Exploring the theatricality of fashion

Annabel Steele discusses the unique art form of fashion.

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Photo: Pixabay

The end of fashion month is finally here; for those of us who are interested in the fashion industry, it has been a month of scrolling down news feeds clogged up with pictures and videos from the day’s shows, and watching YouTube videos of beautiful people walk up and down runways in meticulously decorated fabrics. Fashion is so often spoken about as a pointless pursuit – from those who trivialise it, fashion never receives the respect it deserves considering that it is an art form, and one that can be compared to the more universally acclaimed creative mediums in many ways. As the Saint’s new deputy theatre editor, I am interested in all kinds of theatrical endeavours. Theatre is everywhere – and to celebrate the culmination of fashion month, I want to think about the theatricality of fashion: from shows to advertisements to the way we use it ourselves.

This fashion month has been particularly outstanding. As is only natural, each fashion season sees designers and show coordinators break boundaries further, not only in terms of the clothes but the way they are presented – and this year, one of those broken boundaries is the divide between theatre and fashion. Dior’s stunning SS19 collection, showcased in their fashion show at the Hippodrome de Longchamp in Paris which hosts the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, was a piece of theatre in its own right. The use of words, dance and physical theatre illuminated the collection perfectly; quotes such as Bausch’s “I’m not interested in how people move, I’m interested in what makes them move” were engraved on the set’s canvas exterior, and before Maria Grazia Chiuri’s designs were revealed, the audience were privy to a gorgeous solo dance choreographed by Sharon Eyal. Flower petals fell from the sky, coating the floor in pink nature, and after a few blissful minutes more dancers bled onto the stage. By the time the models began to walk, we already knew exactly the aesthetic, mood and influence of Chiuri’s sixth Dior collection. The procession of models was tangled up in dance for the entirety of the show, and the finale was essentially a live art installation which saw models scattered across a stage, standing still, lit by drop-down spotlights which caught the final few falling petals like the sun catching dust. This show was one of infinite examples of fashion and theatre merging, but this merge has always been inevitable: at the most basic level, a fashion show is theatre insofar as it is a showcase of creativity.

The theatricality of fashion, however, is not exclusive to its shows. If the ‘theatre of fashion’ was located in one specific sector of the industry, it would be in its heart: advertising. For fashion brands, advertising is not simply a means of boosting sales, and it never has been. Advertisements have to capture the inherent constants of a brand whilst reinventing it with every collection. Saint Laurent is known for its monochromatic palette, sharp structure and that perfect tension between masculine and feminine, with the brand incorporating theatre at every level of advertising to maintain this aesthetic. Their ‘set’ is a pure white background with ‘SAINT LAURENT’ in black, bold print; their ‘costume’ is the outfit they feel best encapsulates the entire collection; their ‘actor’ is the model, a figure who represents the brand’s image and intentions, always physically and often in other ways. Direction is key: the ‘actor’ uses body language to let us know how the clothes are making her feel. And once everything comes together to create the final product, the control – just as in a theatre – is entirely out of the team’s hands. It is down to audience reception. They decide what to take from the performance, whether to turn the page and forget about it, whether to take a closer look and figure out how the piece is accessorised before making a judgment, or whether to let themselves get lost in the beauty of the show.

Ultimately, though, there is a reason fashion is different from other art forms: it is something we use on a daily basis, consciously or otherwise, to express who we are and how we see ourselves. Fashion is a means to an end: the means being the creative process, the showcasing and the sales; the end being its handover to the public, the stepping down of the designers and their acknowledgement that they have created something which can now be entirely manipulated by the consumer. Every day, we wake up and decide who we want to be for the next sixteen hours. We are in absolute control. We shower off the dust of sleep, we sip our coffee and we open our wardrobes. Some people choose between Chanel or D&G, while some people pick up a charity shop sweatshirt and a pair of jeans they’ve had for as long as they can remember. It doesn’t matter how much thought you put into creating an outfit: it still influences your mindset for the day, and is indicative of how you see yourself and how you wish to be seen by other people. If all the world’s a stage, fashion is the costume that gets you into whichever character you want to play.

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