In a recent discussion with my Fashionising.com colleagues about the future of street style we turned to jokes about pulling out an easel and painting portraits of the subjects as they posed for us on the street. “Just stay still for a few… more… hours…” we envisaged. The reality is though that it’s a nice – if highly impractical – idea. And while the likes of Garance Dore may sketch away during a fashion week we hardly expect a person on the street, or a model on the runway, to stop and pose for a portrait.
But that wasn’t always the case. My, how things have changed.
Read on for a look at how Paris fashion week has changed since 1947.
Gertrude Stein and model in Pierre Balmain’s salon. Photograph by Horst P. Horst. Via The Paris Review.
In an excerpt from Rosamond Bernier’s book Some of My Lives: A Scrapbook Memoir, the one-time Vogue writer describes going to an early fashion week in Paris, accompanied by one of the magazine’s resident artists who – despite his love of a good drink – was tasked with illustrating the designs straight off the models.
“Confronted with the model, he always started with the eyes. Then mysteriously, the very essence, the spirit of the outfit, would come to life on his page.”
Things have certainly sped up, not slowed down, in the fashion week formula. But that’s not all that’s changed. Aside from obvious changes like the lack of bloggers, celebrities and hangers-on, the atmosphere was starkly different.
“Balenciaga’s salon at 10, avenue George V was run with the discipline of a convent by the intimidating Mademoiselle Renée. It was not large. There were five white canapés for the important people; lesser souls had to make do with little gold chairs with red cushions. No music for the presentations. Silence. No flood lights.
The mannequins held up a card with a number as they stomped by. Balenciaga’s models were often really plain. One was distractingly wall-eyed, I remember. The master had instructed them to never smile, never make eye contact, just to look haughtily over the heads of clients.
Now we’re faced with fast-paced runways set to pumping music and complex lighting, some grand entranceway, perhaps, at one end and a writhing pit of photographers at the other. Some with telescopic zoom lenses; some perched up front baring nothing but an iPhone. If the designer is big enough and the economy strong enough, an entire set will be built; a cast of hundreds will attend; and what will ensue is a 15 minute-odd spectacular before it all comes dismantling down again.
Although that atmosphere, that experience, is one of the great thrills of a modern fashion week, it’s also one of the problems. It’s that full experience that gets communicated through the online media – almost, if not completely, instantaneously. It’s what builds the anticipation for a collection we won’t see on the racks for another 6 months (during which time the high street will likely release it’s own cheaper, more accessible versions). It’s also that focus on the atmosphere that sends everything skimming along so quickly most media and buyers present don’t get to feel it, touch it, see it up close, illustrate it, should they so wish to.
Illustrations by Carl “Eric” Erickson. Via The Paris Review.
As Daniel has said numerous times, the modern catwalk concept is broken – too much has changed since the days when Vogue sent illustrators to Paris capture the essence of a dress. But as for whether the fashion week model will change any time soon – well, on Tom Ford’s lead it’s a possibility. But we won’t pick up our paintbrushes just yet.