As performance reviews go, the industry is infamously harsh.
Buyers, editors and tastemakers expect newness, something that will capture their attention, especially during the frenetic pace of fashion week. Good simply isn’t good enough; collections must be memorable. No pressure then.
With this, designers are increasingly poised to reach for stratagems that will differentiate their runway shows: a celebrity-clad front row, quirky invitations (petri dish anyone?) and Cirque de Soleil staging are regular ruses used to ensure headlines and headcount.
As the lines between showmanship and gimmickry blur, novelty appears to have become the new normal. So just what are the gambits being used to woo over-exposed style punters?
High-tech tricks are popular, both from a commercial and social media perspective.
Take New York designer Kenneth Cole whose autumn/winter 2013 offering featured models checking their smartphones mid-walk.
More attention seemed to be on the subtext of the props than the sartorial offering: a friendly jibe at the fash pack’s ‘Crackberry’ habit or an attempt to appear relevant after a seven-year catwalk hiatus?
Diane Von Furstenberg’s spring/summer 13 presentation offered up a similar device with models wearing GooGlasses — a $1,500 optical accessory (available from 2014) combining GPS software and Google search engine savvy.
Dubbed ‘Project Glass’, wearers can tweet, text and surf directly from their custom frames; with a virtual reality feature that allows third-party engagement in a singular point of view.
Cleverly integrated into a behind-the-scenes viral video of the show, ticketless fashion junkies could still get priority access to the spectacle behind the spectacles as seen through the eyes of DVF.
Although gadgets and good looks make a clever marketing couple, nothing quite endears the masses like a furry friend, be it the four-legged or anthropomorphic variety.
British brand Mulberry made canine cameos a seasonal ritual with pooches Missy (a/w 12) and Max (s/s 13) upstaging their two-legged model friends.
Moreover, Missy was seen sporting a padded parka from the brand’s newly-launched designer doggie duds. Perhaps creative director Emma Hill was inspired by Lenny the Stylist — a French bulldog (complete with press pass) who ruled the spring/summer 12 London Fashion Week cobbles clad in a Jeeves and Wooster plaid jacket?
Indeed, a cleverly-placed gimmick can create quite the commercial crossover. Take Marc Jacobs’s infamous bunny ears. What was seen as a bagatelle from the Louis Vuitton autumn/winter 09 défilé, sported curiously by Madonna at the MET gala, still spawns its playful high street tributes.
Likewise, those hirsute bear-shaped hats sported by teens can be traced back to Topshop Unique’s ode to children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are (a/w 10).
The antlers never quite traversed the high fashion divide; nor did the farmer brows, thankfully.
For sheer shock value sometimes a bit of old-fashioned nudity is in order. Whether for art, hype or a bit of both, the sight of more than just a bare breast never fails to raise a profile.
Ask post-punk designer Pam Hogg, whose flesh-baring confections have attracted a loyal London following, including muse and IT model Alice Dellal who walked bare-bummed for the designer’s spring/summer 13 stint.
Up-and-coming names like Welsh milliner Robyn Cole and French wigmaker Charlie Le Mindu took naked ambition a step further with models en flagrante bar the scanty presence of hats, shoes and bags.
Fashion blogger (thestyleaccountant.com) and broadcaster Aisling O’Toole doesn’t see the brouhaha over such blatant attention seeking.
“Of course these are notice-me stunts, but in regards to gaining publicity for the designer they work incredibly well,” she insists. “As time moves on so too does the level of gimmick needed to garner attention. Even with true talent it can be hard to stand out from your peers, so I say do whatever it takes to get people talking about you. When the fuss dies down all the designer is left with is increased brand awareness, which can only be a good thing.”
There are instances, however, where publicity stunts backfire. When Kate Moss took to the Louis Vuitton autumn/winter 11 runway puffing a lit cigarette on No Smoking Day, her rebellious gesture ignited the masses; whereas a similar smoking ploy used at DSquared the following year had relatively little impact.
Although Karl Lagerfeld took inspiration from Amy Winehouse for Chanel’s pre-autumn 08 collection; Jean Paul Gaultier attracted rather spurious backlash from the late singer’s father who castigated the designer for using his spring/summer 12 couture ‘tribute’ to cash in on Amy’s memory.
“Fashion is always controversial,” admits stylist and show producer Mark Andrew Kelly. “But it’s what you do with a gimmick that counts. That said, profiting from somebody’s death is immoral and there is a fine line between being inspired and being insensitive.”
Indeed. Every once in a while a show pulls rank in the fashion canon for reasons good or bad. When a seating malfunction led the front row benches at Balenciaga’s spring/summer 12 show to collapse under Vogue scion Anna Wintour and photographer Mario Testino, Nicholas Ghesquiere probably thought his P45 was in the post. Luckily the show ended in a standing ovation — whether intended or otherwise.
Even a well-placed gimmick, however, isn’t immune to the rancour of bad taste. How else could one explain the Lindsay Lohan’s 2009 creative directorship at Emanuel Ungaro?
“It is always a shame when you come away from a show talking about the venue rather than the actual clothes,” admits Kelly.
Perhaps, but if we didn’t get lost in the funhouse every once in the while, the business of fashion would be just that — business.