As part of the research for an investigative feature I'm writing, I interviewed fashion writer and historian Sara Idacavage. Sara currently works at Parsons School of Design and writes frequently for Fashionista.com. The feature seeks to investigate the development of the fashion show and what it will look like in the future. Once I have finished writing the full feature I will publish it here.
Scroll down to read the interview ...
Front row in the 1960s
Front row in the 2010s
How important is it to stage a fashion show for a brand today?
Surprisingly important! It may seem counterintuitive for brands to spend millions of dollars staging fashion shows when they know that they probably won't make a profit from clothing sales (especially couture), but that's no longer the purpose of fashion shows, as it was in the past. Today, it's widely believed that the true purpose of these highly-publicized fashion spectacles is to attract enough brand awareness to stimulate sales in lower-cost or licensed merchandise, including products like sunglasses, bags, and perfume. The brand's image of stylishness and luxuriousness that's conveyed through extravagant fashion shows becomes somewhat imbued in these (relatively) affordable products, allowing a wide range of consumers to get a "taste" of the brand, or at least what it signifies to them.
Who is the fashion show for?
I'm not sure if there's a clear answer for this question. The sole purpose of the first modern fashion shows at the turn of the twentieth century were to entice wealthy clients into buying a couturier’s latest designs. As time passed, foreign buyers and press agents began to populate the shows, gradually moving the focus away from the couturier's personal clientele. The more that fashion shows have become highly publicized spectacles, the more important it has become to have the audience packed with celebrities and other notable personalities. Now that fashion shows can be viewed by anyone with a smart phone, it's difficult to determine exactly who fashion shows are intended for, as they can provide many things to many types of people, including creative inspiration, commercial profit, self-validation, or just an escape from the reality of everyday life.
What are your theories on what fashion shows will look like in the future?
Although it's hard for me to imagine fashion shows becoming any more over-the-top and spectacular, my optimistic side hopes that we'll see an increasing amount of diversity on the runway, including a wider range of weights, heights, and skin colors. Eventually, I hope that having a "plus size" or transgender model open a show will no longer be as news-worthy as it is today. I also imagine that we'll see an increase in the "see now, buy now" model or " shoppable" runway shows, which allow the excitement of seeing clothing on a catwalk translate into a sense of urgency that sparks instantaneous sales. Although the success and logistics of this approach are still up for debate, it seems like a smart move considering advances in the consumer system as well as the antiquated nature of showing clothes months before they can be purchased.
All the "players" (bloggers, magazines, designers, models etc.) in fashion use social media today, which makes fashion available to everyone. With that in mind, what is the point of having a live show?
In my opinion, catwalks still possess a magical power that transforms "clothing" into "fashion". The way that people use phrases such as "seen on the runway" and "runway trends" is indicative of how the industry (and its players) continue to rely on fashion shows to signify what should be considered "fashion", which is then disseminated through blogs, magazines, and other forms of media. Even if a style has already been around for awhile, it seems like the appearance of the style on a catwalk is still likely to change how the look is perceived, elevating it to a level that is deemed more desirable or noteworthy.
Do you see any issues with the rigid calendar of fashion shows? (Spring, fall and perhaps pre-fall, resort, couture, showing 6 months ahead in most cases)
I think it's hard to deny that there are some issues with the rigid calendar system and the growing need for producing an exorbitant amount of collections and runway shows per year, which has been made clear by designers like Raf Simmons who have spoken openly about the loss of creativity that can be caused by these overly demanding schedules. The current system of scheduled fashion seasons and advanced showings was created in an entirely different era in human history. It's one of those institutionalized things (like Daylight Savings Time) that was initiated at a time when life and technology were very different, and yet we continue to follow the structure today despite the fact that we no longer need to travel to Europe on ships or wait months for a collection to be made and delivered. Although the system has been deeply institutionalized, I do think that it's starting to shift as more brands adopt the "see now, buy now" model, although it would certainly be difficult to change the global fashion week system as a whole since numerous parts of the industry rely on these standardized time tables for economic stability.
Are we seeing the death of the fashion show any time soon?
I don't foresee the "death" of the runway show happening any time soon, although the format and essence of fashion presentations may continue to evolve in new and unexpected ways. No matter how unnecessary they may seem, I can't help but believe that the allure of runway shows simply can’t be replicated by another format.