Fashion shows have the ability to tell a story — right from the moment an attendee walks into a venue, the atmosphere, music and clothing, all combine to set the tone for an ambience worth experiencing. Runway showings have evolved greatly ever since they started out in the 19th century — from exclusive events restricted to the elite, progressing to a blogger-filled front row and now, they’re all about virtual or augmented reality. Inherently uncertain by nature, fashion will relentlessly search for new ways to reinvent itself forever.
The Early Years
Fashion shows and their grandiosity date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when premier couturier Charles Frederick Worth started showing clients a pre-prepared selection of his original designs in Paris, forming the idea of a collection. He shocked his audiences by presenting his clothing on real, live women, hereby creating the role of models. A lot of these private shows typically included models casually walking around while small groups of customers sipped tea and nibbled on canapés. By 1908-1910, scheduled fashion shows became increasingly popular events.
Couturiers like Paul Poiret and Lady Lucile Duff-Gordon were both known for using a variety of clever tactics to attract a steady stream of fashion show attendees. By sending out invitations to her esteemed clientele, Lady Lucile turned the business of buying clothing into a noteworthy social event — she created her first fashion parade to open her boutique Maison Lucile at 23, Hanover Square (London) to “lure women into buying more dresses than they could afford,” she said bluntly. Six immaculately groomed models sashayed among her clients, and the modern catwalk was born.
Fashion shows in the early 1900’s had the same mysterious spirit that the exclusively lavish parties did in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby — lucky if you’re invited, doomed to dream if you aren’t.
By the time Christian Dior debuted his ‘New Look’ in 1947, fashion shows had become a serious affair and these publicised events were hosted in the designers’ salons or small venues like hotels.
Towards the ’70s designers continued showcasing their collections twice a year in February and September in an event that would eventually become known as New York Fashion Week. Other cities caught on, with Milan starting its own fashion week in 1975 and London following in 1984.
In 1998, a non-profit body named Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) was formed which instituted fashion weeks in our country, then known as the Lakmé India Fashion Week.
The very first one, held in August 2002, featured a total of 35 designers, and took place at the Taj Palace hotel in New Delhi. Leading names like Ritu Beri, Wendell Rodricks, Tarun Tahiliani and Raghavendra Rathore were among the firsts to showcase their creations on a runway platform.
From 2002-05, LIFW focused on consolidation, organising one fashion week a year, alternately in New Delhi and Mumbai. After the FDCI and Lakmé-IMG sorely split, from 2006 the two bodies started organising fashion weeks separately every season — what we now know as Amazon India Fashion Week (it’s then sponsor prefix, Wills Lifestyle) and Lakmé Fashion Week.
Fashion’s Digital Revolution
In an industry that’s reluctant to change in tradition, with the advent of social media emerged a new wave — the tech wave. Many brands set out to take a more democratic approach to fashion and speak the digital language of millennials — Burberry was one the first to catch this wave.
The year was 2010, creative director Christopher Bailey sent out the invite to Burberry’s Fall/Winter showing on YouTube wherein he announced plans to allow more than 100 million people to see his collection at the same time as the industry insiders attending his London show. The show went on to be live streamed on their website and was held in 3D format showings across cities like Tokyo, Dubai, New York, L.A. and Paris — the first spectacle of it’s kind in the world of fashion and tech.
Always ahead of the curve, Lakmé Fashion Week launched LFW TV in 2011, a channel on their website where one could livestream fashion shows at the comfort of their couches, gain access to behind the scenes footage, and catch a glimpse of celebrities in attendance, a format that is now taken over by Hotstar’s online video streaming platform.
Banking on the idea of digital runways, KCD, a fashion PR firm from New York introduced a Digital Fashion Shows platform in 2012 to deliver invite-only online fashion shows to buyers and members of the press. A year later, the overwhelming response from non-invitees prompted them to make the shows open to the public. Their roster boasts of designers like Balmain, Peter Som, Prabal Gurung, among many more who’ve participated in the online-only format, since then, KCD has helped Valentino create a digital museum and orchestrated the first ever Instagram-only show in 2015, a format that famously struck a chord with local designers like Masaba Gupta and Sabyasachi as well.
Ever since the social media revolution, fashion has been besotted with the idea of sharing it’s slice with the rest of the world. The question however arises if all designers may eventually ditch the traditional format of invite-only fashion weeks and grant access to their many followers worldwide.
Digital runways are easily more cost-effective, but bear the fear of becoming too monotonous in the eyes of the fatigue-stricken millennial. Alternatively, delivering an almost tangible experience behind the screen might just amount upto as much as a traditional runway showing would.
Luxury has thrived on the idea of exclusivity for far too long and the ever since the emergence of the smartphone, data hungry millennials are gobbling up the idea of accessibility like there’s no tomorrow. In an already fast-paced environment, perhaps the best thing to do is to cherish that golden ticket to the fashion tents and absorb the experience while it lasts, for as it may seem, could one day possibly become archaic.