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Battle of the Fashion Gimmicks
March 19, 2015
By far the most talked about moment – both by the fashion world and beyond – of the month-long calendar of shows that culminated at Paris Fashion Week last week, was Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson closing the Valentino show as their respective Zoolander characters, Derek and Hansel. In a meeting of PR minds, both the AW15 Valentino collection and the announcement of the subsequent release of Zoolander 2 was splashed over papers worldwide, and these kinds of gimmicks are becoming commonplace on the fashion week schedule.
While the press that this hilarious prank received was undoubtedly successful and positive, it did open up the debate from the more conservative of spectators of if it was the right place for such a stunt. This said, there has been no shortage of gimmicks seen on the fashion week runways in recent years, some more obvious than others, and so it looks like they’re here to stay – and thankfully so, we need a shake up here and there to keep us alert each gruelling season.
This time last year, as it is most years, Chanel seemed to be the lasting memory of the AW14 shows with their set at the Grand Palais – a full-scale, Chanel-branded supermarket where the aisles were perused by Delevingne et al. Karl Lagerfeld, an aficionado of an expertly executed and offensively expensive stunt, had outdone himself after previous shows had his models parade around icebergs, staging protests, in abandoned theatres, or in spacecrafts (to name a few.) That same season, his Fendi show was filmed from drones deployed to hover along the runway.
During his Louis Vuitton days, Marc Jacobs was Lagerfeld’s main rival in terms of staging and upstaging. Carousels, steam trains, hotels and escalators have since given way to a much simpler approach by Nicolas Ghesquière who replaced Jacobs at Vuitton, but over the Atlantic, the Marc Jacobs SS15 show had his signature quirk down. On a carpet of shocking pink, each guest was supplied with their own set of Beats headphones for a “fully immersive experience” – Anna Wintour included. Not one to conceal any sound, Christopher Bailey’s Burberry shows have become renowned for their atmospheric live music, the sometimes unknown artists – James Bay, Tom Odell, George Ezra – showing up on Spotify playlists worldwide in the days following the shows. The atmosphere doesn’t stop at the music either, and although the Burberry show formats are now comfortingly predictable, the weather isn’t: rain falling on an umbrella-shielded finale; glittering sycamore propeller seeds or autumn leaves; or snow – even if it is synthetic, the surprise is what will fall from the sky next.
Snowy weather was a feature in Moschino’s last menswear show too, although it was by far overshadowed by creative director Jeremy Scott’s womenswear vision including human Barbies and McDonald’s waitresses in seasons past. House of Holland followed in the footsteps of Viktor and Rolf by letting a conveyor belt runway do the models’ work while they stood still – an idea already brought to life, strangely, in America’s Next Top Model – and ensured maximum exposure at their AW15 London Fashion Week show, also ensuring his super-cool and super-followed guests to release their full Instagram potential. Rick Owens had a full dance troupe for his SS14 womenswear show which surprised and delighted, while their AW15 menswear show was more shocking – #freethenipple clearly wasn’t enough when exposed phallus took to the runway.
But all of this pageantry – whether a PR stunt, self-indulgent extravagance, an enhanced atmosphere or true artistry – had its master: Lee Alexander McQueen. His shows turned gimmicks into theatre; otherworldly, futuristic, unsettling or exhilarating, each one was breathtaking. From his SS99 show where Shalom Harlow’s white dress was spray-painted by robotic arms in the show’s finale and the hologram of a flailing Kate Moss in his 2006’s Widows of Culloden, to his final Plato’s Atlantis show – the first ever fashion show to be live-streamed online – and the SS01’s Voss where models including Moss and Erin O’Connor acted inside a mirrored cube, their audience hidden from them. In that show, to the crescendo of the show’s music, Erin O’Connor was instructed by McQueen to “go mental, have a nervous breakdown, die, and then come back to life,” she told Nick Knight as part of the photographer’s series, Subjective. She noted that she later found out her own father cried from outside of the cube, such was the power of these displays, before adding, “but those shows were real emotion; there was nothing gimmicky about it.”