I have sometimes been sitting front row at fashion shows of upcoming designers with the purpose of writing fashion show reviews about the collection for various publications. It’s a different part of the process compared to being ‘work-in-progress’, which is where I’m normally involved either as a fashion tutor or fashion designer. The magic of the big culmination, the fashion show, is breathtaking, and the runway models pass fast one after the other. The attendees are concentrated though still enjoying themselves, as the catwalk models pass by quickly one after the other.
Often there will be a short description about the collection and inspiration lying on your seat, and this will prepare you for the show. Having an idea about what you’re going to see together with some key words about the collection are helpful, when the show starts. Here you need to be alert in order to make photos for reference and perhaps writing down a few key words. This is useful for your fashion show reviews, but a part from the technical aspect of understanding the inspiration, shapes, cut and materials, what is it that you look at?
I have found that in order to evaluate, if I find a collection successful, I look mainly at three things: if the collection feels fresh and relevant, if it’s well coordinated and makes sense, and if there are any ‘ugly Bettys’.
The fresh and relevant feel is fundamental, because if it’s not, then the rest doesn’t matter at all. Great styling, coordination and rich materials can’t save a project that feels old or out-of-place. Pinpointing the designs of tomorrow is perhaps the finest skill of a good designer, and it’s about understanding trends and where fashion is coming from (read more about that here). It’s also something that’s very hard to learn, if you don’t already have nose for it, and therefore it’s where the real talent shows.
Doing a coordinated collection means that there’s a flow between the various outfits, and perhaps the collection start with daywear, and ends in something more dramatic for the evening. Sometimes it’s not divided in use but rather has a colour scheme that changes with the exits. It can also be a change in shapes, materials or details, but the important thing is that it feels like one joint collection, and not like opening a suitcase of random outfits with no connection between them. It’s a balance of not being too repetitive, but at the same time also not being too diverse. A strong and recognizable theme must be kept throughout.
Sometimes you see collections existing mainly of dresses or denim, and sometimes you see a more even variety of garments. This is linked to the collection range/merchandising mix, and depends on the brand. If you’re Emilia Wickstead, you have many dresses, and if you’re Max Mara, you have many coats. What is important is that shops and other retail outlets will find it easy to buy the collection due to a well-balanced choice of garments as well as colours, prints and materials. The retail appeal is something that upcoming designers should take into careful consideration, and getting feedback from buyers from the very beginning can be very valuable.
The ‘ugly Bettys’ are the styles or outfits that make no sense, and have a very damaging effect on the overall collection. Many new designers make daring design, and when done skillfully, it’s very strong and appealing. An ‘ugly Betty’ in the mix make you loose faith and credibility in the designer, and few customers want to wear foolish designs. It’s always a shame to see, how an ‘ugly Betty’ can ruin otherwise great work, and it doesn’t take more than one bad outfit to make the project fall apart.
Established designers work on the fashion show with stylists, and having new, fresh eyes looking at the collection is useful, when the design team has looked at it for months. Stylists are often freelance, and have a clear idea of what goes on in the industry, and therefore their insight knowledge of the world outside the design studio is useful, when a new collection has to be styled. Even upcoming designer with a more modest budget can benefit from having someone else looking over the collection with them before deciding on the exits for the catwalk.