We explore the wondrous history of theatrically choreographed catwalks
Fashion and dance have had a love affair since the beginning of time. From pointe shoes inspiring avant-garde heels by Christian Louboutin, to Yves Saint Laurent creating an entire collection attributed to the orientalism of the Ballet Russes, as well as designers like Mary Katrantzou and Jean Paul Gaultier – and soon, Marques'Almeida – designing for major dance companies like the New York City Ballet, there’s no denying the powerful connection between the two. Simply put, dance and fashion have always inspired one another.
What’s more, dancing on the runway isn’t limited to feminine ballet or womenswear collections. As the menswear shows wrapped up a few weeks ago, there were at least two instances of men dancing on the catwalk: Y-3’s show opened up with a troupe of six men performing a ritualistic-like dance in black turtlenecks and skirts and the Pringle of Scotland show opened with a dance performance by Michael Clark Company. In honour of the recent influx of dancing on the catwalk, here are six more fantastic dance episodes on the runway.
Thierry Mugler A/W95
No one throws a party quite like Thierry Mugler. For the designer’s 20th anniversary bash, he staged a star-studded runway show full of performers and dancers. The runway spectacular was equal parts party, performance and display of costume-like clothing. The finale saw a James Brown performance, and the entire show featured all-star models such as Jerry Hall and Pat Cleveland dancing around the stage-like runway, replete with backup male models dancing in silver metallic thongs and matching bracelets. It only makes sense that the designer would go on to design elaborate costumes for erotic circus performers and call himself “Manfred.” The designer’s roots within dance run deep, and he first arrived in Paris during the 60s as a ballet dancer himself. Many of his runway shows during the 80s and 90s featured models who dramatically walked the catwalk, hands outstretched or in equally theatrical poses. In one of the few public interviews the designer ever participated in, Mugler told The New York Times, “I used fashion to express myself as much as I could. But at some point, it was not enough.”
Alexander McQueen S/S04
Alexander McQueen’s S/S04 runway show, titled Deliverance, was an insane mix of ballroom dancing, couples dramatically running together on a fake track and interpretive dancing. Like the choreography, the music varied from Portishead to Billie Holiday. The dreamlike show was inspired by Sydney Pollack’s 1969 film, They Shoot Horses Don’t They, in which a marathon dance scene takes place during The Great Depression. Choreographed by Michael Clark and staged in the Salle Wagram, a 19th century dancehall in Paris, the clothing mirrored the performance. Feathered skirts mixed with Hollywood era gowns and flashy body suits paired perfectly with men’s suspenders and plaid skirts made from recycled quilts – yet, a sort of sadness, distress and fear lurked underneath it all. As discussed in AnOther, the collection was an important and integral part of the codes of McQueen. For him, the runway wasn’t simply a venue to present commercial clothing, it was a performance in its own right.
Moncler Grenoble A/W11
In 2011, Moncler Grenoble staged a flash mob that took over Grand Central Station’s main concourse. 363 models wearing the brand’s coats, goggles, and ski clothing danced in unison while hundreds of onlookers watched. Dancers were sourced online, and many of them were not professional. They trained for five days in a warehouse in Brooklyn before the super scale performance. The music was a blend of The O’Jays, Prince and Tchaikovsky, while the dance techniques ranged from jazz and tap to ballet. Hundreds gathered around the performance in attempts to try to film, photograph and view dancers in the iconic New York City space – and the social media scene (although not quite what it is today) exploded. Moncler Grenoble has never shied away from theatrical runway shows. Speaking on the mood of the show, Remo Ruffini, the Italian businessman behind the brand told The New York Times, “It’s always important to me that, as a brand, we don’t have too much fashion attitude.” The mood of the show was lighthearted and fun – though most of the onlookers hadn’t a clue that it was actually a fashion show.
Rick Owens S/S14
For Rick Owens’ S/S14 show, urban step dancers ruled the runway in Owens’ sleek, asymmetrical leather pieces. The designer cast dancers across America from different troupes – Washington Divas, Soul Steppers, Momentums and Zetas – who stepped, stomped and clapped while wearing white, black and nude pieces inspired by Owens’ crystal clear aesthetic. Owens himself named the collection Vicious, hence the exaggerated faces made by the dancers. As Owens told Susannah Frankel in AnOther Magazine S/S14, “Step dancing has such style, it’s so chic on so many levels. It has soul, and that is a huge part of my life. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t listen to Aretha or to Labelle.” The performance was a true celebration of the unconventional fashion and beauty that Owens has always represented and was quite poignant in terms of the current cultural climate in the states. The roots of step dancing are intrinsically linked to African identity. Owens explained that the chain of dancers at the end of the show traditionally formed a blockade against white rioters during the height of step dancing’s prominence during the 60s and 70s. Owens’ use of dancers, in contrast to the lack of black to white model ratio on the typical runway made a powerful statement.
Hood by Air A/W14
The look on the models’ faces at Hood by Air A/W14 men’s show suggested that something incredible was about to happen. Sporting plastic armour on their faces and long multi-colored hair extensions, they marched down the runway. For the finale, everything went black and ten models appeared, vogueing as if to save their lives. Vogueing, which grew out of the culture of 80s ballroom dancing in Harlem, is a highly stylised form of dancing, with angular movements and rigid poses. Dancers often partake in “battles,” dancing as a pair until the crowd or one of the dancers decides who’s the winner. Bringing this kind of street culture into a traditional fashion space was shocking to many, but also brought the culture of vogueing into new light, exposing it to people who had never heard of it before. It was a brilliant finale for HBA’s show, as the clothing itself referenced the kind of street culture linked to the history of both dance and fashion. Like Owens’ show, the impact of HBA’s vogueing was relevant to fashion’s cultural climate as it successfully appropriated street culture and blurred the lines between genders with the androgynous and anything-but-typical model dancers.