A fashion show (French défilé de mode) is an event put on by a fashion designer to showcase his or her upcoming line of clothing during Fashion Week. Fashion shows debut every season, particularly the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter seasons. This is where the latest fashion trends are made. The two most influential fashion weeks are Paris Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week, which are both semiannual events. Also, the Milan, London and Berlin are of global importance.
In a typical fashion show, models walk the catwalk dressed in the clothing created by the designer. The clothing is illuminated on the runway by the lighting. The order in which each model walks out wearing a specific outfit is usually planned in accordance to the statement that the designer wants to make about his or her collection. It is then up to the audience to not only try to understand what the designer is trying to say by the way the collection is being presented, but to also visually deconstruct each outfit and try to appreciate the detail and craftsmanship of every single piece.
Occasionally, fashion shows take the form of installations, where the models are static, standing or sitting in a constructed environment. A wide range of contemporary designers tend to produce their shows as theatrical productions with elaborate sets and added elements such as live music or a variety of technological components like holograms, for example.
Because "the topic of fashion shows remains to find its historian", the earliest history of fashion shows remains obscure.
American retailers imported the concept of the fashion show in the early 1900s. The first American fashion show likely took place in 1903 in the New York City store of the Ehrlich Brothers. By 1910, large department stores such as Wanamaker's in New York City and Philadelphia were also staging fashion shows. These events showed couture gowns from Paris or the store's copies of them; they aimed to demonstrate the owners' good taste and capture the attention of female shoppers.
By the 1920s, retailers across the United States held fashion shows. Often, these shows were theatrical, presented with narratives, and organized around a theme (e.g. Parisian, Chinese, or Russian). These shows enjoyed huge popularity through mid-century, sometimes attracting thousands of customers and gawkers.
In the 1970s and 1980s, American designers began to hold their own fashion shows in private spaces apart from such retailers. In the early 1990s, however, many in the fashion world began to rethink this strategy. After several mishaps during shows in small, unsafe locations, "[t]he general sentiment was, 'We love fashion but we don't want to die for it,'" recalls Fern Mallis, then executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. In response to these shows, the New York shows were centralized in Bryant Park during fashion week in late 1993.
Lately from the 2000s to today, fashion shows are usually also filmed and appear on specially assigned television channels or even in documentaries.
In recent years, fashion shows have become increasingly elaborate for many of the top labels, including sprawling sets that often come with higher costs.
Fashion shows in the 21st century
Some designers have attempted to modernize the style and presentation of fashion shows by integrating technological advances in experimental ways, such as including pre-recorded digital videos as backdrops. During New York Fashion Week in 2014, designer Ralph Lauren presented his new Polo line for Spring 2015 in a water-screen projection in Manhattan’s Central Park. Technological progress has also allowed a broader portion of the fashion industry's followers to experience shows. In 2010, London Fashion Week was the first fashion week to allow viewing of its shows through live streaming. Live streaming of runway shows and mediated shows has now become commonplace.
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- Valerie Steele, chief curator and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, quoted in Fortini, Amanda. How the Runway Took Off: A Brief History of the Fashion Show. Slate Magazine (February 8, 2006).
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