Highly Profitable, Culturally Uninteresting by Sartreuse
The runway crowd up close to examine the details, Calvin Klein, 1975


Highly Profitable, But Culturally Uninteresting

After trying to avoid the customary fashion week social media craze, I am unable to let it go past me without writing down a couple of remarks. I dislike sounding like the generic ‘the industry is bad’ fundamentalist, but it is fairly obvious that the current speed in which new lookbooks are presented and runway collections are shown brings about a whole new level of ethical and moral issues and risks, and that the way we think about trends – and in a larger sense fashion – is rapidly changing.

My biggest issue with the current use of runway shows is that their general concept appears outdated, and that there seems to be a lack of exploring the appropriate technology currently available. Nowadays, the classical runway show contains a nearly fixed framework. It either consists of the usual runway, or sometimes a ‘surprising’ location is chosen (think of Chanel having their guests fly over to Cuba to merely present their latest resort collection), and it contains a variety of the current It-girls (usually the obligatory panem and circenses of the fashion in-crowd, and nothing as avant-garde or promising as they ought to be). Then, there’s the necessary dose of ‘street-photographers’ often hired by the brand themselves to shoot the necessary ‘casual streetwear’ photos of models and It-girls, and of course there’s the clothes and models themselves. I have put these last two at the end, because in the ingredient list of the runway framework, these two – ironically – are often given the least important role.

This framework can be applied to a multitude of shows. Whether it’s Balenciaga, Chloe, or Maryam Nassir Zadeh, each show comes with their own aesthetic, but that aesthetic is in some sense always limited to the aforementioned framework. The deeper issue here is that through re-applying this established mode d’emploi over and over again, our engagement with the presented clothes becomes different. While these brands uphold a focus on bombastic shows and massive capitalism circuses, the concept of the runway show becomes more about spectacle and entertainment than about a mediated experience of intimacy and learning about the fabrication of the garments.

For example, The Row‘s Spring 2018 show contained some awful documentation flaws – the horribly lit room showed no depth in any of the presented fabrics in the published pictures. However, this hardly seems to trouble anybody, since the right crowd was present at the assigned front-row tables, and showed the whole collection live on Instagram. A simple requirement for the invitees, yet for the brand a maximum of exposure. However, when looking at the runway shots below, one doesn’t need to be trained in semiotics to decipher that the focus isn’t on the actual craftmanship of the materials – or on any of the garments whatsoever.

Highly Profitable, Culturally Uninteresting by Sartreuse
Highly Profitable, Culturally Uninteresting by Sartreuse
Spring 2018 show by The Row, which in my opinion should have been called ‘Seeing Or Not Seeing’ – Source: Vogue

The disadvantage of this is that the audience completely loses track of the process and skill of the craft which is required to construct these clothes. And, possibly, the idea behind the creation of the piece in the first place. Because these garments are not merely made to suffice as a simple wardrobe item – many fashion houses prefer seeing their clothing lines and pieces as artistic statements. Then why, during runway shows, do we no longer treat them as individual pieces of art that require craft, skill, time and the necessary accompanying commentary?

A possible alternative would be an exploration of the new modes of technology that are offered today. Video, for example, could be an interesting medium to investigate rather than the usual runway shots – which are, as The Row has proven, not always accurate or concise in showing a collection. The video could contain brief commentary about the creation of the garment, or can contain music to amplify a certain aesthetic. Cross-media usage (think Instagram, Twitter, etc.) would work well with short video clips of a collection as well. Many things can be done to bring back the focus on craftmanship in fashion, but maintaining the archaic fixed framework of a runway show as the only way to show a new collection puts emphasis on a fast-fix spectacle and amusement instead of craftmanship and skill, and will ultimately not steer the fashion industry in the right direction.