It is often surprising to read a book about a topic that doesn't necessarily have to do anything with fashion and finding a chapter, a paragraph or just a simple sentence that prompts you to think about the power of the runway.
In William L. Fox's book In the Desert of Desire: Las Vegas and the Culture of Spectacle, the author writes about the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, for example, describing it as "the most aggressively branded and promoted concatenation of adult theme parks in the world", while pointing out that Las Vegas capitalises upon its position in the middle of the desert "by allowing people to imagine and erect castles on the sand and into the air".
The fashion runway is a bit like a financially florid desert where castles are built, and dreams and desires are evoked, and while it's not big enough to contain entire theme parks, it is a branded entertainment-driven and self-contained spectacle that offers visual stimuli and instant gratification to an adult audience willing to be disoriented in a space (you may be watching a show in a specific city, but the designer may be transporting you through fantasy and imagination to another one) and time (it may be noon outside, but you're plunged into the deepest and darkest artificial night inside the venue) for a relatively short time.
Funnily enough, while the Las Vegas Strip spawned mini-movements identified by Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi as architectural pastiches ("Miami Moroccan, International Jet Set Style", "Art Moderne, Hollywood Orgasmic, Organic Behind", "Yamasaki Bernini cum Roman Orgiastic", "Niemeyer Moorish", "Moorish Tudor (Arabian Nights)", "Bauhaus Hawaiian"), the runways give birth to trends and micro-trends that quickly reach out to consumers.
Though a catwalk show is usually a liminal affair for two main reasons, it is not a public event and it often takes place in bizarre locations (in the history of fashion we have seen catwalks in warehouses, car parks, underground stations and supermarkets just to mention a few places), the spaces where the spectacle unravels have become more important to many designers.
At times they help creating links with a collection, at others they establish contrasts, revealing the designers' will for a "urban and architectural fashion planning" that inverts and reverses the purposes of specific spaces: public environments turn for example into temporarily private spaces owned by a powerful house, while secluded locations like private villas or listed buildings become temporarily public.
As you may remember, Véronique Nichanian, Creative Director at Hermès visualised in her A/W 2015-16 collection a man working and strolling in the city.
Nichanian's models walked down the runway in Paris' Maison de la Radio (a circular building designed by the architect Henri Bernard and inaugurated in December 1963 by President Charles de Gaulle) dressed in muted concrete grey suits or in luxurious garments that borrowed from street and sportswear and reflected a sleek urban environment made of skyscrapers and famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Seine.
The models on the runway were idealised versions of the men you may encounter while walking along the lit up streets that could be seen from the windows of the Masion de la Radio.
Concrete may have been one of the inspirations behind Hermès' collection, and the new music hall where Kenzo's catwalk show took place is also a monumental concrete structure.
Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, but at the centre of an anguished debate between its designer and the client, the Philharmonie de Paris, has an intergalactic spaceship-like look thanks to thousands of aluminum bird-shaped tiles that call to mind paving stones and that cover its roof.
Hosting a program of several events (music genres include classical, contemporary and electro-pop, and in March it will also feature the David Bowie exhibition originally presented at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London), the modernist forms and futuristic shape went well with the themes of Kenzo's collection.
More colourful and functional than Hermès' and therefore aimed at a younger audience, the collection featured parkas in bright shades; nylon suits; sweaters with graphic motifs; tops with imaginary logos, cult scribbles and coded hierogliphs from a lost space tribe; messages claiming that UFOs are coming back; silver capes and astronaut pants that made you think Humberto Leon and Carol Lim had on their minds an extraterrestrial civilisation landing in Paris in its own intergalactic ship.
The marble staircase of the splendidly opulent Palais Garnier opera house served instead as the backdrop for Pigalle's Autumn/Winter 2015-16 collection.
The contrast created by the surrounding space, the collection and the format of the presentation was quite interesting in this case. The collection was entitled "Musique Therapie" (Music Therapy) and the set and the designs were actually employed as the core elements of a performance that comprised music and dance courtesy of the artists cast in the show as models by designer Stéphane Ashpool (Kirikoo Des, Ashpool's godfather Larry Vickers, Oko Ebombo, Bonnie Banane...). The format of the presentation added fun to a runway championing racial diversity.
The collection featured a mix of transnational influences and hybrid designs combining layered casual and streetwear elements with tailored moods: puffer jackets were juxtaposed to wool coats; cropped pants were matched with hooded tops reinvented from Moroccan djellaba robes; optical prints decorated satin jackets ad many looks were matched with trilbies, bucket hats or fedoras.
Hybrid was the actually the keyword behind this modern version of "Les Misérables", a sort of fashion runway-cum-urban opera. And while you could argue that such a collection clashed with the surrounding space, architecturally speaking there were no real clashes as the opera house is itself a hybrid mix of different architectural styles, including classical, baroque and Beaux-Arts.
This juxtaposition of architectures and shows continued in the Pre-Fall collections. For its formal presentation, Miu Miu collaborated with the OMA/AMO architecture and design creatives.
Together they turned the Palais d’Iéna into the salons of a upper middle class house populated by dummies clad in designs that combined 1920s boy scout uniforms with upholstery retro fabrics with geometric motifs borrowed from the '60s, and shrunken jackets, patterned cardigans, plaid shirts and shorts with Sherlock Holmes-like capelet coats and caps.
The space went pretty well with the mood of the collection but Miu Miu is not new to this building. Since 2011, the Prada Group has indeed got a special permission to use the Palais d’Iéna (originally commissioned to house a Museum of Public Works, though it then became the seat of the Conseil Économique, Social et Environnemental (CESE), the third constitutional assembly of the French Republic) for cultural, artistic and fashion-related projects and activities.
Designed by Auguste Perret, the building is characterised by his passion for Greek architecture and by his signature material, reinforced concrete and features inside a curved vestibule and a grand staircase that created the perfect setting for Miu Miu's collection.
At the end of January, during Haute Couture week, fashion magazine Vestoj staged instead a performance entitled "The Vestoj Journal on Slowness".
The performance consisted in artist and painter Scarlett Rouge acting as a lady's maid to Lola Peploe and dressing her in the rather complicated attire of an 18th century French aristocrat.
The main aim of magazine founder Anja Aronowsky Cronberg was clear: prompting guests to slow down and disconnect from the fast and relentless rhythms of the fashion industry. Interestingly enough, the event took place in the same building in 136 avenue des Champs-Elysée where Le Corbusier had built between 1929 and 1931 a penthouse for flamboyant Charles de Beistegui.
The house was characterised by a few dichotomic aspects: surrealism seemed to prevail over rationalism; there was confusion between outdoor and indoor spaces and upstairs/downstairs; though it had only candlelight, the house also featured technological tricks such as push-button movable hedges and a periscope.
In the Vestoj performance - that also referenced the technological (and unbuilt) "Slow House" by Diller + Scofidio (1989) for a client who had asked them to create "a house with a view" - a basic and minimalist wooden stage by French architect Estelle Vincent contrasted instead with the grand ritual of dressing a dame in a fancy and complicated costume.
Though the performance was mainly about managing time, it also hinted at managing and reinventing space: time and space boundaries were also erased as the past and the present combined in the same room.
The architectural projects behind this performance - Le Corbusier and Diller + Scofidio's - analysed the term "view" and explored ideas and thoughts surrounding it. In a way, the spaces that designers pick nowadays to present their collections can be considered as rooms with multiple views on a designer's practice and inspirations and, more generally, on future trends.
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