The fashion show, as we know it, is changing, with in-real-life events replaced by a digital schedule, an enforced pause which may alter fashion forever. As the industry shifts, it’s a moment to look back as well as forward, over shows that made a mark in the modern era. From the cast of the models – which was often depressingly undiverse until just a few years ago – to spectacular concepts and some really great clothes, here are 14 shows that shaped fashion over the past 25 years.
Manfred Thierry Mugler exited the fashion world in 2002 but remains best known for sometimes controversial creations that exaggerated the curves of the body using painstakingly crafted corsets and hip-padding. He was also the master of the fashion show as spectacle, going all out with this style extravaganza at a time when other designers were moving towards minimalism.
This era was peak-supermodel and the show featured Kate Moss, Eva Herzigova, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Shalom Harlow, Karen Mulder, Claudia Schiffer, Elle Macpherson and Stella Ellis, plus-size model and Jean Paul Gaultier’s muse. Cameos by the likes of fashion icons Jerry Hall and 60s model Veruschka, actress Tippi Hedren, socialite Patty Hearst and New York it-girl Dianne Brill were the supporting cast.
Highlights included the metal and Plexiglass cyborg bodysuit, designed in collaboration with artist Jean-Jacques Urcun and later famously shot by Helmut Newton. Model Nadja Auermann looked like a Marvel superhero in a gold leather and jewelled corset designed with aircraft specialist Jean-Pierre Delcros.
Simonetta Gianfelici spun in a dress inspired by Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (later worn by Cardi B to the 2019 Grammys). For the finale, the lights dipped to shine on James Brown in front of the Mugler “Angel” starperforming Sex Machine. This was the fashion show as cultural moment, a world beyond the polite idustry trade event, a full hour long and broadcast live on primetime French television.
Staged on the grand marble steps of Paris’ Opéra Garnier this was one of the most grand and opulent collections Dior has ever produced. The muse was the eccentric Marchesa Casati, a woman who would parade around with a pair of leashed cheetahs. Each model exuded a Casati-esque grandness, which only heightened the atmosphere. The clothes weren’t bad either. Backless velvet gowns in Art Nouveau prints, opera coats, lace sheaths, skirt-suits and wide-brimmed hats draped with flowers and tulle made the audience gasp.
From the finale of thousands of paper butterflies fluttering down from the ornate ceiling, to the opulent curtain call of dazzling gowns that recalled the lavish balls of the 20s, it was one of John Galliano’s first Dior collections, since pinpointed by fashion historians as the start of an age of theatre, excess and showmanship and a taste of what was to come from Galliano’s tenure at Dior. It all came crashing down, of course, when he was sacked by the house in 2011 after antisemitic remarks.
A designer who wears his concept and high thinking on his sleeve, the construction and deconstruction of a garment is central to Margiela’s MO. If that sounds a bit academic, the designer’s shows were often visual showstoppers in their own way. For his AW98 collection , Margiela removed models completely (as he had also done for the spring collection) and replaced them with a series of lifesize puppets created by stylist Jane How. The best pieces took a plastic wrapping reminiscent of the hanging bags used to return dry cleaning. Here was another hallmark of the Belgian designer – from furniture to the humble plastic sack, he found inspiration everywhere.
As anyone who saw Savage Beauty knows, McQueen’s shows were events. He turned Kate Moss into a ghostly hologram and recreated the dance marathon from Sydney Pollack’s film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Inspired by films and art, the designer excelled at an Instagram moment before they even existed. Collection No 13 stands out – thanks to the finale of model Shalom Harlow pirouetting on a turntable while two paint-spraying robots took aim at her strapless dress. Who knows what the shares would have been in the digital era.
The start was memorable too – thanks to the casting of Paralympian and double amputee Aimee Mullins, who opened the show wearing prosthetic legs intricately carved from ash wood. For many in the audience the prosthetics resembled boots and went unnoticed – as was the intention. Disabled models are still under represented on the runway but this show was a landmark moment in challenging perceptions.
Miuccia Prada has long been held up as a purveyor of “geek chic” and a woman who can turn highfalutin ideas into desirable clothes. That image was forged, in large part, by an influential SS96 collection called Banal Eccentricity, full of thrift store prints and wonky shapes, but it was this 2002 collection which introduced another fascination – sex. “I was fed up with people saying I can’t do sexy clothes!” she told Vogue.
Enter sleazy raincoats, pencil skirts and cami knickers. And so began the push and pull between sexy and cerebral that marked Prada’s much-copied collections over the next two decades. The depressing thing about this moment in fashion history, however, was the whiteness of its casting – in fact, from 1993, when Naomi Campbell walked on the Prada catwalk, to 2008, when Jourdan Dunn appeared, Prada had no black models in any of its women’s runway shows.
