The term ‘catwalk’ invites a playful image in the mind's eye, suggesting such narrowness of passage that one has to step purposefully, taking care with each step, as a cat might waltz along a beam. It’s an apt term in the context of fashion, given the abundance of imagery we associate it with – the lissom, sculpted bodies of models whose detached gaze and feline power-gait we like to parody when trying on shoes.
So what is the designer’s take on all this business? What goes on behind the imposing façade of the catwalk?
For Gary Bigeni, the LMFF catwalk is a conduit to his customers. “Runway shows are a great way to provide the public with a fashion experience that is usually reserved for the industry,” he says. “The collections shown are available in store at the same time, so customers aren’t disconnected from the garments.”
Bigeni’s Winter 2012 collection is a case study of contrast. With textures, prints and vibrant colours layered in juxtaposition to one other, Bigeni sought to expose the divergent characters that exist within people and the internal conflict of personality.
He began work on his LMFF show weeks in advance. On the night of the show however, as each model walks the floor, few will consider the headaches that Bigeni and stylist Penny McCarthy endured in developing each look. Shoes that compliment an already striking outfit must be found; every look must have impact, yet defer to the overall aesthetic. This is no mere afterthought in an industry where customers don’t give second chances. Chocolate, according to Bigeni, is his grace under pressure.
The duo behind Alpha60, Alex and Georgie Cleary, have a parallel respect for the catwalk. This year, the inimitable siblings are forging new ground with a solo show, their first in six years and the first to feature on the LMFF cultural program.
The decision to leave the familiar environment of group shows took nerve. However, the Cleary siblings are confident that it’s in the best interests of a winter collection deserving of a unique setting. Inspired by the structural quality of Eva Hesse and Donald Judd’s work, the collection marries the wintry grace of boiled wool and sand washed silk, with a seasonal colour palette of soft navy, teal, cream and warm rose.
“Once you’re outside the ambit of the festival, your freedom to design a parade has an inverse relationship to your ability to actually stage it,” says Alex.
“You wouldn't think that getting a couple of models to dress in some clothes and walk down the catwalk would take some doing – but it does!” he says of the week leading up to the show. “We’ve spent weeks casting models, fitting samples and developing the broader creative direction of the parade.”
There are also practicalities to consider that lack the lustre of those sartorial concerns, like seating, lighting and audio, a bar and a soundtrack to make it all enjoyable. So is it worth it? “For us it’s all about the experience that comes with the brand,” says Georgie. “When you walk into our shop, it’s about the interior, the music, the service as well as the clothes. A parade is the same; people get to be involved, to see the clothes, have a drink, talk to friends, hear some great tunes and become immersed in the atmosphere.”
The catwalk seems to have lost none of its appeal to designers then. But what of its shortcomings? When so few people can attend a parade, how does a label get the message across to the countless others?
Two local labels, Kuwaii and Above., have embraced the narrative and aesthetic benefits offered by film. No Home, a project straddling the film and fashion worlds, gives designers the means to express the essence of their collection in what is arguably the most accessible manner.
The confluence of fashion and film has produced an interesting challenge to the dominance of the catwalk as fashion’s premier platform. For Kristy Barber, designer at Kuwaii, communicating her ideas in a short film allowed for an ethereal approach to narrative that would have been greatly limited by the static nature of the catwalk. Her film Near The Light shares similar elements with the catwalk, yet leaves the viewer with an altogether different memory, perhaps a different reality.
Above. aren’t showing their collection on the LMFF catwalk, but have opted to produce installations as well as short films for No Home. For designers Nyssa Marrow and Kerry Findlow, there’s an angle that neither platform can truly present. What if viewers were participants, invited onto the runway to touch the cloth and judge the fit for themselves? The catwalk could then stimulate the only sense beyond its reach. As Marrow puts it, “I wish fashion shows were more like touch tanks at the aquarium.”
As long as the catwalk is changing, and is therefore controversial, it will be relevant. Far from being a passé indulgence, the catwalk remains fashion’s premier theatrical platform.
Ingrained on our cultural psyche is the sense that fashion is fickle and pretentious, yet fun and tongue-in-cheek, all at once. In the hands of these talented designers, the continued development of the catwalk and the emergence of short film provides a platform to view the fashion world – which many of us only understand superficially – as an insider.