The history of fashion shows and their original purpose.
Fashion shows are some of the most common fashion-related events in the world. They are used by everyone from brands to department stores, magazines to blogs, as a way to show off collections that have been put together for the coming season(s), after having or not having had spring/summer or fall/winter fashion seasons beforehand. Before the 1980s, however, fashion shows were not held so often and many do not consider them to be an actual part of the fashion world.
Since 1894, when Paul Poiret debuted his collection at the ages of twenty-seven and thirty-two respectively, there were no true “fashion shows” as we know them today. The term “fashion show” was only used to describe the place where such an event took place, or even just to refer to the process or, more often than not, its location. Paul Poiret’s shows were initially private and it wasn’t until his latter ones that he allowed women other than actresses and professional models on the catwalk.
How fashion shows have changed over the years.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, fashion shows were mainly used to present smaller collections that would later be included in editorials. This way, magazines had more options to choose from when it came time for them to put together their next issue. In fact, editors such as Diana Vreeland and Eugenia Sheppard did not like the idea of shows at all. During this time, shows were seen merely as a promotional tool for magazines and they weren’t taken seriously by the press.
The 1980s saw the start of an incredible transformation within fashion media with catwalk images starting to dominate magazines’ layouts even more than before. At the same time, shows started gaining momentum, becoming larger in scale and more extravagant. For instance, when Yves Saint Laurent sent his models down the runway in 1984 with two-inch platform heels, it caused quite an uproar since he’d previously presented such shoes without any specific height specifications.
In the 1990s, shows became even bigger than before and their locations evolved into spaces that were specifically built to host them. In 1991, the first ever official New York Fashion Week took place and by 1993, Paris followed suit, introducing its own version of a show system at the Carrousel du Louvre. 1994 also saw the creation of an additional fashion week in London.
By 2000, a fourth international fashion week was established, this time in Milan, Italy. Paris and New York have been running uninterrupted ever since their respective debuts, whereas presentations during London Fashion Week were stopped between 2001-2008 before being reborn as a presentations-only runway event in 2009. As for the shows that take place during Milan’s fashion week, they are primarily held at Palazzo Serbelloni and usually alternate between runway shows and presentations.
Since the year 2000, fashion shows have become a staple of fashion weeks around the world as they now take place in all four corners of the globe: New York, London, Milan and Paris, to name but a few. Nowadays it is common for brands and designers to host multiple shows during each fashion week, sometimes even more than once a day. Fashion shows are no longer exclusive to magazines or media; there are audiences who attend them for the sole purpose of watching the catwalk action live and deciding if they like what they see enough to make it their own.
Statistical information gathered on fashion shows at New York Fashion Week in September for the seasons Fall/Winter 2014-2015 and Spring/Summer 2015.
As can be seen from these figures, there were a total of 2,973 shows at New York Fashion Week in two seasons. This averages out to 1 show every 26 minutes or approximately one fashion show happening every five days. Out of all the shown collections, a whopping 40% of them were presented during the week’s first half. This means that around one third of all shows aren’t scheduled to take place until well into the second half of each fashion week.
There could be a number of reasons behind this occurrence. One explanation could be that designers wait to unveil their collections in order to line up with any major fashion or stylistic trends. Another explanation could be that many brands now choose to unveil their new collections through visual presentations rather than full-scale fashion shows.
Regardless, it is clear that an increasing number of designers are opting out of the traditional catwalk event so as to focus their efforts on other means of promoting their clothes.
The numbers for Paris Fashion Week are relatively similar, with 2,180 shows held during the seasons Fall/Winter 2014-2015 and Spring/Summer 2015. 74% of the shown collections were presented during the first half of both seasons which equates to approximately one show every six days.
Why designers show clothes are not meant to be worn.
Designers create fashion for the runway. They want to show off everything they can think of in terms of styles, shapes, colors and textures. At times, that means pieces that are not meant to be worn in real life – pieces that look more like art than apparel. Love it or hate it, this is what you’re seeing when you view fashion shows.
