With the cost of hosting fashion shows creeping ever higher, and sales appearing to slow, many are starting to see the format as outdated and unnecessary. Whilst catwalks are supposed to invite creative conversation and critique, it appears some brands wish only to control the narrative around their collection through ostentatious displays. There is a vast difference in the size, production and budgets of the New York shows, ranging from those of small brands such as Eckhaus Latta to commercial powerhouses such as Coach. In 2018, is bigger always better?
Certain shows successfully used their surroundings to envelop the viewer into the designer’s world. At Sies Marjan, warm auras lit up the cavernous venue - plum purples, ultramarines and crimsons - creating the ultimate backdrop for Sander Lak’s knock-out collection. The seasonal shades continued onto the looks, rendered in silks, velvets and furs. Deep, sensual fabrics to match the collection’s mood. It was exact and enveloping. This was also the case with Calvin Klein’s display. Set atop a carpet of popcorn, the fronts of barns jutted up 15 foot above the audience. Facades were printed with scratchy impressions of Warhol prints, their interiors decorated in Sterling Ruby’s objects cast in sterling silver. The impact these structures and edible flooring had on the actual collection was mammoth. The positive reaction to the Calvin Klein A/W collection is proof that surroundings can nurture the themes running through the threads. These two shows, as different as they were in complexity and set up, are prime examples that when set and show synthesise it showcases a brand's holistic vision.
Just when you thought New York may be shedding the commerciality it is so renowned for, one boarded the Philipp Plein ferry to Brooklyn. The show saw an onslaught of high energy and 'you had to see it to believe it' theatrics, leaving onlookers exhausted and perplexed. Between the snow ploughs, lasers, spaceships, and a branded, fully functioning robot, this show was rumoured to have cost around $5 million. The actual clothes were the usual Plein affair, sporty, sexy (a hyper-masculine vision of sexy) and branded to the high heavens. The garments were pretty much unrelated to the eye-wateringly expensive set, making the whole experience feel futile and wasteful. Coach A/W 18 was one of the largest productions on the schedule. The show was predominantly trendy with Instagram friendly visuals: a smoky woodland with vintage TV’s peppered around the detritus on the faux-forest floor. There were a few desirable garments; devoré velvet dresses that cascaded to the model’s ankles, minutely flared chiffon sleeves which extenuated the darker notes created by the set. Where this collection misstepped was in its hints of witchcraft. A clan of empowered women demonised by male-led civilisations had the potential to be a poignant message in our current climate. But that theme wasn’t taken far enough. With an enviable gang of brand ambassadors one cannot deny Coach’s remarkable resurgence, however, the darkness of the set was not translated fully into the clothes - a wasted opportunity for a brand with a newly reinstated young audience.
Through all the hustle of fashion week, brands worry that by speaking too softly, their voices will not be heard. However, two of the most impressive shows on the schedule this season were the softest spoken. Eckhaus Latta's presentation was held in Brooklyn; a red brick, empty gallery, filled with only a DJ deck and a sparse scattering of black benches. Their poem-cum-press release spoke of 'healthy confrontation' and, boy, did it deliver! The casting was perfectly diverse and the models didn’t storm the runway, they strolled, allowing the onlooker to admire this politically switched on collection. It was a moment to pause in an otherwise relentless schedule. At Victoria Beckham, whilst a little more showy than Eckhaus Latta, the same principle applied. The clothes spoke for themselves, giving the audience time and space to connect with the ideas behind them, with no distraction. 'This new, more intimate space allows for the construction and details of the garments to be seen from a new perspective. Silhouettes are sometimes complex, multi-layered and multi-textured,' read Beckham’s press release.
I fear the trend for high-octane fashion shows risks killing meaningful conversations about fashion. Walking around New York, it's easy to feel that craftsmanship is being replaced by showmanship. There were shows-large production, small production and anything in-between - that ignited a collective imagination, allowing our minds to wander into a new territory of subjects, coaxing viewers out of their realities and into that of the designer’s. And if a designer can create that, there is no need to hide behind the set, sound or stunt.