he demonstrated that the largest portion of the budget is generally dedicated to set design. This is the element that gives the fashion show a personal note and can be so majestic as to put the competition aside.


For example, Chanel independently produces the setting of its shows, and it’s one of the leading brands in set design creativity. Indeed, for every fashion show the brand transports its guests into a surreal reality where the human eye remains in ecstasy, admiring the detailed setting. Thus they make the Grand Palais, the brand’s favourite venue, a new world perfectly mirroring the collection’s mood. For its Chanel cruise 2018/2019, Karl Lagerfeld commissioned a 148-meter long boat called La Pausa, using the name of Coco Chanel’s villa on the French Rivera. This full-sized boat took a whole month of work to be installed inside the Grand Palais, which was then renewed by the will of this Parisian brand after a donation of £40 million. On another occasion, the German-born designer gave vent to his imagination by setting up a sort of egg-box structure, costing $1.7 million, on a man-made island in Dubai, which Chanel used as catwalk for its pearl-themed collection in 2015.

What happens to the costs if you choose a ready-made location but with great charm?

In this case Fendi stands out in the list of brands that have managed to win a breath-taking location for their fashion show, always managed by the eclectic German designer. Fendi set up its S/S 2008 fashion show along the Great Wall of China, ensuring the title of the longest runway in the world. Despite the minimal setting, compared to the artistic extravagances loved by Lagerfeld, on that occasion the Italian brand spent $10 million well to have the show hosted in that unique location.

On the other side, not every designer wants a spectacle and the trend of an immersive experience with a spectacular production is not for everyone, so many other elements can contribute to the making of the right atmosphere of the show.

Etienne Russo, head of the production company Villa Eugénie, affirmed that “Spectacle is not for everybody. It’s all about doing the right thing, finding a balance and properly doing things”. Indeed, the creative concept can take life also in the form of other elements such as make-up and hair, the choice of models, invitations, and lightning.

A considerable part of the budget drained for the fashion show is often dedicated to the cast of models. What would a spectacular set design be without someone to animate it? The models not only allow the public to observe the outfits already on a moving body, but they are very often those who make the MIV (Media Impact Value) generated by the show increase. This is why casting directors, like Piergiorgio del Moro, carefully choose the line-up of models that will populate the catwalk.

Not all brands focus on the setting by spending thousands of dollars. In fact, brands like Versace focus heavily on casting for their shows. They feature various top models that significantly increase the overall cost of the show. Back in the 80’s, the well-known Italian brand created the supermodel craze, as Gianni Versace introduced and made famous beautiful and eccentric girls with a dazzling personality. We are talking about world-wide famous women like Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, and Cindy Crawford, that earn up to $100,000 per show, obviously when they work for large fashion houses or when they are asked to show exclusively for one brand.

For example, the Versace Spring 2018 catwalk was studded by fashion legends of different age groups, and del Moro’s decision to fill the show with multiple generations of beautiful, powerful women was a

great breath of fresh air – not to mention iconic.

In addition to the creative management agency responsible for the cast, if any, the most famous brands often choose to rely on make-up and hair experts, who are real luminaries in the sector. That’s why these professionals can charge up to $40,000 per show when working in the big European fashion weeks. Make-up artists who charge very high figures are not always chosen, in fact many brands opt for sponsored beauty products to avoid burdening the budget with costs that can be eluded – as in the case of Christian Siriano, who always chooses to have sponsored cosmetics.

Have you ever wondered how the outfits of the show are put together? A figure that very often is never revealed to the public is that of the stylist. This person combines the clothes in the most appropriate way, creating a link between the concept of the designer and the communication strategies of the brand to catch the attention of the media and consequently of the consumers. A sought-after and now established stylist can earn about $4,000 a day, and he starts working with the designer some the day before the show, to better identify the aesthetic standards of the collection and transmit them through the outfits.

What happens in the case of young emerging designers? How can they bear all these costs? In general, a designer takes at least two seasons before being known, which is why many designers at the beginning of their careers set up a fashion show with a tight budget and free their imagination to create an event that is persuasive and coherent with the collection, always keeping an eye on expenses.

Is there a way to make the creation of the show less massive? Yes, in fact sponsorships can help these young talents providing funds or materials. The two main types of sponsorship are money or sponsorship in kind. The first type pays for one or more elements of the show, or the entire event, while the second type concerns goods or services such as make-up and hair or refreshments. Once the designers gain the trust of a couple of companies, the preparation of their fashion show will be less expensive as they can take advantage of the companies’ involvement to generate future commitment.

Many emerging designers and renowned brands aspire to show their collections worn by models that personify the concept of the collection, twirling harmoniously on a catwalk immersed in a setting that barely makes you perceive its artificiality. Lights, sounds, clothes, colours and materials merge, creating a unique aesthetic that aims to collect thousands of likes on social media or put a smile of approval on the faces of those who watch the show.


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