Whether onstage or online, today’s fashion shows are bigger than ever — and broadcast to audiences of millions. But their roots are more humble and intimate than you might expect.
The modern fashion show dates back to the 1860s, when pioneering English fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth used live models instead of mannequins to present his creations in Paris.
By the turn of the century, events known as “fashion parades” had started to spread to London and New York. But those shows were small, mostly private events for buyers. Photography was often banned, for fear that the designs would be copied.
That all changed after World War II, when fashion houses opened their doors to larger audiences and began to seek publicity.
By the 1960s, the serious, stony faces of models walking in rigid formation gave way to a lighter aesthetic, with models encouraged to show their personalities as music blared. And the more avant-garde fashion shows of today began life in the ’80s and ’90s, when runways morphed into mini-productions, embellished with lighting, sound effects and elaborate staging.
In recent years, fashion shows have evolved into ambitious theatrical presentations that blur the line between art and commerce. The late British designer Alexander McQueen put a runway in a wind tunnel, created a supermodel chess set and once ended a show with a masked Joan of Arc surrounded by blood and fire.
And who better to exemplify how far fashion has come from the private salons of Paris than the late German designer Karl Lagerfeld, who staged shows in fictitious airport terminals and supermarkets, and even turned the Great Wall of China into a catwalk?
Watch the animated video above to find out more about the history of the fashion show.