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Why Stage Fashion Shows?

Increasingly faced with a choice, designers have been embracing — or rejecting — the changing role of fashion shows.
Rick Owens Spring/Summer 2016 | Source: InDigital
  • Imran Amed

PARIS, France — As we near the final crescendo of 'fashion month' here in Paris, the purpose and format of fashion shows continues to be a big topic of discussion as we make our way through the throngs of bystanders and wait for shows to start, all the while gazing at our smartphones and trying to keep up with work back at HQ.

But, in a way, this is nothing new. It's been a perennial topic for several seasons now: what's the purpose of a fashion show in today's world?

While the public can now take part in the action like never before, with a few exceptions, the clothes still aren't available for purchase for another six months, so all that consumer desire generated by multimillion-dollar fashion extravaganzas is not being efficiently harvested. Will anyone really care about these clothes once they finally arrive in stores? Or will they have already moved on to the next season? Or is it all just about brand marketing?

Increasingly faced with a choice, designers have been embracing — or rejecting — the changing role of fashion shows in Paris this season. Riffing on the idea of fashion shows made for social media, Alber Elbaz overtly created his collection with Instagram and image-making in mind, while Balmain's Olivier Rousteing's show manifesto asserted: "While this fifteen-minute presentation is designed to create strong impressions and reactions, it's during the upcoming six months when the designs will truly make their mark. Social media's embrace of Balmain will provide us with the daily reminders of the excitement of those who have found a new way to bypass traditional gatekeepers."

But the most interesting — and opposing — positions were taken by Tom Ford and Rick Owens. Mr Ford has been experimenting with his show format for several years now, first with a surprise (and very exclusive) show in New York for only 100 people, then with intimate London showroom presentations narrated by the designer himself, and, more recently, by moving his show to Los Angeles to coincide with Hollywood's awards season. This time around, he tried something new again, releasing a video, directed by Nick Knight and featuring Lady Gaga and a bevy of the hottest young models, including new #BoF500 members Mica Arganaraz and Lucky Blue Smith.

Mr Ford was not available for comment, but in a statement he said: "Instead of having a traditional show this season, I decided to try something new. Having a runway show has become so much about the creation of imagery for online and social media and watching a filmed fashion show can be like watching a filmed play [which is never very satisfying]. I wanted to think about how to present a collection in a cinematic way that was designed from its inception to be presented online."

While videos in place of fashion shows are nothing new, Ford seems to be saying something about both the format of the shows and the cost of staging them. "We pulled frames from the video that will be used for our look book, photographed the ad campaigns, and shot the beauty images all at the same time. The clothes will be available to editors in our press showrooms around the world," he continued. "It was a great deal of fun to do and I think that the video captures the spirit of the collection in a way that a filmed traditional show would not have."

On the other hand, Rick Owens staged a live show that drew gasps and tears, as women, strapped to one another, walked down his runway in a statement of support and female solidarity. On the way out of the venue, Caroline Issa said the show was a clear example of why digital would never replace the energy and theatricality of live fashion shows. Indeed, when viewed only as instant digital images, the intensity of Owens' message, the power of the music and, indeed, the beauty of the clothes, did not fully translate and, instead, elicited sarcasm, mockery and criticism on social media.

I guess you just had to be there. Because for me, at least, Rick Owens' show was one of the most powerful and moving moments amongst the blur of collections I have seen in New York, London, Milan and Paris this season. And, so, the debate continues. What is the role of a fashion show in today's digital world?

Imran Amed, Founder and Editor-in-Chief

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