No one has ever found a solution for not doing a fashion show. —Anna Sui
I’m sitting here still somewhat bleary-eyed, despite being on my third cup of coffee. The Chanel fashion show just ended a few minutes ago in Paris. I’m waiting on still images before I begin writing my review for Pattern. This season is almost over. My body can feel it. Relief, and sleep, is near.
Why do I keep doing this? Twice a year, I completely upend my life and my sleep schedule to cover four weeks of fashion show after fashion show. A couple of years ago, I tried watching them all, over 200, and it nearly killed me. I’ve cut back since then. We will have reviewed about 83 shows this season, having watched roughly 180. That number might seem small compared to the marathon of a couple of years ago. Trust me, though, it is still exhausting.
Why do we do this? Why do I continue to put my body through this torture twice a year? Obviously, there’s nothing in any of these shows that I’m actually going to wear. I’m old, set in my ways, and have a total dad bod. There are only three or four looks that are comfortable on me. That’s not going to change. So, why am I looking at dresses and crop tops and, what the fuck, Karl Lagerfeld opened the show with a couple of robots?
Okay, so on one hand, it’s my job. Not bad work. At the same time, though, there are more important reasons to pay attention to a fashion show. There is a relevance here that is important.
Fashion Is Art
A fashion show is something unique to behold, but what we see on the runway doesn’t just appear out of thin air. Every piece that we see starts with a creative idea on the part of the designer. Many designers, including Lagerfeld, still start with a sketch. They consider shape, color, fabric, form, and function among a number of different influences as they decide how to put together something that is wearable but also interesting.
Once they have a concept, designers then create a pattern and a sample. Often, what one sees in a fashion show is that sample, not yet in production. The sample is the designer’s concept come to life, a chance to see how closely reality can match the idea. Designers deal with issues such as fabric weight and elasticity as they try to pull and pin and tack and sew things into place. Sometimes the concept doesn’t work, the fabric won’t do what the designer wanted. They start over. And over.
The average major-label fashion show contains approximately 45 looks. That’s 45 times the designer has gone through the entire creative process. Of course, large fashion houses have a creative director overseeing large design teams. Without them, the fashion show would never happen. Every step of the way, however, there is artistry in what they do. When art museums display major exhibits of fashion work by leading designers, we begin to see all the creative artistry that is fashion. Seeing the work in a museum always feels a bit too antiseptic for me, though. I’d rather see the fashion show, see the work on the runway, moving, flowing, and being the living art that the designer intended. This is where the excitement is.
Fashion Is Critical To The Economy
Fashion is a $3.3 TRILLION industry. Apparel accounts for a full two percent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Nearly 60 million people are employed in the manufacture of textiles and clothing alone. That number does not even begin to include all the people employed by the various fashion houses and conglomerates, the retail store employees, or the millions of people involved in behind-the-scene logistics. There is not a country in the industrially developed world that does not depend on fashion as a significant part of its economy.
Stop and think about this: In New York City alone, fashion accounts for some $11 billion dollars in salaries and $2 billion in tax revenue. What do you think would happen if all of a sudden the fashion industry there just up and moved across the border to Toronto? Granted, that’s not likely to happen, but if it did the economic effect on the city of New York would be devastating! Imagine, then, how entire countries such as France and Italy are affected when fashion hits an economic downturn such as it has been experiencing the past two years. The financial scene isn’t pretty.
A fashion show is an indicator not only of how a particular brand is doing, but the overall industry as well. Looking across all the shows we’ve watched this season, we see an industry desperately trying to attract the attention of the world’s largest buying demographic: Millennials. Styles and fabrics have changed. We’ve seen less leather and a lot less fur as Millennials are more likely to care about animal rights. We’ve seen more natural fibers. These are economic decisions as much as they are artistic. We watch a fashion show and we see how global economics affects our lives.
Fashion Is Culture
More than anything else, what we wear expresses who we are. Ask any cultural anthropologist you happen to come across (they’re out there, somewhere) and they’ll tell you that how any given group of people dressed says a lot about their environment, their economy, their values, their level of innovation, their mythologies, and their lifestyles. Fashion isn’t exactly a new invention, after all. From the moment someone figured out that animal hide was good for keeping a body warm, someone was there figuring out how to best shape those hides and then decorating them for various purposes.
What we see in a fashion show is more than a creative vision of one designer. A fashion show puts our entire culture on display. Take, for example, the gradual move we’ve seen over the past few years toward more sexually androgynous looks. As younger generations grapple with the whole concept of gender and its fluidity, their journey is reflected in the clothes they wear. Androgynous fashion reflects a change in traditional concepts of gender roles and expectations. At the same time, we see more designs that are loose-fitting easy to wear, and more accessible to people as their bodies change. Those looks reflect a change in our overall lifestyle and our attitudes about our bodies.
When I watch a fashion show, I’m not picking out a new wardrobe for Kat or styling future photo shoots. I’m looking for trends that represent sometimes subtle and sometimes significant changes in our culture. These changes are important because if we are to relate to each other at all we have to understand that those coming behind us see life quite differently than those of us who are older. They have different values, different expectations, and different goals, all of which is reflected in what they choose to wear.
Looking To The Future
I will be very happy to not wake up at 2:00 AM Thursday morning. As much as I enjoy fashion weeks, the toll it takes on my body is grueling and it doesn’t help my family relationships much either. Kat says I’m especially grouchy when watching a fashion show. Even the little ones are happy when my schedule is back to normal. Yet, come February, we’ll do it all again.
As the face of fashion is constantly changing and the methods and spectacle of putting on a fashion show continue to morph, I fail to see any point in the near future where a fashion show isn’t important. We need that runway. We need to see the artistry, the economics, and the culture. Fashion is important to all of us, to our world, to our lives.
Why would I want to ever not be a part of something so very important? As long as I can stay awake, we’ll be there. Every season.