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Have catwalk shows as live events become obsolete?

With fashion editor’s schedules as well as their delicately heeled feet running wild during the hot fashion months, leaving us exhausted until the press day marathon is due – while we actually follow it all on Instagram – it is questionable whether catwalk shows are still a vindicated way to present seasonal collections.

Countless brands follow Burberry’s early adoption and stream their shows real-time online as well as in store. We might as well get comfortable, pop some corn and watch next season’s highlights with exceptionally pain-free feet placed on a no less fashionable couch pillow – and chill.

Yet with technological possibilities changing rapidly there’s hope we’ll be saved from bodily fatigue fashion weeks enforce upon us. That overpowering kicking-in after show number 100 on day 10. Let’s be honest, we all know what being fashion tired feels like. It makes me wonder if fashion shows as live events have become obsolete. How is clothing to be presented in the future, when we’ll be wearing interactive touch and gesture sensitive garments? I’ve spoken to six people from the industry about their approach to showcasing designers’ work.


A creative universe

Editor-at-large at Fucking Young magazine Philippe Pourhashemi insists on fashion weeks being key ways to put a spotlight on a city and underline its cultural significance. Fashion is about the here and now, making it an ideal instrument to convey notions of taste, beauty and culture at a given moment. A successful catwalk show encapsulates these aspects and remains influential for years. ‚Gucci uses the show to express a creative universe, sensibility, specific taste, as well as an unusual take on gender. This Autumn / Winter 2017 Dries Van Noten’s 100th Paris show featured iconic models from the 1990’s. The combination of music, casting and clothes made for a highly emotional moment. That kind of live thrill cannot be replaced with film for instance.‘ However, he agrees that social media has become pivotal, but the content needs to be substantial and happen outside the Internet‘. Encapsulated, Philippe understands the catwalk as a complete experience allowing the audience to enter a designer’s world. What they feel in that room and how they understand a collection is still important for a brand’s success and longevity.


Narrative performance

Lisbon’s ModaLisboa was first to start with a central location, while other fashion weeks were no more than calendar coordination. Without big competitors ModaLisboa affords each creative to shine in a professional environment – all with low-cost production. As none of the showcased designers are big advertisers, communication wise they have the same chance to get media features. It all coming down to merit and style is something hugely valued.

For a while now the highlight has been its closing show by one of Portugal’s most dynamic fashion designers, Nuno Gama, not sparing with puff male models he casts in his local gym. Above all, he’s a story teller, and his tales are invariably about the country’s history of discovery and colonisation, incorporated by as many as 90 boys and often a handful of actors. Even though the catwalk part is the longest of them all, it does not overpower the rest. That specific case leads me to my first question for International Press and PR Officer Tiago Miranda, a catwalk defender: What is the benefit of ModaLisboa for Portugal? Just like Philippe, Tiago is certain that events with international reputation are essential for the city’s marketing and embody a powerful instrument to deliver their country’s image. Collections, in his opinion, are to be showcased on a catwalk.

The transformation fashion weeks have undergone in the past decades are the result of the adaption to new media appearances and the globalisation process. Why else do people still show such fascination for the fashion shows and weeks? The show world may have changed, but definitely hasn’t become obsolete. Seeing fashion live is the most fascinating way to be dazzled by it.’


Merging the arts

A very different approach is developing at the growing annual festival Fashionclash (FC). It’s the only relevant fashion event next to Amsterdam Fashion Week in the Benelux, placing collections into a conceptual context. Run by the trio Branko Popovic, Nawie Kuiper and Laurens Hamacher the Maastricht-based organisation profiles the ‚small’ town in the South of the Netherlands as a ‚fashion city’ and functions as relevant platform for emerging talent. Whilst fashion is its main focus, the collections are presented in innovative approaches to connect various disciplines and cultures and reach a broad audience through the art of fashion.

‚The live fashion experience remains special, yet runway choreographies often look the same. It’s not the most creative way and very expensive. Yet a catwalk is not just a catwalk, but a stage where many things can happen. The audiences of the future will be even more hybrid’, Branko explains ‚There are countless possibilities to explore presenting to a large audience and the show being accessible and unprecedented. It’s not about the champagne bubbles or first row seating, but taking fashion out of the comfort zone. Much can be learned working with other disciplines‘. Their interdisciplinary approach offers the audience challenges and potential to experiment.


Allowing confusion by creating intimacy

Basel’s graduate showcase Doing Fashion’s Art Director Matthias Waldhart sees two solution approaches, which are directly linked to the event size featuring as many as 22 upcoming designers: ‚Intimate haptic, feel and touch are important and activate something we don’t get online or digitally. For our show we search proximity and allow confusion. With less distance to catwalk and model, intimate moments can be triggered. The second thought is to abolish the preset seating situation and its predetermined gaze as a consequence thereof. The crowd is co-responsible for what they see.‘ The concept implemented called ‚Look Therapy’ was conceived by Artistic Manager Priska Morger and integrated the backstage area through projections and microphones, allowing insights into the happenings behind the scenes: ‚The crowd weren’t just consuming but got to interact with the goings-on. On that note models were seeking eye contact and created more intensity than we’re used to from conventional shows‘.

It’s all happening and new ways of showcasing fashion are being explored. Yet in a nutshell, either technological possibilities do not yet offer the excitement we expect or we’re just too social beings, loving to share the experience not only real-time but physically squeezed together on a hard bench staring at our phones following each other’s fashionable journeys online. Fact is, my sofa will be lonely once more for the Spring / Summer 2018 showtime. Never mind the aching feet.

NoéMie Schwaller

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