So, what’s the point of fashion shows? Why do designers bother to create pieces that celebrate their artistic vision but can’t be worn in real life? The answer is simple: Fashion shows are meant to generate buzz and publicity for a designer or label. It costs very little money to produce a show when compared with the return that a designer can get from it.
Some shows are simple and inexpensive, but designers with the clout of a Chanel or Louis Vuitton could create a show for millions of dollars. Their goal is to sell their designs to high-end department stores around the world, so they spend big money to produce spectacles that grab attention.
The premise is simple: If the buzz and publicity generated by a show boost sales, then it is money well spent. These shows are also seen as investments that can help to raise the profile of a company that lacks recognition. For example, being chosen to design clothing for big celebrities or being asked to dress an important social figure (i.e. First Lady Michelle Obama) can generate an immediate sales boost. This is part of the reason why designers are so eager to dress celebrities, since they know that their designs will be seen by millions – giving them the type of exposure that money just can’t buy.
How the media influences fashion shows.
In 1996, a big change occurred in the fashion industry. There was a huge step forward as models that belonged to the so-called “plus size” became part of shows. Up until this year, only slender women have been able to be on the runway for designers and magazines alike due to many reasons such as employment discrimination or risk of legal liability. According to Diana Crane, around 30% of American women wear a size 14 and above which is considered as the “plus-size” category. However, starting from 1996 there were more and more models that defied the odds and walked down the runways representing top designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci or Emanuel Ungaro. Nowadays, there are those who feel that fashion has become too much focused on the image industry and not enough about life. Because of this, society as a whole has been influenced to look at women as clothes hangers instead of human beings (Byrne). Fashion designers such as Karl Lagerfeld designed an entire line for “plus-size” women and stated that people should not be afraid of their bodies and that there is no “real women” (Morse). However, fashion designers like Christian Siriano believes that there should be a healthier perspective on the body image because for young girls it may be an idolization of something they cannot achieve; this idea has been supported by many celebrities such as Anne Hathaway and Cate Blanchett (Zimmerman). He believes that women should not be judged by their body shape because in the end we all have one and we should embrace it. So, designers like Lagerfeld and Siriano do not think alike when it comes to representing “plus-size” women in fashion shows. For the media, fashion shows are a place of fantasy and a place where people can find inspiration for their own lives. Fashion shows have been seen as an art form that reflects society in some ways, but they also influence it because the industry has power on what is beautiful or not (Byrne). This is all through the medium of television because it is the only way people are able to watch these shows all around the world.
How will consumers be impacted by the evolution of fashion shows going forward?
As we’ve seen throughout the years, technology and fashion have always been inextricably linked. The ability to distribute and share information has always driven both industries forward. So when it comes to fashion shows, there’s no better example of this than Live Streaming – a content trend that has become increasingly popular amongst brands and consumers alike who want to watch all the action of a show without having to physically attend.
Social media has been a key element in this shift with brand-consumer conversations taking place over Twitter and Facebook, while live-streams have given customers unprecedented access into what’s going on backstage. These types of interactions not only keeps brands relevant but can be seen as more authentic by customers.
Another trend which is influencing the future of fashion shows is the way in which brands are using augmented reality to enhance a show’s story and how it can be applied as a means for discovery post-event. For example, Burberry recently used an augmented reality experience to allow customers to explore its Spring/Summer 2017 collection via its Instagram page, giving consumers a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with the runway show without being there.
What’s more, the use of “virtual models” or holograms also looks set to revolutionize what we know about fashion shows in terms of who they speak to and how they can be accessed. For example, augmented reality company ModiFace’s recent collaboration with Toronto department store Hudson’s Bay, aims to turn a “virtual model” into a new type of shopfront by creating a virtual try-on experience. The technology provides customers with a chance to virtually try on all the latest designer brands – something that has never been possible before. For the fashion industry, it represents a powerful tool to reach new audiences and for consumers, it allows them to experiment with looks and styles before making a purchase.