Few designers have pushed the boundaries as relentlessly as Hussein Chalayan. His graduate collection was made from fabrics he had buried underground to oxidise for two months. The AW00 collection’s finale saw a model step into a wooden table, pull it up to her waist upon which telescopic rings unfolded, transforming into a skirt. This 2007 show looked at the iconic moments of clothing over the last 100 years, as he explained: “taking different eras and decades and cross pollinating, borrowing elements from one era and using them in the next.”
The highlights were six looks when models stood, centrestage and stock still, as mechanics in their dresses transformed through the ages in daring feats of engineering. One look evolved from a full-length Victorian dress to 20s-style flapper look; a skirt inspired by Dior’s New Look morphed into a Paco Rabanne-esque chainmail shift dress; and one dress disappeared entirely into a wide-brimmed hat. 13 years on, this remains a landmark in fashion and technology coming together with impressive results.
A room with wooden floors and rows of people sitting either side of a runway doesn’t sound like much of a gamechanger when it comes to the fashion show. But this was Phoebe Philo’s debut show for Celine and announced a new point of view in fashion. While the likes of Chalayan and McQueen created events comparable to stadium concerts or art happenings, Philo was all about the clothes. It was a strategy that worked. By the time Philo left in 2017, a cohort of fans called Philophiles went into mourning. They then promptly bought up all her Celine designs on eBay.
What better way for Marc Jacobs to announce his departure from Louis Vuitton than by returning to his most memorable show moments, recreated in black? The set, with its escalators, fountains and merry-go-round, was reminiscent of a deserted theme park – and a reminder of Jacobs’ incredible gift for sets and drama with elements, over 16 years including escalators to trains and Kate Moss with a cigarette.
Here, French maids and butlers stood on hot pink steps at the entrance and burlesque performers showed the audience to their seats, creating a circus experience. It was matchd by the models’ heavily beaded looks and feather headdresses created by milliner Stephen Jones. Jacobs dedicated the show to the many women who influenced him during his time at the house, and signed off his programme notes “to the showgirl in all of us.”
Rick Owens has a reputation for pushing boundaries and is no stranger to controversy – witness the penis-flashing show of AW15. His womenswear SS14 show, created a viral moment thanks to the live performance of step dancers in place of models. Stepping evolved in African-American colleges as a hybrid of step dancing, cheerleading and military drill. Owens worked with choreographers LeeAnet Noble and Lauretta Malloy Noble for the show after finding them on Youtube, and the clothes were created for each dancer and cut to accommodate movement. Classical tunics, togas, armour and sports kits provided the inspiration. Noble told Into the Gloss: “The idea was to bring stepping – something that has roots at colleges and in the streets – to a new level of high art”. Just six years ago the catwalks looked even thinner and whiter than they do now so casting mostly women of colour across a mix of body types was, dispiritingly, unprecedented.
The show provoked mixed reactions. Some dancers and people of colour found Owens’ instructions to make what one dancer called “screw faces” as conforming to an angry black woman stereotype. For some, it didn’t help that the show was called ‘Vicious’. “We are not attractive to him, but a schtick for amusement,” wrote one Fashionista commentator. Others appreciated a more diverse idea of what a fashion show can be. “Team Vicious jolted the industry with its ethnicity, voluptuous figures and personality. The performers rose up against everything that so often makes the fashion world feel like an inhospitable place to so many women… Months later, the look of some of the most high profile women’s ready-to-wear shows – from Paris to New York – was more diverse. Just a little,” Robin Givhan wrote in the Washington Post.
Karl Lagerfeld’s time at Chanel played host to some of the most elaborate sets ever seen at fashion week: an aeroplane, an iceberg, even a rocket, all full size, were built inside Paris’s Grand Palais. But it was the Chanel supermarket that is still the most talked about. A full-sized hypermarche stocked with actual fresh produce and Chanel-branded products, from cereal (CoCo Chanel Coco Pops) to cleaning products emblazoned with the double C logo.
Fashion editors and celebrities posed for selfies next to the Chanel fromage counter. Rihanna pushed Cara Delevingne in a trolley for the post-show press call. Perhaps the most memorable part was the least chic: the stampede to snag a souvenir at the end, as fashion editors sharpened elbows to bag the much prized “Mademoiselle Privee” doormat. Most were removed by security before the exit but a few were smuggled home on the Eurostar.
While Kanye West’s toe-dipping into fashion goes back to 2011, when he launched his own line in Paris, it’s been Yeezy (a collaboration with Adidas) where his impact has been most effective. For Yeezy season 1, he worked with Vanessa Beecroft – a frequent collaborator on his music videos – on the choreography, cast a diverse range of non-models for the show, debuted the track Wolves and the Yeezy Boosts all at the same time.