Fashion shows are more than a simple showcase of clothing. It’s a chance for designers to further the message or theme behind their collection. Let’s take a closer look at some that do it so well.
1. Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2001: Voss
When talking about the most iconic fashion shows of all time, Alexander McQueen should be the first name that comes to mind. While many designers allow the clothing to speak for itself, McQueen takes it one step further. A McQueen fashion show could more accurately be called an immersive experience. He makes sure the set design, the music, the lighting and the props all enhance the story being told for the collection. This particular collection, titled “Voss”, is one of his most celebrated.
Upon entering the venue, guests were greeted with a glass box with mirrored walls, meant to resemble a padded cell in a psychiatric hospital. They were forced to wait an hour, staring at their reflection in the mirrors, listening to a heartbeat. When the show started, the lights rose in the box to reveal models trapped inside and a smaller box in the center. The models, who couldn’t see the audience outside of the box, pounded on the glass, their heads wrapped in white fabric to resemble bandages. The clothing itself was inspired by nature, featuring ostrich feathers, razor clam shells and taxidermy birds. As the last model left the runway and the audience assumed the show was over, the box in the center shattered to the ground to reveal a nude woman laying in a chair with a mask and respiratory tubes and letting moths out to fly around the box. This part of the show was inspired by Joel-Peter Witkin’s photograph titled “Sanitarium”.
2. Versace Spring/Summer 2018
Versace’s Spring 2018 show was Donatella’s most beautiful tribute to her late brother Gianni. References to his collections from the 90s were scattered throughout the entire show, from the logos and prints to the soundtrack and model choices. The soundtrack was a voiceover of Donatella speaking about Gianni. The collection itself featured t-shirts with the original Versace logo from the 80s, dresses with the iconic Vogue Magazine and Marilyn Monroe prints from the Spring 1991 collection, the baroque Versace medusa prints from Spring 1992, and butterfly printed dresses calling back to the Spring 1995 collection. The most iconic moment came from the finale where Gianni’s favorite models, Carla Bruni, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Helena Christensen, walked down the runway in gold chainmail dresses.
3. Chanel Fall/Winter 2014
Few things can outdo Karl Lagerfeld’s perfected versions of a Chanel tweed skirt suit, but his sets are a close second. For his Fall 2014 Chanel collection Lagerfeld created an entire supermarket in the Grand Palais. Guests got to wander the aisles before taking their seats, getting a look at over a hundred thousand items labeled with references to the fashion house. All of the real food (that wasn’t picked through by the audience at the end of the show) was to be donated and all of the empty packaged items were sent to Chanel stores around the world for window displays. Models carried Chanel bags in shopping baskets that were given the Chanel treatment of gold chain and leather, and some bags were even wrapped up in plastic like fresh meat. There’s nothing like including a $4,000+ milk carton shaped purse in a collection meant to comment on consumerism.
4. Jean Paul Gaultier Spring/Summer 2014
Gaultier’s runways were always the most lively, and this one was nothing short of a party. The show started with three judges sitting at a table and models standing behind them holding audition number cards. One-by-one, the models stepped out in front of the table, did a little dance move, and walked down the runway, leaving the judges to hold up cards with reactions. Some models between segments got to perform choreographed dances, Coco Rocha took on the “You’re The One That I Want” dance from Grease and Karlie Kloss showed off her voguing skills to “Let’s Have A Kiki”. All the models danced down the runway for the finale in one big parade of high fashion joy.
5. Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2008
This collection was a popular Instagram post for fashion fans in the beginning of the pandemic, the designer Marc Jacobs himself even posted about it. Looking at the first dozen looks, there’s no surprise why. Jacobs sent down 12 models in sheer nurse uniforms and letters spelling out the brand’s name on their nurse’s caps. The most time-relevant part was the sheer black surgical masks with the iconic LV monogram print. The inspiration came from the Richard Prince nurse paintings, one of which became the cover of Sonic Youth’s 2004 album, Sonic Nurse. Each nurse also carried a monogram LV bag with Prince’s Jokes series painted on the side.
6. Maison Martin Margiela Spring/Summer 1989
Margiela’s debut show was nothing short of iconic but by far the most notable part was the way he introduced his signature Tabi boots. Despite the iconic silhouette, and the difference between the slender heels shown at the time, Margiela wanted to draw extra attention to the boots. So, he covered the soles of the shoes in red paint and sent his models down the runway, leaving behind bright red half-hoof foot prints.
