What do you need to make it big in fashion? Talent, nerve, determination? Or, the hide of a rhinoceros, a mammoth ego and famous friends to sit front row and wave to you as you take your bow?
It ain't over till the designers take their signature bow
What do you need to make it big in fashion? Talent, nerve, determination? Or, the hide of a rhinoceros, a mammoth ego and famous friends to sit front row and wave to you as you take your bow? When I first began writing about fashion and going to shows, I used to think it was rather sweet when the designer would bounce on to the runway at the finale, mouth "thank you" to the paparazzi and disappear backstage chased by models.
The emergence of supermodels took catwalk shows to a new level. Then, super-brands created designer superstars, who in turn have come up with? the super-bow. Now the moment when a designer reveals him or herself - for seconds in the case of Miuccia Prada or several minutes if you're John Galliano at the Dior show - is fast becoming as important as the 40 or so outfits preceding it. The sight of a designer flanked by hangers-on after the show is the image you see on websites, TV channels and in magazines - not all of them fashion ones.
To pull in the right sort of crowd, the designer has to be the right sort of person. Extroverted. Fun-loving. Young. Don't be fooled by the myth about creative types being shy or retiring. At least not where fashion is concerned. When I spot tutors from Central St Martins, my old college and the one from which so many A-list designers seem to hail, I always ask them if they ever suspected that Stella McCartney or Hussein Chalayan would be so successful. The answer is the same.
"Of course," they shriek. "Stella (or whoever) was such a show-off." Successful designers are clearly the sort of children who make their parents' and teachers' lives a living nightmare (or a dream, depending on how pushy or modest Mummy, Daddy or Teacher is). Over the years, I've seen far more pint-sized, foot-stamping designers reduce tough fashion editors and Fleet Street hacks to tears, rather than the other way round.
As for rumours about designers requiring protection from big, bad journalists? That's only if they are (whisper it) dull, which happens occasionally. These days a designer is chosen as much for his repartee, contacts and age as his pattern cutting. Talent is an asset but precocious energy, and Lily Allen or Agyness Deyn as a buddy, is more valuable to an aged fashion house packed with skilled clothing mechanics with years of experience between them.
Take the handsome Esteban Cortazar, whose appointment at Emanuel Ungaro has been likened to fashion Botox, along with eye candy for ageing clients. At 24, what could he bring to the house besides the ability to put a spin on his master's signature looks? His infectious bravado is identical to that of Marios Schwab, Tamara Mellon and Alice Temperley, who seem to have the geeky confidence of an Oxford don mixed with charm and - vital in this image obsessed world - rock-star looks.
Every designer has a different bow with quirks you get used to. Albert Elbaz comes out in a suit, waddling like the Penguin in Batman. Christian Lacroix runs like a madman while the audience throws the carnation left on each seat at him. It's always impressive to see female designers such as McCartney and Prada actually wear an ensemble from the collection they have just shown (on models several sizes smaller, several inches taller and many years younger).
Although Prada tends to look like a dowdy governess coming to claim her fourth-form clones, McCartney reinvents herself every season. Last time it was her legs, but then again she was launching a new hosiery line. It's not only younger designers who are crowd-pleasers or household names. Vivienne Westwood, Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani, all in their sixties, are considered cooler than ever. Armani, who always takes his bow in a tight black T-shirt, black jeans and black plimsolls, chose his Paris Haute Couture show to launch his men's anti-ageing face cream. Who better as a walking advert?
Now do you see the true sense of the bow? The men in suits at Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), which owns Christian Dior among other super-brands, call it the Galliano factor. When Galliano - who takes in a staggering $20 million (Dh73m) a year for Dior - insists on taking his bow wearing something outrageous before a front row packed with celebrities, no one cheers louder than those LVMH executives who wouldn't dream of having it any other way.