London Fashion Week SS16: Presentation as Performance

Presentations initially provided early career designers a less expensive solution to showcasing their collections to the industry. Although last month, London Fashion Week saw a host of emerging designers foregoing the traditional runway format, using the freedom of a presentation to create their own distinctive voice. 

Experimenting with performance and installation art, presentations are creating an altogether bigger impact on social media. This might owe itself to the longer and often static format of the presentations, giving press and buyers more of a chance to appreciate the workmanship usually lost in the blur of a runway show. And of course, this gives ample opportunities for detailed Instagram shots.

This new wave of experimentation has also opened up opportunities for interesting cross- disciplinary collaborations between musicians, artists, set designers etc, to create an immersive experience of the collection, communicating it's mood and it's concept. 

This new format also gives freedom to the designer when it comes to casting. Many of the girls are either friends of the designer roped into modelling the collection and certainly do not follow the sample size standard of the industry. Again, initially a practical decision in terms of budgeting for the show, this has evolved into an strong message and push for diversity in representation and display of collections. This also comes at a time where up to 80% of models used for shows are White Caucasian. 

It’s not just emerging designers who are choosing to show through presentations. Established designers such as Peter Jensen, Belstaff, Tata Naka, Markus Lupfur and Emilio de Morena have chosen to go down this route, which may allude to a bigger trend beyond emerging designers. Even Tom Ford has chosen to show his SS16 collection in a music video directed by Nick Knight, starring Lady Gaga. 

Perhaps a pioneer of this alternative format, Gareth Pugh has always had an element of theatre in his runways shows. On a larger scale and with possibly no expense spared, Pugh’s showcase at New York Fashion Week for SS15, called upon collaborators in a diverse range of multimedia such as fashion film and performance to create an altogether larger impact.

Some would say this new era heralds the demise of the catwalk, however with runway shows now primarily being about image and public reach, brands are still keeping this format alive by leveraging them as live advertising campaigns.

The classic runway format may not be leaving us anytime soon but this experimentation in creating presentations places importance on the designer’s concept behind the collections and perhaps points to how the designer can become a curator of their own collections.

We’ve put together a brief overview of how some designers have chosen an alternative way of showcasing their collections in the treadmill of seasonal shows.


London Fashion Week's new home at Brewer Street car park, has initiated some designers to explore the use of the small and curious bars and clubs in Soho as unusual spaces for presentations. 

In the past, Fashion East has kept to the traditional format with three catwalk shows back to back. This year, they have given the three selected designers a chance to curate the perfect environment for their presentations, held in three separate locations all a stone's throw within one another on Soho’s Greek Street.

Richard Malone presentation SS'16 Image: White Line Projects

Richard Malone presentation SS'16 Image: White Line Projects

Taking two separate spaces over two floors in the ornate and theatrical L'Escargot restaurant, Fashion East newcomer Richard Malone, presented a collection which was baroque in feel but still with an innate sense of modernity, utility and unexpected elements. This very much informed the set design and environment, which was the result of a collaboration with from RA School artist, Evelyn O’Connor who fashioned sculptural pieces made out of sugar cubes and tomato ketchup with a backdrop of draped sheer plastic; a contemporary version of classical portrait paintings. 

Even his choice of casting for the presentation was a statement of sorts, with each garment bespoke fitted to each of the models rather than sample sizes, who were “an assortment of women, from artists to solicitors”. 

Poetry emanated throughout the presentation, primarily through sound with recordings played of Sylvia Plath reading her own poetry, which was key in enhancing the otherworldly atmospherics, as well as some of the models performing readings themselves. Malone’s own prose filtered through in the accompanying book to the presentation, which was balanced with imagery of his hometown in Ireland along with portraits of models taken during fittings.

Ultimately for Malone, the presentation “celebrates intimacy and tactility rather than the glossy alienation often found within fashion.”

Caitlin Price presentation SS'16 Image: White Line Projects

Caitlin Price presentation SS'16 Image: White Line Projects

Presentations for Caitlin Price and This is Uniform were located in gallery white cube type spaces at Condé Nast College. Similar to Malone, Caitlin Price’s collection also drew inspiration from her own youth, growing up in South London. Simple but effective elements evoked the drum’n’bass music scene from the late 90s and early noughties that informed part of the collection, such as the minimal speaker system set-piece, created in collaboration with set designer, Joseph Bond.  A surprise element to the presentation, which added to the installation format, was to be found in a back room screening a specially commissioned film projection by video artist, Benjamin Bowe-Carter, which revealed Price’s research process and her “fascination with glitchy video aesthetics”.

Unfold: Irish Designers Collective Image: White LIne Projects

Unfold: Irish Designers Collective Image: White LIne Projects

Irish Design 2015 is a year long programme that has profiled the country’s creativity on a global level. Earlier this year, the initiative took part in British Council’s International Fashion Showcase. Following on from this was Unfold: Irish Designers Collective, a three day showcase held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts featuring eleven selected womenswear designers to launch their SS16 collections during London Fashion Week. 

Styled by Dublin-based stylist, Aisling Farinella, the event was a cross between a showroom and live performance exhibition, reinforcing key themes in Irish identity and how they manifest within the designers’ collections. These themes of “landscape, language and family” were conveyed through the installations incorporating elements of nature with industrial structures, contrasting the harsh with soft, perfect as a backdrop for the live models draped the designers’ pieces. 

Molly Goddard Presentation SS'16 Image: Dazed & Confused

Molly Goddard Presentation SS'16 Image: Dazed & Confused

Last season, Molly Goddard’s standout presentation was very much a family affair. With a set design created by her mother and styling by her sister, the life drawing installation consisting of her friends and art students who, sitting in front of their easels, acted oblivious to the audience. It was also reportedly, one of the most instagrammed shows of London Fashion Week. This season, Goddard played with a nostalgia of the mundane, setting the bleak scene inside a sandwich factory, thus tapping into the English psyche.  

Image: London LIfestyle

Image: London LIfestyle

Deconstruction and reconstruction resonate deeply with the work of designer, Faustine Steinmetz in her intricate reworking of denim separates. This ethos prevailed in the display of the SS16 collection in an off kilter presentation. Inspired by the work of performance artist Otto Muehl, models were frozen in moments of awkward gestures, with different limbs jutting out of white canvas paper.

Image: White Line Projects

Image: White Line Projects

Out of all the presentations taking place at fashion week, perhaps the most conceptual was Claire Barrow’s SS16 showcase, entitled ‘Broken Machines’. The BFC presentation space at Pall Mall’s ICA was transformed into an entirely immersive experience, with 30 models (street cast, both men and women) displayed stood, seated and reclined, reminiscent of classical sculptures of Bacchus worshipers. 

Barrow’s dystopian vision was further enhanced through the power of eery sound atmospherics. Accompanied by Live saxophone and piano were a mishmash of sounds created by metallic resonators and homemade synthesisers. Models created clashing sounds played with deconstructed metal parts. Overall, the senses were thrown into a quiet disarray.