IN THE BE­GIN­NING…

U Magazine - - LEBANON - By ME­LANIE BUTCHER

Over the past cen­tury, fash­ion shows have evolved from quaint lun­cheons to in­flu­en­tial and ex­trav­a­gant pro­duc­tions.

From elab­o­rate sets to avant-garde styling, run­way shows o!er a con­tem­po­rary theater to the fash­ion lover. Cu­ri­ously, in the dig­i­tal age, they are no longer nec­es­sary – fash­ion ed­i­tors and buy­ers could sim­ply browse a de­signer’s latest pieces in an online “show­room” in­stead of $ying half­way around the world. Although the ex­pen­sive and su­per$uous events could be avoided en­tirely, they are in­stead at­tended by hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple each year, each wish­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence the magic up-close-and-per­sonal. “I like the rit­ual, the liturgy of a well-cra%ed, emo­tional fash­ion show. I will never be jaded with this side of fash­ion,” says pho­tog­ra­pher and de­signer Hedi Sli­mane. “"e cat­walk is pure an­thro­pol­ogy, some­thing like an es­o­teric en­crypted pa­rade. It can to­tally be re­placed but it will be missed.” De­spite the fame and in$uence of the run­way on fash­ion cul­ture, few know about the ori­gin of this $am­boy­ant tra­di­tion. Show­cas­ing new fash­ions on a model has ex­isted since the 1300s, when aris­to­crats would ex­am­ine con­cept de­signs on man­nequin-sized dolls while con­sid­er­ing their com­mis­sions. As be­spoke de­sign evolved into readyto-wear en­sem­bles for sale in Paris bou­tiques, beau­ti­ful “shop girls,” called “de­moi­selles du ma­gasin,” were em­ployed to try on the latest styles for wealthy clien­tele. Tech­nol­ogy im­proved and the pro­duc­tion of cloth­ing grew eas­ier, and the world’s ap­petite for fash­ion grew in par­al­lel. Large fash­ion houses in the 1800s would host fash­ion pa­rades to high­light the sea­son’s new sil­hou­ettes and tex­tiles. Many such shows were elab­o­rate pro­duc­tions: Lu­cile’s “Ara­bian Nights” pa­rade even gave mod­els ex­otic names and asked them to adopt a se­duc­tive saunter when per­form­ing to the au­di­ence of wealthy women and aes­thetes. Dur­ing the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, the con­cept of Amer­i­can fash­ion didn’t truly ex­ist yet, as the vast ma­jor­ity of in$uen­tial fash­ion de­signs were im­ported from Italy or France. “Paris was ev­ery­thing,” says Pulitzer Prize-win­ning fash­ion critic Robin Givhan. “What­ever the French de­sign­ers said was fash­ion, the Amer­i­cans said: ‘OK, that’s fash­ion.’” Mod­el­ing be­came a le­git­imized pro­fes­sion dur­ing this pe­riod a%er the es­tab­lish­ment of the #rst agency in 1923. "rough­out the early and mid-20th cen­tury, depart­ment stores would put on fab­u­lous lunchtime run­way shows, o%en with the­atri­cal venue de­signs and mu­sic, some­time to the cha­grin of un­sus­pect­ing shop­pers: “Now that fash­ion shows have be­come a way of life, now that a lady is hard put to it to lunch, or sip a cock­tail, in any smart ho­tel or store from New York to Dal­las to San Fran­cisco with­out hav­ing lis­some young things in the most re­cent mod­els, sway­ing down a run­way six inches above

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