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Essay

Essay: Walk This Way

by Bella Gladman on 15 November 2019

From flirty winks at Marc Jacobs to Leon Dame’s stylised sashay at Maison Margiela, Bella Gladman examines what S/S 20 model walks mean for fashion optimism.

From flirty winks at Marc Jacobs to Leon Dame’s stylised sashay at Maison Margiela, Bella Gladman examines what S/S 20 model walks mean for fashion optimism.

Watching the S/S 20 shows, something felt new and exciting, and it wasn’t only the clothes. Yes, we talked about Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty extravaganza; sure, we talked about the diamanté boob detailing at JW Anderson, but what almost flew under the radar was the way the models walked. From flirty winks at Marc Jacobs to Leon Dame’s stylised sashay at Maison Margiela, the S/S 20 shows were all about the movement. In fact, a standout season of model walks brought home just how integral movement is to the presentation of fashion - movement makes directional clothes make sense.

At Marc Jacobs, models brought flirtatious confidence as they walked through the Armory, dancing at times thanks to choreography by movement maestro Stephen Galloway. A yellow-clad Charlotte O’Donnell fanned herself, while Lina Zhang was practically vogueing. Lineisy Montero flashed a wink, and Kaia Gerber did her mother Cindy Crawford proud, striking poses worthy of her supermodel forebears. The overall mood? The ingénue heroine of an empowering perfume campaign, skipping through life without a care in the world.

Tom Ford’s show, too, reprised the Zoolander attitude to walking, as exemplified in Hansel and Derek’s walk-off. Set in a subway station, Ford’s models strode down the runway, giving face the way Tyra Banks teaches America’s next top models to do. Joanna Krneta smouldered in satin, popping a hip - it’s the kind of posing that begs for a slow motion replay. To borrow a phrase from Lizzo’s 2019 #1 song, the mood was knowing you are “100% that bitch”.

Fashion’s moving away from the anonymous, face-in-the-crowd modelling that’s epitomised the creative industries’ gloomy outlook.

Over in Paris, one of the most-memed moments came from Leon Dame closing Maison Margiela. To the metallic beat of Marie Davidson’s Work Dame lurched down the runway clad in a shiny sailor suit and heeled boots, posing like a drunken socialite. Developed by movement director Pat Boguslawski, Dame’s walk was widely shared, fast becoming one of the rare show moments that take on a new life in culture beyond fashion.

This ‘look at me’ model energy felt new, or at least noteworthy. Whether J. Lo’s victory parade for the Versace finale or Ariel Nicholson’s primadonna performance at Tomo Koizumi, it’s a far cry from the intentionally blank, ‘commuter hustle’ walk that’s been the flavour of fashion week for nigh on a decade.

But why has fashion been so serious for so long? Much has been made of the knock-on impact of the 2008 global economic crash. Reduced luxury spending has meant no-frills efficiency and profit chasing have been pushed to a top priority for businesses, and in turn, fashion’s flagrant excesses have been drastically curtailed, both for designers and consumers. It’s no use being a creative genius if you can’t bring in the cash, and subconsciously, the idea of conspicuous consumption has felt more than a little uncomfortable. It’s no wonder collections in recent years have tended towards the conservative, with a larger reliance on ‘the hits’ e.g. leather goods, compared to the mind-bending fantasies of John Galliano’s work both solo and at Dior, or even Marc Jacobs’ own tenure at Louis Vuitton.

Model walks followed economic suit. When compared to the bouncy hip-swinging attitudes of the nineties supers, the naughties ushered in a ‘factory production line’ style of model walking, which became de rigeur. With lookalike casting and deliberately similar make-up and styling, the focus was on the clothes. The models faded into the background, indistinguishable - more like ambulatory clothing racks than individuals in their own right. As Boguslawski notes, ‘around 2010, everything [in fashion] became a little bit safe, boring, simple. It wasn't as theatrical as it used to be.’

In fact, it's worth noting that, while fashion propels trends in garments, it also has trends in model gaits, with different decades bringing their own style of walking to the runway. In the couture salons of fifties Paris, models would parade for an incredibly select audience who could touch the garments and ask models to twirl and pose so that they could see the clothes better. The sixties and seventies saw Pat Cleveland become the founding mother of 'performance' catwalking, her extravagant self-choreographed gestures taking inspiration from her childhood dance training.

Instagram’s arrival has also meant people forgot about how a model’s walk could make an impact. Given that most people first see fashion imagery through phone screens - where garments are frozen in time - movement’s importance to fashion has been slowly eroded just as the importance of actually holding a fashion show has been called into question, most recently by Extinction Rebellion.

S/S 20, however, indicates that fashion’s moving away from the anonymous, face-in-the-crowd modelling that’s epitomised the creative industries’ gloomy outlook post-crash. The exuberance of walking and spectacle this season also makes a case for the continuation of shows, namely because memorable walks and performances stick in people’s minds, which is, of course, the target of all marketers.

But why are these eye-catching walks returning now? For one, nostalgia’s a huge driving force, and Ford and Jacobs are two designers who epitomise a time when shows were exclusive, credit was cheap, and celebrities were glossy show ponies. The glamorous model gaits at their shows feel like harking back to a lighter time when there wasn’t so much pressure on a collection to be simultaneously new, accessible to everyone and guaranteed to sell well.

What’s more, after a decade of metaphoric belt-tightening, nothing could feel more novel than being exuberant. Boguslawski adds, ‘I think everyone got bored of a street style walk. I think fashion had a sort of awakening - we thought, “Oh my God, why are we so boring right now?" Back in the day, everything was super fun. Let's bring this back!’

Indeed, escapism was the word on everyone’s lips when responding to Marc Jacobs’ show. How else are you meant to process the heaviness of current affairs, other than getting dressed up and being totally outrageous? People come to fashion to shake off daily drudgery and imagine other ways to be. And if it makes people laugh - all the better.

Boguslawski is honest about the reactions to Dame’s performance at Margiela, saying ‘I knew it was funny, but also I knew we didn't want to push it too far because it could become too funny.’ But the spectacle was something he wanted to bring back, because for him ‘a fashion show is always a show.’

He adds, ‘Some people were joking about it and saying, “Oh my goodness, it's ridiculous,” and creating memes on Instagram. But at the same time, I think that’s great, because [the walk and its popularity] stands for freedom, for self-expression. When we were working on Leon’s pose at the end, I said to him, “Go for it, enjoy it!”’ Ultimately, enjoyment is the only enduring reason for why fashion exists at all.

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