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This story was published before Summer 2021, when we launched our new digital experience.

Most Outrageous Fashion-Show Antics

A look back on 30 years of fashion spectacles.

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Fashion is soaring to new heights—or was at least readyfor takeoff at January’s Chanel haute couture fall/winter 2012 show, which was presentedin a 50-meter-long custom-made airplane, complete with a beverage cart insideand floating clouds outside, visible from 120 oval windows.

We have come to expect such spectacles from brands likeChanel, Alexander McQueen, Louis Vuitton and, the original showman, ThierryMugler, with antics ranging from an imported (and rapidly melting) Scandinavianiceberg 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-monthperiod in the intimate setting of designers’ salons, and were primarily anopportunity for buyers and celebrities to have a first look. Throughout thedecade, pioneers like Vivienne Westwood and Mugler led a transformation fromsmall-scale “parades” to extravagant runway shows, as they introduced conceptfashion shows that use design as a means of social commentary and explored theinherent theatricality of fashion as performance art.

By the late ’90s, Paris fashion shows had becomeover-the-top extravaganzas, as designers one-upped each other—andthemselves—year after year in the race to put on the wildest show. A school ofavant-garde-conceptual fashion creators rose out of London, with AlexanderMcQueen at the helm and Hussein Chalayan and Gareth Pugh following suit.

Surprisingly, while American and Italian designerscertainly hold their own in the industry alongside their French and Britishcounterparts in terms of design and popularity—Proenza Schouler and Prada aretwo of the most highly anticipated shows of the season—to this day they are notprone to outrageous demonstrations. Designers in Milan utilize the breathtakingcity to stage shows in hidden palazzi and gardens, while New Yorkers focus moreon 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 hismassive sets—one of the few locations in Manhattan with unobstructed views thatcan hold over 3,000 people).

With New York’s fall/winter 2012 ready-to-wearcollections commencing this week, Departures looks back at some of the wildest fashion-show conceits in history. Will KarlLagerfeld top his luxury airplane? Will Sarah Burton, who has toned down theshowmanship since taking the reins at Alexander McQueen, incorporate yetanother force of nature into this year’s fantastical show? Models, take yourmarks...

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