Saturday, December 11, 2010

Défilé Burn-out: Part I

Does the business of showing clothes need to change?

In a two part series, The Polyglot examines the phenomenon of fashion-show-fatigue.
Shows Past & Present: Model walking amongst clients at Ungaro’s Fall 1978 couture collection; Stella Tennant strikes a pose in a look from Tom Ford’s Spring 2011 collection during the designer’s salon presentation.

Last September, at the tail-end of the New York spring collections, I found myself sitting at a dinner table with three spent colleagues. It wasn’t so much a tough week as a disconcerting one that had us wondering: what exactly is the purpose of a fashion show? The major complaint that night was a jam packed schedule of “way too many shows and way too little substance,” when it came to pushing ideas about dress and design.

Something had to change in an era where the majority of individuals attending fashion shows have but a tenuous relationship to the industry. So who are the shows geared towards? Exposure is important, but for most of these designers there is still a need to sell clothes in order to survive.

One wonders if the experience (and excitement) of a fashion show has been cheapened through over-exposure. In an interview with Cathy Horyn of the New York Times, architect Peter Marino summed up the industry’s current malaise: “Nobody, nobody walks into a store and wants to see a runway video playing.” Runway videos, he said, “are super low-end, like a Diesel store.”

It is after all an expensive enterprise, yet increasingly upstart designers are pinning their hopes for success on a 20 minute show (courtesy of a sponsor or two). “I only attend a handful of shows now, the rest of the time I head straight to the showroom,” confided one Chicago store buyer. The truth of the matter is I had been doing the same. There is a certain thrill to visiting a rented room at the Chelsea Hotel or a non-descript studio in the Garment District, to view a designer’s collection. It’s not so much that their clothes will be better, but it does allow one to make a rare connection with a designer and add value to their work.

A look from Ralph Rucci’s Fall 2010 collection, shown at the designer’s atelier; Model Liya Kebede during Tom Ford’s Spring 2011 presentation.

There was a time when fashion shows (even along 7th Avenue) were held in smaller venues and designers’ studios. Although not intimate by any means, they were a far cry from the current media frenzy that greets one today. For a designer to present in that way today, would be a subversive (though much welcome) act. Not surprisingly, fashion-show-fatigue hasn’t gone unnoticed amongst some of the industry’s most notable players.

Two seasons ago Ralph Rucci made a smart move. He transferred his show out of the tents in Bryant Park and into his own immaculately conceived headquarters. Being a much smaller venue, only a few guests were invited, but what a group. There was a sense of excitement in observing old time couture customers such as Deeda Blair seated next to Patti Smith, Whoopi Goldberg and André Leon Talley; all (snug) in the same row.

That such an eclectic mix of individuals should congregate at a Rucci show is no coincidence. And when the lights dimmed the magic began as models wafted down a path, making noise as their skirts brushed against knees. It may have alluded to the Paris salon presentations of past, yet for most in attendance (who had never been through it the first time around) it was a thoroughly new experience. Somehow Rucci’s presentation jived more with the times in which we live than a flashy show, (likely to be forgotten midway through fashion week). The next season, Mr. Rucci dispensed with a show all together for by-appointment presentations in his studio; where models wafted amongst racks carrying his block-buster collection.

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