The June menswear shows were, by common consensus, a bit of a damp squib. With the COVID-19 lockdowns disrupting brands’ plans, there was the sense of a scrabble to put something together in highly challenging circumstances. Though there were a few strong points (particularly JW Anderson’s “show in a box” and Prada’s moody series of short films), it seemed at the time that the fashion industry hadn’t yet found a way to adapt to its new reality: one in which runway shows wouldn’t figure.
Thankfully, as we come to the end of a month of womenswear shows, many brands finally found a way to navigate new methods of presentation. Fashion has often struggled to make sense on video, too often falling into hokey ‘mood’ films and visual cliches, but the presentations that excelled this season embraced the surrealism — and even the kind of morbid humour — of current events, to great effect.
Indeed, while a few brands (notably Vuitton, Rick Owens, Valentino, and Versace) steamed ahead with runway shows, even for a significantly reduced audience, they didn’t register on the same level as those labels that produced content more specific to the times we find ourselves in. Yes, the show must go on. But maybe not quite like it was before.
Below, we break down the brands that found the best new ways of presenting.
Raf Simons’ debut at Prada was always going to be the definitive talking point of the season, offering as it did some tantalizing clues about what his first menswear show for the brand might yield next year. But his means of presenting the collection also felt noteworthy. In a carpeted room draped with heavy swags of curtains (which, surely intentionally, recalled Twin Peaks – an eternal reference point for Simons), models strode between faintly menacing camera rigs, while screens displayed their names. It had the combination of elegance and subversion that has long been a hallmark of Simons – and, indeed, of Prada itself.
In many ways, a runway show isn’t actually the best format for presenting clothes. Often you can barely glimpse the detail of a garment, or the way it hangs on the body, before it has swept past you. The emerging Dutch label Camiel Fortgens acknowledged this in its approach to revealing its Spring/Summer 2021 collection, opting instead to send a “virtual showroom” to buyers and press. In a series of films, a pair of models change and out of the clothes in front of a fixed camera. Was it a break-the-internet moment? No. But in it fuss-free, no-drama approach, it moved the emphasis back onto the clothes themselves.
The lockdowns might have been an unexpected boon to Maison Margiela. By eliminating a runway show, it allowed the brand to indulge the vision of its creative director, John Galliano. The result is, to say the least, memorable: a 45 minute-long film, made in collaboration with Nick Knight, which alternates between tango-dancing models, montages of references, behind-the-scenes footage of the studio, and wildly free-associating orations from Galliano himself. And there’s an underwater segment. Naturally.
Marine Serre’s creative vision has often felt unsuited to the traditional format of a runway show: her collections are political, highly challenging, and made using mostly up-cycled or sustainable materials. For SS21, switching to a video format served the designer well: her collection film, heavily inspired by Dune, was set in a post-apocalyptic landscape that matched the end-of-times feel of the clothing.
After an operatic, bombastic FW20 runway show (in which models walked through a venue half-submerged in water, beneath a burning sky), the presentation of Balenciaga’s Pre-Spring 21 offering felt like a return to reality. In place of pyrotechnics, Demna Gvasalia premiered a video in which models strode briskly through the streets of a deserted Paris. The simpler, stripped-back format afforded a greater emphasis on the collection itself, while acknowledging the weirdness of the world we live in now.
Reality was also the focal point of Marni’s SS21 presentation, which included the unveiling of the brand’s “Marnifesto.” After an embarrassing incident earlier in the summer, when the brand was rightly excoriated for a racially insensitive advertising campaign, the brand reaffirmed its commitment to diversity and sustainability. The collection film doubled down on the message of universality, with a series of coordinated live-streams in Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City, London, Milan, Paris, Dakar, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Though the collection was hardly visible (instead, images were circulated in a separate lookbook), it offered a statement of the brand’s priorities for the future.