Performances on the Runway as a Reflection of the Problems and Wounds of Society

Performances on Catwalk: Loudest Fashion Art

Brand shows are primarily associated with fashion and industry glitz. Everything is perfect, from the models to the decorations. However, there are fashion performances that scold standards, reveal society's problems, and raise critics' ears with their audacious concepts.

Marika team gathered nine outstanding performances on the catwalk from designers who were not afraid to speak and present the truth through their show.
Money and Fake Beauty
Fashion performance can take any form: dance, play, or the creation of an art piece in real time. And even the new collection itself, with all the cuts and colors, can have a deep meaning. Fashion performance was born in 1990, when designers wanted to distinguish not only their clothes but also the way they were shown. But the "father" of fashion performances revealed himself a year later. Alexander McQueen presented the collection Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims as a part of his diploma. In the future, the four-time best British designer will have all his collections as high-art performances, becoming an icon in the fashion world.

Chances are that you remember the presentation of the liquid dress by Coperni at the Spring/Summer 2023 show in Paris. It went viral thanks to the new technology, and you can probably call it performance, but Alexander McQueen has a similar concept with a message. At the No. 13 show, the model Shalom Harlow came into the center of the hall in a snowy white dress. Two hand-like robots were set on her sides. Covering herself and cautiously looking around, the model stood there while the robot designers were spraying her dress with paint. At the end, staggered Shalom went away covered in black and yellow from head to toe.

Magazines and newspapers had an explanation back then: Alexander wanted to convey the message that the fashion industry has turned into a soulless robot that is only interested in commerce.
He didn't hesitate to speak up about problems in society as well. The VOSS show didn't start immediately. The guests were sitting in front of the glass cube. They were forced to watch the reflections of others and themselves. For more than an hour, there was nothing to do except face the mirror. The designer achieved his goal of making the fashion industry stare at themselves. Interviewees later described the feeling as very discomforting (Gata Magazine, 2021).

When the light went on and the first model came, it was certain that the catwalk hall was a psychiatric hospital. The walls were soft and all white. The models were moving in a strange way. Acting mad, some of them had bandaged heads.

The final touch was after the models' defile. The walls of a building in the middle started to move. Separated and crashing to the floor, they revealed a naked woman, like in the photo Sanitarium by Joel-Peter Witkin. A mask on her head had tubes. Butterflies fluttered beside her, showcasing that no one is perfect.
Buy Clothes, not Models
Martin Margiela, the founder of Maison Margiela, is a man-enigma. You won't find him on social media, and the Internet will show so few pictures of him that you can count their number on your fingers. Martin's fashion credo is that clothes come first.

When you think about a fashion show, you surely imagine shine in guests and models, perfection in decorations and organization, and exclusiveness, which highlights that only the chosen are allowed to see the collection first. Martin doesn't love that. He even doesn't like fancy printed invitations with calligraphy.

His show for Spring/Summer 1990 mocked all those sleek and gorgeous fashion events for the elite only. The guests had to come early to sit where they wanted because the first row was already reserved for kids. Local children were the most important part of the show. They drew the 500 invitations and "provided" their playground as a catwalk. They were running during the show, touching models, playing, and laughing. The decorations with dilapidated walls were graffitied, so everything had a sense of ruin. Even the clothes presented were baggy and shabby. Martin even stomped on false strands for models to make their hair look wild. He wanted models' hair to look "anything but a hairstyle." The critics, who loved the chic and glamour of fashion, did not appreciate the show, unknowingly proving Margiela was right.
His next shows, Spring and Fall/Winter 1998, were the opposite of the playground show. Clothes are all that matter, remember? Martin had no models for his collection at that time. Aspiring to make the point that clothing forms, furniture, and fabric are important, he used hangers and dummies. The spring collection was displayed on hangers. They were brought out by people in lab coats. The Fall/Winter collection was presented on wooden mannequins. They were suspended on ropes like puppets. Pulling on the ropes, the show staff imitated a defile. Martin couldn't stand the idea that present-day brands are proud of: clothes sell because of the work of the top models, not because of how they are made.
Fashion Needs Anarchy
So you are a big shot in the fashion industry, and you are invited to the Spring/Summer 2004 show of Carol Christian Poell called "Mainstream Downstream." Through your invitation, you learn that the event takes place near Naviglio Grande in Milan. Amusing choice for the fashion show because it's literally water. Where will the catwalk be? All in all, you come, glance at Naviglio Grande, and understand there is no place to sit. Neither for you, your colleagues, or celebrities. And, of course, the catwalk is missing, as you thought.

