What is the purpose of the fashion show? A simple enough question, but the answer is anything but. At a fundamental level it is the way in which fashion is displayed. Fashion week comes each season, held consecutively in the major fashion capitals (and just about every other city...and town...and shopping centre) with a plethora of catwalk shows displaying the latest designs. The designers have to show each season without fail, and as many admit, were they to miss a catwalk show one season, they would be out of the running. The stage is set with the eyes of the fashion world fixed upon it, and the designer must shine or fail. The economic implications of the show are major, for they are invariably the most direct advertisement for the house that season. Images from the catwalk are immediately disseminated worldwide, almost instantaneously these days. Carefully crafted campaigns for magazine advertisements are fair enough, but it is on the catwalk (and the showroom after) that the images are really sold, and it is those buyers who sell it to the rest of us.
The show is everything, and it is nothing. People run to make it on time, people queue, people are crushed, people steal a seat, people talk, silence descends, the music blares, and in a flash it is over and people run to the next show. The hours of finding fabrics, of designing, of cutting patterns, of sewing and resewing, of selecting models and venues and music and lighting and styling, all the elements of the show, are squeezed into a few minutes and represented worldwide by rather flat and lifeless photographs shot dead-on. It seems unfair, but then so does just about everything in fashion. It is the most practical way as yet to share information to an audience too fickle and impatient to sit through an entire video of the show (compare the commentary of Rick Owens' show by people who have seen only the scowling catwalk photos, to those who have also seen the full video performance and infectiously happy backstage photographs).
A show costs, but the press (and hopefully the sales) they attract are more than worth it. Provided, of course, that you are successful. And so we see every designer clamouring to put on a show, but for what? London Fashion Week has an ever-increasing number of shows, despite the fact that many of those showing do not really require a show. A showroom would far better suit a number of designers, especially fast fashion houses which seem intent on being validated as part of Fashion. Indeed therein lies one of the real purposes of the fashion show - it validates the clothing presented as Fashion. Whatever a designer sends out onto the catwalk is somehow transformed from clothing (whether tragic or sublime) into a statement. And that statement is apparently an artistic one. Hence we see people defending even the most banal of designers, simply because they put on a show, with the general public quite rightly scratching their heads at it all. But there will always be more noise than talent, it simply stands to reason.
The show is a necessity to proclaim that you are part of Fashion, but it is in reality only a small part of the business. The real work is producing, fulfilling orders, selling. Creating an image is all well and good, but you have to be able to sell something at the end of it. Otherwise your career, however creative and amazing, will be short-lived. But what if your business is already solid? And what if that business is built upon an evolving uniform rather than seasonal reinvention? What does the designer who merely refines each season show on the catwalk? Take two ostensible opposites - Thom Browne and Rick Owens. Both are known for the broad uniform their fans tend to adhere to, which commentators quip "looks the same every season" (a statement that reflects poorly on the commentator rather than the designer). The show then becomes the opportunity to do exactly what the name suggests - a show.
With so many designers putting clothes on the catwalk that would be better off staying in the showroom (if that), it is always a pleasure to see designers put on an actual show. The fashion show is about theatrics, it is about fantasy, it is about an experience. You can see the clothes in the showroom, you can see the clothes in magazines, you can see the clothes in the stores, but in the show you present something more than just the clothes - you present the idea. If the catwalk is the stage for expression, then expression is what we should see. Masterful strokes of artistry, not simply clothes worn up and down the catwalk. The reason I loved Thom Browne's show was the sheer beauty of the expression. The overwhelming majority of clothes he will sell next season will be the same tailoring he has always sold, even though these pieces will no doubt be available to order for those daring enough. But that is hardly the point - it is about sharing something beautiful. You have but a fleeting moment to share something with the world, and designers like Thom create something that make the moment worthwhile.