By Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Soraya Ali
LONDON (Reuters) - South African accountant Shaista Hamdulay never imagined she would one day mingle with fashionistas at London Fashion Week.
Yet on Saturday, Hamdulay got a taste of a world usually reserved for fashion editors, buyers, bloggers and celebrities, with a coveted front row seat at a catwalk show.
The 30-year-old was one of dozens of people at the industry event's inaugural public show, where for the first time anyone could buy a ticket for a special presentation.
"It's a once in lifetime opportunity," Hamdulay said. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would be sitting at London Fashion Week."
Once closed off to the fashion world, London is opening its doors, offering six public shows over the weekend.
For tickets priced from 135 pounds ($169), audiences can watch models walk the catwalk in outfits by designers Alexa Chung, Henry Holland and self-portrait.
Also included are panel discussions with industry figures and an exhibition.
"We've had a really great pick up and interest not only from consumers but also from industry insiders that are curious as to what the experience is going to be," British Fashion Council Chief Executive Caroline Rush said.
London is the second stop on the spring/summer 2020 catwalk calendar that also includes New York, Milan and Paris.
Chung was not present but greeted guests in a video saying the clothes were "curated for this show especially". These included printed dresses, chunky coats and footwear from her autumn/winter 2019-2020 line.
"I really loved the footwear," fashion student John Currie said. Others were not fans.
"It was really not inspiring," theater producer Judith Rosenbauer said. "I was hoping to see something new and fresh."
BEHIND THE SCENES
The rise of social media influencers has forced the fashion industry to open up to the digital world, with many brands live-streaming shows to younger tech-savvy buyers.
"With the advent of digital there has been incredible engagement from the consumer around fashion weeks," Rush said.
London is the first of the four fashion capitals to directly invite the public to purchase show tickets, organizers say. In New York, trend followers can buy "experience" packages via a concierge-like service.
Endeavor Experiences offers what it calls "the official VIP experience" for New York Fashion Week where guests can have hair and makeup done, eat canapés in a lounge overlooking the runway and sit front row at certain shows.
"NYFW: The Experience" packages vary from $500 to $2,500, said Mahmoud Youssef, president of Endeavor Experiences. Highlights this season have included top seats at The Blonds' Moulin Rouge musical extravaganza show, meeting the brand's designers and access to an after-party.
"(Customers) could be any consumer who has a passion for fashion. A consumer who is really passionate about a specific designer. Brands who are looking to entertain their best clients," Youssef said.
Endeavor Experiences has worked with brands Rag and Bone and Chromat and hopes even more designers will sign up and offer access to their shows next year.
Though its Fashion Week is smaller, London hosts brands like Burberry and Victoria Beckham and is known for emerging talent.
"It's a very good thing to see. London is always the avant guard of trends," said Alice Ferraz, of F*hits, a platform for digital influencers. "These shows have to be for the public, not just for the press."
(Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Soraya Ali; additional reporting by Jayson Mansaray in London and Alicia Powell in New York; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Christina Fincher)