The Theatre of Fashion

The worlds of theatre and fashion have always been closely linked. The fashion world is deeply involved in theatre: behind every production is a costume department dedicated to designing, styling and dressing the performers. Similarly, there has always been theatricality in fashion – especially when it comes to couture. For the presentations of their respective SS16 collections during Paris Couture Week, Gaultier’s show had a retro disco theme (reflecting the renowned Le Palace, a 70s/80s Parisian nightclub, popular amongst the underground music and fashion scene, and a notable hotspot for the likes of Grace Jones and Yves Saint Laurent), while Dior created a hall of mirrors for their presentation. Never before, though, has the world of theatre been so prominent in the fashion industry.

As head designer and creative director of Chanel, Fendi and his eponymous line of Karl Lagerfeld products, the fashion mogul has had a tremendous impact on the industry over the course of his lifetime. In particular, it seems that over the last decade he has drawn upon his early years and experiences in the presentation of his collections.

In the years between 1970-90, Lagerfeld occasionally worked in theatre as a costume designer. In particular, he collaborated with opera directors Luca Ronconi and Jürgen Flimm, and designed for the annual Salzburg Festival of music and drama. The latter of these, most significantly, may have had a strong impact on Lagerfeld’s fashion presentations. Held across a variety of venues in the Austrian town of Salzburg, the festival was inaugurated on August 22, 1920 after much local encouragement in the post-war spirit (similar festivals had been held regularly, but were cancelled upon the start of the first world war). Since then, Salzburg has played host to the event, coined “the world’s greatest musical and theatrical gathering” by The Telegraph’s Nick Trend. He elaborates:

“The atmosphere of the city in summer, the quality of the music – especially the opera – and the variety of venues is a winning combination. The tribes of tourists are counterbalanced by the festival audiences, some in black tie, a few in shorts, which spill out of the concert houses into the warm summer evenings…”

Such notions parallel those of the fashion world, with particular similarities between the festival and several global fashion weeks. More widely now are tickets sought after, with those outside of the industry desperate to see the show as just that – a show. As such, in recent years the fashion show has evolved, transcending the traditional traverse catwalk.

Chanel, particularly, has played an integral role in the progression of the fashion show. Most recently, shows have been staged in a Paris street scene (SS15), a café (AW15/16), and an airport (SS16), with a longer and more meandering catwalk, delivering a more immersive experience. Not only highlighting and contextualising the practicality of the fashion, the staging of the collections provides a more memorable experience, generating an enthusiasm towards the pieces.

Perhaps a key sign in this development was the 2013 Chanel couture show, held in a ruined, blitzed out theatre. While Lagerfeld suggested this was a metaphor for the old meeting the new, one can only wonder whether a deeper suggestion lay within the décor. Either way, it is certain that, as the collections go by, the worlds of theatre and fashion are only getting closer to one another. What the future holds – who knows? Only one thing is certain: Lagerfeld will be right at the centre, masterminding it all.

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