The round stage of the Cirque d’Hiver, Paris. A live chamber orchestra. A lone crystal chandelier. It all sounds very romantic, and more like the set of a period melodrama rather than a fashion show, doesn’t it? Yet the hauntingly-beautiful spectacle of Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2007 display is arguably why it has become one of his most memorable collections. Renowned for oscillating between his passion for exaggerated, grand theatrics and his pared back, commercially-orientated runways (Mower 2006), McQueen’s S/S 2007 collection struck an impressive balance between the two; resulting in a fashion show which seduced immediate viewers and the fashion world alike. This is, after all, what fashion shows are fundamentally about: an astute form of commercial seduction veiled behind alluring theatricality.
Developing out of “small-scale marketing tactics used to entice wealthy clients into buying the latest designs” (Idacavage 2016), fashion shows have since exploded into high-budget, elaborate social events which seem to govern the calendar year of the entire fashion world. In fact, amplified by the increasing influence of social media, contemporary fashion designers frequently stage grandiose events which transform the simple act of displaying clothes into a full-on, immersive experience. Yet in spite of these attempts to mask the commercial drive of the fashion show – cunningly blurring the lines between art, fashion, and entertainment – it should not be forgotten that beneath the shiny surface are long-standing foundations of commercialism and commodity fetishism. Fashion has, after all, always been about desire. Debord put it best in Society of the Spectacle when he proposed that social life within the consumer society is more concerned with ‘having’ than ‘living’ and the ‘spectacle’ is the means through which the consumer is told what their lives are missing: what they need and must have (1967). In this sense, the fashion show is undoubtedly the ‘spectacle’; transforming commercial endeavours into extravagant displays in order to ignite desire within the viewer and subsequently promote brand recognition and stimulate sales.
To do so successfully, designers often have a ‘showpiece’ intended to attract press attention on the catwalk. From McQueen’s S/S 2007 collection, this was undeniably his Sarabande dress. The dress, which was the final piece in his impressive display of Edwardian-inspired garments, was made from nude silk organza and embroidered with a combination of silk and real, frozen flowers (MET Museum 2011). As the model swept across the stage, the frozen flowers began to slowly fall away from the dress with every step: transforming the gown into a “living, dying, transient thing” (Laneri 2011). All the while, the orchestra reached a palpable crescendo. As she concluded her lap and left the round, the chandelier dimmed and the orchestra ceased: signalling the end of the performance in true, fantastical McQueen style.
Would this collection have been as memorable if it were held on a traditional runway? McQueen’s garments are powerful on their own, granted, but I’m willing to suggest that it wouldn’t have. The fashion show is all about atmosphere; creating the perfect setting for desire and consumption. The theatrical intricacies of the show – the round stage harking back to Shakespeare’s theatre in the round; the single crystal chandelier; the live orchestra playing 18th Century Handel – were what ultimately provided the atmosphere to transform a presentation of garments into something truly spectacular.
Youtube link to the show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDId5vLpgU4
Debord, Guy. 1967. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books.
PDF available at: http://www.antiworld.se/project/references/texts/The_Society%20_Of%20_The%20_Spectacle.pdf
Idacavage, Sara. 2016. “Fashion History Lesson: The Evolution of Runway Shows.” Fashionista, 19th September.
Laneri, Raquel. 2011. “Bad Romance.” The New Inquiry, 8th August. http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/bad-romance/
MET Museum. 2011. “Dress, Sarabande, Spring/Summer 2007.” Accessed 29th September.
Mower, Sarah. 2006. “Spring 2007 Ready-to-Wear: Alexander McQueen.” Vogue Fashion Blog, 6th October.