x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The catwalk is dead. Long live the catwalk

Fashion TalkDid you know that possibly the only things to not be affected by the global recession are the high-end bridal industry and - according to Julie Gilhart, the fashion director of New York's Barneys - Azzedine Alaïa designs?

Models rehearse for last week's Vera Wang show, part of New York Fashion Week.
Models rehearse for last week's Vera Wang show, part of New York Fashion Week.

Did you know that possibly the only things to not be affected by the global recession are the high-end bridal industry and - according to Julie Gilhart, the fashion director of New York's Barneys - Azzedine Alaïa designs? I styled an extravagant designer wedding catwalk in London last week where one Vivienne Westwood style, costing £18,000, had confirmed orders within seconds of the show's finale.

As I buttoned, unlaced and plumped up the many layers of tulle petticoats on billowing bridal gowns worn by the 25 or so models, and watched them float off down the runway looking like stills from a Cecil Beaton photograph, it occurred to me that the experience was sublimely "old school". Show styling is something I have always enjoyed tremendously, although it is stressful because so many things can get out of control - budgets for instance.

However, writing this with my fingertips still covered in plasters from fastening tiny, raw-silk-covered buttons on 70 dresses, I am starting to feel that I'd rather be front-row than backstage. I love watching fashion shows. I feel very privileged to have witnessed some of Alexander McQueen's greatest spectacles, I caught a couple of YSL shows when the great man was still lucid and went to some cracking Versace catwalks throughout the 1990s.

I am not surprised to learn that the recession is being blamed for the demise of the full-on fashion show. These can cost a fortune to stage (the stylist's fee isn't half bad either). But I'm not convinced it has anything to do with new technology. During New York Fashion Week the unexpected death of McQueen and the future of the catwalk were, of course, the sole topics of conversation. Both are inexorably linked. Last October, McQueen - ever the rule-breaker - became the first designer to stream his collection live on the internet, via the avant-garde photographer Nick Knight's website, ShowStudio.

New technology did not exactly triumph. Lady Gaga had announced on her blog that she was going to preview her latest single during the show, which caused the website to crash. This season, not some but most shows will be streamed live, not just to computers but to mobile phones worldwide - giving the Twitter community something to talk about no doubt. Asked last week whether catwalk shows were still valid, the eminent American fashion writer, Cathy Horyn of The New York Times, told the fashionistas' favourite website, Style.com: "There's no reason to be at many. I usually go to showroom appointments anyway afterwards. I do Comme des Garçons, Balenciaga sometimes, Jil Sander sometimes, and I'm thinking to myself, this is so much more interesting, to write about clothes away from [the catwalk]."

So that's it then. Or is it? The internet provides a cheap vehicle for showing off your brand, but can it ever prove as glamorous as the good old-fashioned fashion show? Headline-grabbing events like Chanel's, which pull in celebrities, also generate a fortune in terms press and media coverage. Part of the snobbery surrounding fashion revolves around its being exclusive. Isn't this how designers are able to charge a fortune for a frock in the first place?

As for bloggers such as the blue-rinse teenager Tavi Gevinson and the upstart Bryanboy, we used to call them "fashion victims" when I was a student, along with anyone who dared blag their way into the peculiarly elitist Planet Fashion. It will be interesting to see how London Fashion Week's digital schedule fares and whether the many salon presentations will have an impact on catwalk spectacles? There is always a case for the small show, where a collection can be scrutinised up close like the sort Victoria Beckham treated 25 select editors to in New York last week.

She gave a running narration about the cut, colour and construction of each of the 26 frocks, occasionally veering off the script to chip in a comment like: "I'm wearing this one to the Oscars." By all accounts, the standout show of the week was, as ever, Marc Jacobs, which was old-school catwalk, albeit with a bit of new technology thrown in. A week before the show, the president of Marc Jacobs Inc, Robert Duffy, apparently tweeted a request for set ideas.

Don't go writing the fashion show off just yet. Isn't it the case that the internet, rather than being responsible for its demise, is giving the catwalk its biggest break? I have just one question as a small-time, occasional show-stylist: what about royalties and repeat fees?