7. Hussein Chalayan Fall/Winter 2000
Inspired by the reality of war refugees being forced to leave their homes and their belongings, Chalayan created an emotional show that had the audience cheering at the ingenious finale. The models walked around a set staged like a sitting room, stuffing items in their pockets. Three models in black dresses came out just before the finale, representing a bad omen of the displacement to come. Then, four models stood around the four chairs and started unzipping the slip covers on them, turning them inside out and then wearing them as shift dresses. The base of the chairs were then folded into luggage. The final look came when a model walked out, lifted a circle of wood out of the center of the coffee table, stepped inside, and pulled it up to her waist as it unraveled into a wooden skirt.
8. Christian Dior Spring/Summer 2012 Couture
One of the first Dior Couture collections without John Galliano received mixed reviews from fashion critics. Galliano was the king of extravagant runways. His motto must have been “anything goes” between hair sticking straight up and models wearing clown makeup. So it was no surprise when Bill Gaytten sent models with minimal, fresh-faced makeup and delicate sheer dresses that critics were at first underwhelmed. But a closer look at the collection shows it’s not just about pretty dresses, but what goes into making those dresses. There were references back to Dior’s iconic bar jacket, this time with contrast stitching and a half-pleated skirt, almost like they ran out of time while making it. A dress featured a sequinned grid, made to look like a designer’s markings. The whole show honored the making of the brand, taking place in the building where Dior became Dior.
9. Viktor & Rolf Fall/Winter 2015 Couture
Taking on the question “is fashion art?” Viktor & Rolf showed a collection proving anyone who says no wrong. The show started with a model in a blue smock, wrapped in what resembled a complete canvas, frame and all. The real magic started when the designers themselves came on stage and removed a similar canvas-esque skirt from the second model and hung it on the wall. The canvases became more and more complex, the final one being a triptych which when hung, had the painting spilling over three frames.
10. Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2010: Plato’s Atlantis
McQueen was the expert of creating innovative fashion shows, so he deserves to be listed twice. Plato’s Atlantis, the final show before his untimely death was otherworldly. This show was a commentary on global warming and evolution. He imagined what would happen if ice caps melted, sea levels rose and humans evolved to survive. Evolution was shown in the futuristic hair and makeup choices: models donned horn-like braids or teased masses and no eyebrows. The digitally printed dresses and robot arms holding cameras projecting the show on screens set us years in the future. But the real showstoppers were the “Armadillo” boot, 30cm high and carved from wood. The shoes were often seen on Lady Gaga, who tweeted a link to the show because she was debuting her single, causing the site to crash from the traffic of her millions of followers.
11. Moschino Spring/Summer 2021
For the first virtual fashion week, designers had to get creative. For some that meant having runway shows outside (some with masks and some without), having them indoors with safety precautions such as rapid testing and no audience, or forgoing a show all together and just photographing the pieces as a collection lookbook. However, Jeremy Scott, the creative director of Moschino decided to take inspiration from the couture collections of Théâtre de la Mode in 1945. The idea originated from Robert Ricci who realized that many French fashion houses were on the verge of closing due to lack of funds, scarcity of materials and clients being unable to travel. Nearly 60 couture houses donated their materials to be made into miniature versions of designs they were able to offer. The miniature dresses were fitted on mannequins that were just over 2 feet tall. The exhibition featured 237 looks, opening at The Louvre in Paris and raising millions of francs for war relief. The exhibit eventually went on to tour the world, and is currently part of the Maryhill Museum of Art’s collection.
Jeremy Scott made 40 looks for miniature marionettes that were reminiscent of some of his favorite models. His mini models were sent down a runway lined with mini puppet replicas of some of fashion’s most notorious front row guests including Anna Wintour and Hamish Bowles. Surprisingly, Scott wasn’t the only designer to pull inspiration from this concept. Dior created a short film where mythical creatures were presented with miniature versions of dresses featured in their Fall 2020 Couture collection. It’s obvious that even in times like these, we can count on fashion to keep us entertained.
All of these shows are so different, but they are all so incredibly intriguing. A good fashion show should keep you interested and leave you amazed and these all hit that mark.