Fashion is soaring to new heights—or was at least ready
for takeoff at January’s Chanel haute couture fall/winter 2012 show, which was presented
in a 50-meter-long custom-made airplane, complete with a beverage cart inside
and floating clouds outside, visible from 120 oval windows.
We have come to expect such spectacles from brands like
Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Louis Vuitton and, the original showman, Thierry
Mugler, with antics ranging from an imported (and rapidly melting) Scandinavian
iceberg to paint machines splattering a model’s white dress.
Yet fashion shows were not always dramatic productions.
As recently as the early 1980s, collections were exhibited over a two-month
period in the intimate setting of designers’ salons, and were primarily an
opportunity for buyers and celebrities to have a first look. Throughout the
decade, pioneers like Vivienne Westwood and Mugler led a transformation from
small-scale “parades” to extravagant runway shows, as they introduced concept
fashion shows that use design as a means of social commentary and explored the
inherent theatricality of fashion as performance art.
By the late ’90s, Paris fashion shows had become
over-the-top extravaganzas, as designers one-upped each other—and
themselves—year after year in the race to put on the wildest show. A school of
avant-garde-conceptual fashion creators rose out of London, with Alexander
McQueen at the helm and Hussein Chalayan and Gareth Pugh following suit.
Surprisingly, while American and Italian designers
certainly hold their own in the industry alongside their French and British
counterparts in terms of design and popularity—Proenza Schouler and Prada are
two of the most highly anticipated shows of the season—to this day they are not
prone to outrageous demonstrations. Designers in Milan utilize the breathtaking
city to stage shows in hidden palazzi and gardens, while New Yorkers focus more
on the excitement of the clothing than the stage (save for Marc Jacobs, who,
for years, has called the New York State Armory his exclusive home for his
massive sets—one of the few locations in Manhattan with unobstructed views that
can hold over 3,000 people).
With New York’s fall/winter 2012 ready-to-wear
collections commencing this week, Departures looks back at some of the wildest fashion-show conceits in history. Will Karl
Lagerfeld top his luxury airplane? Will Sarah Burton, who has toned down the
showmanship since taking the reins at Alexander McQueen, incorporate yet
another force of nature into this year’s fantastical show? Models, take your