Casting, Choreo And Cucumber: What It Takes To Make A Standout Fashion Show Today

  • February 15, 2024

There is a never-ending debate in fashion about the rat race, the treadmill, the hamster wheel – the industry’s constant demand for newness against the backdrop of a burning world that, in no uncertain terms, is suffering because of its vast output. Central to this moral quagmire is the show system – which dictates that ready-to-wear collections are produced biannually with resort, pre-fall and couture edits all Brucie bonuses on top. Should a designer happen to work at two houses – such as Jonathan Anderson at JW Anderson and Loewe – then they are looking at creating upwards of eight collections to present to press per year. This is before accessories lines, custom pieces and collaborations come into play.

The cost of staging a fashion show is enormous. Without sponsors, it would simply not be possible for some brands to share their work. Others risk bankruptcy by taking a punt. And while emerging talents are breaking the mould by skipping seasons or simply showing when they have something to say – hi, Conner Ives and Chopova Lowena – a young talent can only shift the needle so much if big-name brands are still PJ-ing clients to far-flung destinations for lavish resort productions.

But when a show really hits – think John Galliano’s endlessly romantic costuming or Alexander McQueen’s radical explorations of the self – there’s a certain kind of magic that makes history. It is why, season after season, we click-clack our way to sit on squashed and politicised front rows to catch a glimpse, just maybe, of something special. There is a certain alchemy that is impossible to distil, but, says Vogue’s Laura Ingham, “when the sum of a show’s many parts – the fashion, styling, hair, make-up, casting, music and choreography – collide, they create an emotional response that transcends time and trends to leave an indelible mark on the seasons to follow.” The most recent example? The Maison Margiela Artisanal spectacle, which almost transported attendees back to a bygone era of Galliano.

John Galliano springsummer 1986.

John Galliano spring/summer 1986.

WWD/Getty Images

Maison Margiela Artisinal springsummer 2024.

Maison Margiela Artisinal spring/summer 2024.

Pat Boguslawski, the movement director behind the Margiela models’ swaggering theatrical walks on the makeshift runway (a debauched bar under the Pont Alexandre III bathed in the light of the Wolf Moon), believes that each component is important because “a fashion show is a show – it’s like going to the theatre, models become actors!” Boguslawski notes that strong design ideas translate best into body language that allows “the audience to feel the clothes, feel the mood and feel the message… Models gotta play!” Similarly Daisy Hoppen, the brain behind the PR strategies of Simone Rocha and Molly Goddard, notes that creatives with “references that feel true to them”, and who “think outside of the box”, are the ones to watch at fashion week. Their secret weapon? An inner circle of collaborators (both Simone and Molly work with almost the same talent and technicians each season).

“The designer’s purest vision is the collaborative impact of the creative team,” says London PR legend Mandi Lennard, who believes everything else will fall in line with a bit of elbow grease. “If you find a venue you love, but it won’t work, make it work. Matty Bovan’s models had to climb into a circular glass air ventilation system last season, but the outfits were too wide for the door, so they squeezed in sideways. Why not? This obstacle contributed to the creative tension of the show, the audience made to stand, looking in from the outside, while the ‘front row’ were actually sat simultaneously having a three-course dinner backstage. I asked one of them, ‘Is this weird?’, to which they answered, ‘Are you kidding, we never see a show from this perspective.’”

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