When Dolce & Gabbana sent drones carrying handbags down a Milan runway in 2018 reviews were mixed but the move was largely seen as a fusion of tech and the fashion industries.
Just a few months later a fashion show in Saudi Arabia which used drones to float clothes on the catwalk became a viral sensation for all the wrong reasons and was labelled bizarre. Two QUT researchers say the ghost-like effect was uncanny because one of the central tenets of fashion theory is that without a body, fashion does not exist.
Fashion senior lecturer Dr Tiziana Ferrero-Regis and architecture senior lecturer Marissa Lindquist have co-edited a new book Staging Fashion: The fashion show and its spaces (Bloomsbury).
“The model’s body has always been as essential to the fashion show as its space. Bodies show clothes in movement, a fundamental aspect of the event and the seductive presentation of fashion. A drone cannot emulate that,” said Dr Ferrero-Regis.
“But fashion shows and the spaces they are held in are changing. There has always been such evolution, but the pace of change is more rapid and technology-driven or politically inspired.
“Prada became the first luxury brand to sign a financial loan connected to sustainability plans while the materials to build one of Chanel’s most lavish shows – the 2018 Cruise collection staged in the Grand Palais which featured a 148-metre replica ship – were deconstructed and the materials upcycled or recycled.”
Staging Fashion is the first collection of essays about the presentation and staging of fashion in runway shows in the period from the 1960s to the 2010s. It examines the many collaborations between artists, architects, and interior designers to reinforce their interdisciplinary links. The research and ideas underpinning the book address how fashion and the spatial fields have collaborated in the creation of the space of the fashion show.
Dr Ferrero-Regis and Ms Lindquist write that while the primary purpose of the fashion show is to sell merchandise and promote the industry, it has become increasingly spectacle-driven with the creation of extraordinary settings and the expansion of digital media.
“Informal fashion presentations date back to European Renaissance courts, especially to Marie Antoinette. When she travelled to Paris she was admired by adoring crowds at the opera, in the markets and elsewhere,” said Dr Ferrero-Regis.
“The more formal fashion show came more than 200 years later. Fashion really captured the process of modernisation, whose chief characteristic was that of mass consumption and the aspirations of a growing middle class. By the first decade of the 1900s, ‘mannequin parades’ were being regularly staged at beach pavilions, department stores, the races, on board the deck of cruise liners and numerous other unconventional sites.”
Ms Lindquist added the period coincided with the revolution of photography, film, architecture, and interior design which enabled a synergy between space, staging and fashion to enrich the spectacle and provide greater exposure to the consuming classes.
“Until digital media came along a century later, the silver screen and fashion were the ultimate perfect match. Couturiers like Poiret, Lucille and Chanel designed for movies and the stars wore the designers’ clothes. Then from the 1980s, the models became the stars,” said Ms Lindquist.
The book demonstrates how the staging of fashion shows continues to morph within social and cultural contexts.
“In 1998, Paralympic athlete Aimee Mullins opened Alexander McQueen’s spring/summer show and since then, catwalk and fashion shows have become sites that test difference, from the grotesque, the non-normative gender to the cyborg, exposing the less-than-perfect body,” said Dr Ferrero-Regis.
Spatial contexts, along with their material and immaterial qualities, have also evolved.
“Deconstruction, minimalism, affect, mood, light and brute surfaces have all been common denominators in Yamamoto, Prada and Marc Jacobs shows of the last few years,” said Ms Lindquist.
Dr Ferrero- Regis added fashion weeks are now staged in more than 100 locations around the world; not just the big four fashion capitals of Paris, London, New York, and Milan.
“At the same time, climate emergency protests have shone the spotlight on fashion’s polluting and unethical practices. In July 2019, the Swedish Fashion Council cancelled its fashion week amid global climate concerns. Also, in 2019, Extinction Rebellion activists mounted protests during London Fashion Week,” she said.
“Will sustainability concerns change the fashion show? Perhaps, but it will never be eliminated. The fashion show is almost a religious moment in which new fashion is revealed to the world. It will find different and innovative directions.”
The 15 essays are written by fashion, interior, architecture, and design scholars focusing on the presentation of fashion within the runway space, from avant-garde practices and collaboration with artists, to the most spectacular and commercial shows of recent years.