The Carol Christian Poell show of 2004 was an art and gesture of equality. As a rule, seating for the show is arranged in several rows. The closer to the podium, the more important the guest. Poell wanted to get rid of such hierarchy in the fashion show. Guests were forced to stand and move around in order to see the collection. And the idea of performance was to convey that fashion is an uncontrolled stream. It flows evenly and unconsciously on its own. Just like the models in the show. Wearing looks made of rigid leather, they were floating in the water. Some clothes had blood-red inserts, which made the models look like corpses. And that's the story of how Poell made his honored guests wander near Naviglio Grande to have time to look at the details of the swimming bodies' clothing.
Trends Destroy You
It's remarkable that the ones who recognized Viktor and Rolf were museums. Establishments of art started to redeem their haute couture collections for exhibitions. Viktor & Rolf were first about art and only second about fashion. An excellent recipe for performance on a catwalk.

Each of their couture collections has a concept and a message. They commented on the red carpet one-day fashion, laughed at the clichéd couture dresses, reconstructed the garden of stones with models, and literally divided fashion into black and white. They were the first in the fashion industry to decide on the "one show, one model" approach. It was the Autumn/Winter 1999 show called "Russian Doll." It started when the model, Maggie Rizer, stood on the spinning platform. Viktor and Rolf came to dress her up. They put on her clothes layer by layer until Maggie was barely visible behind ten different garments. The clothes constrained her movements and also criticized consumer culture. The Russian Doll was an example of consumerism in the fashion world, which furiously and instantly swallows people whole. In designers' opinion, it was better when fashion was about haute couture than today, when fashion becomes fast and fades.
Another statement they made was at the Wearable Art Autumn/Winter 2015–2016 show. It started as usual, with models catwalking in bizarre clothes. In the background is the usual white wall. The performance began when some models came to the Dutch designers, who were waiting near the wall. Viktor and Rolf took off some items of clothing from models. The garments appeared to be a constructed oil painting, which the designers hung up on the wall. At the end of the show, there were five pieces of art, each different in their shape but similar in one: they were flowing like the clothes are supposed to be.

Connoisseurs of haute couture saw three messages in this. Firstly, designers have stopped creating and simply copied paintings on clothes. And the right place for art pieces is in museums. Secondly, fashion has come to the point where the print defines the wearability of garments. No one looks at the shapes, cuts, or materials. Thirdly, haute couture is transforming from fashion into pure art that one should not wear but watch and enjoy. The last message is determined by the creators, and Viktor and Rolf settled this question for themselves a long time ago by quitting ready-to-wear fashion.
Anger, Power and Women
In due course, Rick Owens' Cyclops show made a lot of noise. The Spring/Summer 2016 catwalk presented not only fashion but also female power. Along with models dressed in the new collection, there were women who carried other women on themselves. The bearers were in special robes with belts that were like baby carriers. The belt garments allowed the models to hang upside down and not fall. Musical accompaniment was performed by three female singers who were sharpened in the glass room. Rick's messages were direct. He literally showed the daily acts of each woman who supported each other. They "carry" their sisters, daughters, and mothers throughout their lives, remaining strong enough for that.
His second fashion performance, which we cannot but mention, is the show Vicious from the Spring/Summer 2014 womenswear collection. And when we say "performance," we mean performance. There was no usual catwalk with models strolling back and forth. Dancers were those who showed the clothes and, most intriguing and important, the dance. They started the show by marching down the stairs in a gorgeous and vicious way. They were stepping with anger, grinding their teeth, and dancing furiously. Among them were not only white women but women of color, representing fashion available to all. And the vicious concept itself was Rick Owens's outrage over getting tired of comparisons of ordinary girls to models.
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