Are Fashion Shows Still Relevant?
As fashion’s production merry-go-round whirls ever faster, the role of the runway is changing. Today, courtesy of British Vogue, Sarah Harris examines the state of the fashion show in the digital age.
The likelihood is that you have already seen a version of the Chanel image above. You will know that Karl Lagerfeld transformed Paris’ vast Grand Palais into a whitewashed modern art gallery filled with 75 custom-made original works and installations all in homage to the codes of the house. A sculpture of the interlocking double Cs along with the Chanel No 5 robot will already be etched in your memory. A shower cubicle drenched in Chanel chains will, by now, be as familiar a fixture of the spring/summer ’14 collections as Prada’s sporty tube socks. Because all this has been Instagrammed, tweeted, talked about – way before anyone even caught a whiff of the first exit.
In fact, half the audience – 2,520 guests comprising editors, buyers, bloggers, stylists, celebrities, and a jubilant handful of Chanel’s most important shoppers – were still fixated on their iPhones, desperately trying to get a signal (the server at Grand Palais may well have gone into some kind of cardiac arrest from such feverish Instagramming); so much so that no one really noticed that an actual fashion show was going on in front of them until midway through.
Karl Lagerfeld’s catwalks have long been a stage set for excess. Consider last season’s gently rotating, epic-scaled globe pricked with flags to pinpoint the Chanel stores around the world; or the season before, when models navigated their way around a melting iceberg, which the designer had had shipped in specially from Scandinavia at God-only-knows what cost. The eye-watering expense surrounding this season’s artsy installations is certainly up there with the best of them.
Meanwhile, Marc Jacobs’s swansong at Louis Vuitton was a smorgasbord of the house’s greatest-ever shows (well, a designer like Jacobs – 16 years at the helm of LV – was never going to go without a bang). There was the fully functioning escalator, caged hotel lifts, a water fountain and a twirling carousel flanked by beauties Kate Upton, Eva Herzigova and Natasha Poly who all looked ravishing despite the 3am call time for this 10am show. Seven hours preparing for a fashion show lasting 18 minutes and 25 seconds. Has the world gone mad?
Arguably, there has to be an easier way of seeing what a designer has to say every season other than the status quo: buyers and press on a four-week, biannual tour, from New York to London to Milan to Paris, shuttling between locations, herded in and out of obscure venues – some icy cold, others unbearably hot, all a tight squeeze – squashed on benches before being pushed and shoved back out, and on to the next. Repeat 10 times in 12 hours, and that’s a day in the life of a professional show-goer come ready-to-wear time.
And in the main, these collections – and the clothes they present, of which around 20 per cent won’t ever be made – are small fry in terms of what the brands are producing and selling. The real money-spinners, for designers and retailers, are the pre-collections, presented without fanfare in January and June. These clothes, which are less showy, more wearable, better-priced, and hang around stores for longer, account for up to 80 per cent of a designer’s business and up to 70 per cent of a store’s annual buy.
So what’s the role of the fashion show now?