Couture week, it’s that time of year when the world’s most expensive clothing is put on display in some of the most elaborate runway presentations known to man. Needless to say, a lot of time, effort, and money are put into the show, from the invitations to the seating arrangements, to the set itself. Fashion houses not only have to contend with outdoing their past presentations, they must also one-up their competitors. It is an ongoing game of who-is-more-luxurious-than-whom. The question is, do we really need the spectacle?
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So…Why Bother With Runway?
There are several avenues a designer can take when presenting a new collection. Runway shows are the most common during the two major buying seasons (Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer, for both Ready-To-Wear and Couture) held on an organized week per city. All of this involves the hiring of an enormous staff – models, wranglers, dressers, makeup artists, PR firms – needed to complete fittings and arrangements in the days before and during the show, but also any fees that may be required to be included in a city’s official fashion week program. The mounting bills for what is typically a 20-minute affair seems ridiculous… unless you consider the publicity advantages.
Historically, fashion presentations were off limits to the public. They were strictly industry-only events, and were all about the clothing. In-house models would slowly and deliberately display the clothing while carrying a corresponding number, as to make the outfit easier to identify in the program (where the designer lists the separate pieces and offers descriptions), and for orders to be placed. But in its modern incarnation as a promotional tool, the fashion show sets the tone for how the collection will be perceived by the critic and the public. It resonates with the viewer, so when the clothing is available for purchase up to six months later, the consumer remembers the show. The more a fashion show is spoken about in magazines and on social media, the more important the collection becomes once it’s been released.
Do it Like Chanel
The two high-end brands that most utilize the advantages of the runways show are without a doubt Chanel and Dior. Their Parisian shows during Couture and seasonal Ready-To-Wear are elaborate, to say the least, with their runways embodying themes such as “Under the Sea”, or “Enchanting Forest”. But where their extravagance really shines is during smaller buying seasons (such as pre-fall and resort). While most designers are opting to forgo a live presentation and simply release images, and with no official fashion “week” for industry officials to be heavily scheduled in to, Chanel and Dior are free to hold their shows anywhere in the world. Texas, Scotland, Tokyo, or Dubai, whichever city holds the interest of the designer is where the show will take place. With transportation and accommodations now involved for the celebrity and industry guests, these fashion shows become “happenings” – an experience beyond the show or the clothing itself. In an age of digital everything, where shows can be live-streamed and images are immediately available, it’s a way for these über-luxury brands to retain a level of exclusivity.
The most cost-effective way for a designer to present a collection is to release images in a lookbook. All you need is a model and a photographer, and it can all be wrapped up in a few hours. Understandably, they can be underwhelming. There is no building anticipation, and a lot the themes the designer is trying to evoke can be left out, not to mention still images lack the dynamism of clothing in motion. But lookbooks can become wonderful creative pieces of their own.
German designer Augustin Teboul released a particularly moody series of images featuring a variety of non-traditional models, capturing the rock-and-roll vibe of the brand as well as creating captivating scenes (see above). Meanwhile, Paco Rabanne showed how doing something standard, like placing a model with simple hair and makeup in front of a seamless, but doing it really, really well can be just as effective as a high-concept idea (see below). By letting the clothing speak for itself and lightly complimenting the collection’s aesthetic touches, the brand created images that were Pintrest-ready. If pictures of a collection are going to be passed around the internet anyway, why not save some money one would have spent on a runway show, and simply release high-quality images for sharing on social media?
The Theatre of Fashion
For some designers, the fashion show is an art form in itself. Alexander McQueen was the undisputed king of the fashion show. Each one was a piece of theatre, with a name that was then extended upon the collection. He used the runway as a stage to convey the influences and imagery that went in to the production of each collection in the first place.
In recent years other designers have taken to including show-stopping sets, such as Thom Browne, and Marc Jacobs during his later years at Louis Vuitton. Giving the clothing a sense of scenery also gives them some context. What world would include this collection if it were absolute fashion? Or rather, if a designer enjoys art and pushing boundaries, why not create a conversation? Iris van Herpen, a designer who has become known for bringing the surrealist and the avant-garde to the runway in her clothing, had models suspended in vacuum-packed plastic during her A/W 2014 collection. As the air was sucked out of their habitats, the models were cocooned, becoming a floating, living backdrop.
The Art of Publicity
The purpose of releasing any sort of information about a collection is to publicize it. A designer cannot expect their garments to be used in editorials, declared “must have” items by publications, or reach out to customers if it just arrives in stores without any pomp and circumstance. A movie studio would not release a film without some form of promotion (be it a trailer, posters, or otherwise). The same goes for clothing. At the end of the day runway shows entice the customer. A beautiful model struts with confidence down the catwalk, the clothing flowing perfectly around her, in an image created by the designer before magazine editors tinker around with it. They’re just trying to sell their dream.