The fashion show, we’re told, is the height of expression: a fleeting moment of creativity and movement that creates a context or a rationale around clothes that will perhaps eventually hang on a clinically-lit rail in a boutique, and if they’re lucky, on a hanger in someone’s much-loved wardrobe. A new book celebrates the spectacle of the best shows, from an editor who was at the centre of it during the golden age of spectacular fashion theatrics: the 1990s. Alix Browne, who now works at W, was there for the showstoppers – McQueen! Galliano! Lang! Margiela! – as well the more obscure underground shows that took place in downtown New York, such as Bruce and X-girl, and those held in the outskirts of Paris, such as Raf Simons’ and Viktor & Rolf’s earliest shows, most of which unknown to Generation Style-dot-com. Browne has sought out the impossible-to-find polaroids, lost catwalk imagery and testimonies from the people who were part of the story, and artfully orchestrated it all in a visual feast of a tome that conveys the emotion of being there first-hand.
“The fashion show is the ultimate realisation of a designer’s vision,” writes Browne. “[It is] a coherent act of creativity that separates those who have something compelling to say – about women, about men, about the world – from those who make nice things for people to wear. It is a moment of truth.” Today, fashion shows are often dullened by constantly flickering smartphone screens, money-is-no-object grandness, rent-a-celeb appearances and thumping techno music, which all seem to prioritise Instagram fodder over the present audience.
Every now and then, however, there’s a fashion that is a moment and the joy of being there to see it makes it all worthwhile. This book does more than dwell in nostalgia, rather proposing that there is still much room for truly moving fashion moments – not necessarily ones that require gargantuan budgets – to remind us all of what it is that we love about this maddening industry. After all, in an age of apathetic cynicism, who would prefer a great Snapchat story to surprisingly, an embarassingly, being moved to tears?
Runway: The Spectacle of Fashion by Alix Browne is available now, published by Rizzoli.