The era of secret and inaccessible fashion shows is now over, well, at least not digitally. Lately, the technological evolution of fashion has galloped wildly. We are now moving towards fully digital clothing and red carpets populated by gaming-style avatars.
Do we all agree that Fashion Week is one of the most loved and awaited events of the year? Many fashion outsiders see this wonderful, glitzy occasion as unreachable, and indeed, it is. The fashion shows have always been invitation-only and super exclusive, especially the after parties that we mere mortals find ourselves watching from Instagram. However, despite lasting no more than 15 minutes, fashion shows are an explosion of creativity, not just fashion-wise.
The evolution of these events is crazy. Think back to the 19th century when Charles Worth, an English couturier who emigrated to Paris, organised special events for his wealthy clients. Worth is considered the father of haute couture, and a select few were privileged to see his creations in advance. A further innovation was the presence of models. It was then customary to use mannequins, often miniature or simple illustrations.
Showing clothes on a moving body was a real revolution. Another designer famous for his fashion shows was Paul Poiret. He created clothes for the most famous people of the early 1900s and was particularly popular for his extravagant evening wear creations. Dance and performances were the norms at Poiret’s fashion presentations.
The first woman who revolutionised the fashion world, in my opinion, was Gabrielle Bonheur- ‘Coco’ Chanel, a free spirit not into the constraints imposed by society on women in the 1920s. Chanel was the first woman to abandon skirts and shamelessly wear trousers. Her designs were practical, sports-inspired, and often in lightweight jersey, her favourite fabric. Her atelier was in 31 Rue Cambon in Paris, where she hosted her fashion shows. A magnificent curved staircase flanked by a wall of mirrors was the start of the catwalk, and she used to sit at the top of the stairs peering down at the show.
Jumping into the 90s, a noteworthy change is the birth of top models. Gianni Versace saw the charisma, beauty, and talent of some young models who were beginning to set foot in the fashion world. Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Claudia Schiffer are just some of Versace’s muses. Since then, the most famous catwalks have been competing for the most talented supermodels.
From then on, the cost of the shows started to rise, and the salary of these models became more and more inflated. Many fashion houses realised the still relatively unexplored potential of set design for fashion shows. The simple catwalks that had characterised fashion presentations until then began to host spectacular props.
Chanel is definitely one of the brands that must be mentioned when talking about crazy settings. Those of you who don’t miss a single show of this brand will remember the Chanel cruise 2018/2019. Indeed, for that show, Karl Lagerfeld commissioned a 148-meter-long boat called La Pausa, using the name of Coco Chanel’s villa on the French Rivera. This full-sized boat took a whole month of work to be installed inside the Grand Palais. The most recent settings included a beach real natural sand and water, a snowy mountain village, and a forest covered in fallen leaves. Additionally, Chanel transforms the Grand Palais in Paris into a stunning and tremendously realistic location every year for its fashion shows.
According to many fashion and luxury marketing experts, the pandemic just accelerated the inevitable shift to the world of digital fashion. In the last two years, many events moved online, and some fashion houses like Dior even approached short films. I find the shift to short movies quite spectacular, as they give the chance to admire the new collection while enjoying a story. For example, Dior focused on fairytale landscapes, such as forests populated by curious mythological creatures, enchanted castles with wizards, and tarot characters. Choosing to escape from reality gives the possibility to show haute couture dresses, generally not suitable for everyday life, in settings that can enhance their beauty and poetry.
Fashion embraced the digital world with open arms during the Balenciaga crossover with Simpsons in September 2021. Indeed, this special fashion week episode even saw the cameo of Anna Wintour, Kim Kardashian, and Kanye West seating in the front row of the Simpson-immersed fashion show. The collaboration between Balenciaga and the beloved Springfield- based cartoon completely blew everyone’s mind. It is now common for fashion shows to be broadcasted on YouTube or other social media platforms. Still, there has been a soar in the production of fully digital experiences open both to the fashion insiders and the public in the last two years. Thanks to our smartphones, having fashion just a click away from us is the new norm. Have you ever tried the new virtual experiences where you can try shows of clothes online? Fashion is moving in that direction.
Call me old fashion but, in my opinion, nothing beats a good traditional fashion show. I love seeing clothes on models walking a catwalk immersed in a stunning setting. Anyway, you’ve probably heard of NFTs recently, as they are making their way in every magazine. NFT stands for non-fungible token and can be anything digital. The excitement about NFTs lies in owning something unique that exists mainly in the virtual world.
Indeed, fashion is entering the metaverse, the virtual-reality space where users interact with a computer-generated environment and other users.
In the metaverse, people can wear outfits thanks to augmented reality. One of the latest events that saw the use of NFTs is the Fashion Awards 2021, one of the most exciting events for the fashion industry annually held at the Royal Albert Hall. This year, many celebrities tried virtual outfits while crossing the red carpet. The Institute of Digital Fashion, a London-based extraordinary institution of fashion experts that study the evolution of fashion and its impacts on everyday life, brought in some stunning virtual outfits. Another tech-based experience at the Fashion Awards 2021 was the Roblox red carpet. This behemoth gaming platform blended TV and gaming, allowing the digital audience to enter a digitally rendered Royal Albert Hall. People had the chance to walk the red carpet, explore nominees’ displays, and try on their virtual fashions. Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s Creative Director, created a series of purchasable outfits, and the proceeds were donated to the British Fashion Council. Although NFTs are starting to be explored mainly by wealthy people and tech geniuses, we’ll hopefully all be there in a reasonable time.
Evolution continues; it seems that the fashion industry will continually enchant us, and we live for that! While many people still turn their noses up at the idea of buying clothes to wear in the metaverse, I think we will soon get used to this revolution. Every Fashion Week for the past couple of years has been a surprise, especially tech-wise. I don’t know what about you, but I can’t wait to see what the next Fashion Week will bring us.
You can explore more of Cicilia’s work visiting ciciliabrognoli.com