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top 10 fashion show sets

Fashion’s an inherently theatrical world, of dressing down and dressing up and thinking about the ways in which you present yourselves to others, and shows are its opening night performances. While its forms are often very traditional - with models walking, and posing, and running off to the next show - this season designers dreamt up some extraordinary sets that toyed with our expectations, from melting walls of rich Belgian chocolate to flaming circles of hell to a vacuum-packed Soo Joo…

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  • 1. Opening Ceremony’s chocolate fountains

    If you’re showing in New York your set should be an opulent display of financial power, an indulgent celebration of caving to temptation and treating yourself, which is probably why Opening Ceremony had 4,000 pounds of molten “couverture” chocolate - known for its unusually high cocoa butter content - from the Chocolaterie Callebaut in the Belgian countryside cascading down its walls as models strode past like towering Oompa Loompas. As soon as the show started the air was thick with the sticky smell of hot continental chocolate, and as soon as it was over the audience was allowed to eat the set, licking the fleeting walls of the world’s largest ever confectionary fountain (I think); Opening Ceremony’s circulates twice as much chocolate as its lofty 27-foot-tall cousin in the lobby of the Bellagio Las Vegas.


    Opening Ceremony autumn/winter 14

  • 2. Chanel’s supermarché

    Although I’m not exactly sure where Karl Lagerfeld does his weekly shop - Monoprix? Carrefour? Aldi? - its dreaming aisles have clearly inspired him as this morning Chanel opened a sweeping supermarché under the glass domes of the Grand Palais, selling “Coco Flakes” and “Biscocottes” and the like. Supermodels in practical trainers pushed trolleys around, carrying diamond-encrusted shopping baskets or shrink-wrapped handbags or, in Maggie Jablonski’s case, a golden Chanel chainsaw. What’s a fashion show about really, if not shopping? Once it was all over Michel Gaubert jumped on the microphone to announce that the audience could help themselves to any of the fresh fruits and candy; but nothing else! Opening Ceremony also handed out its own chocolate bars - a couple of which contained “golden tickets” that could be swapped for prizes - while in Milan the Moschino show invites were branded chocolate bars, and a selection of the collection’s fast-food-flavoured designs were immediately available to takeaway from 10 Corso Como.

    Chanel & Moschino autumn/winter 14

  • 3. Mulberry’s mushroom forest

    Tasty architecture was also on display at Mulberry and Cara Delevingne’s London Fashion Week dinner in Claridge’s Ballroom, for which, “silver birch swings topped with candles and six types of wild mushrooms including chanterellles, girolles, enoki and hon shimeji sourced from the New Covent Garden Market were suspended above the tables, with beautiful dappled lighting filtered through the trees providing an atmosphere inspired by alfresco dining on a crisp autumn evening.” A country idyll was conjured up in the heart of the city with 160 silver birch trees and 25,000 scattered leaves and - like the English army that literally moved Birnam Wood to attack Macbeth - the label imported its own magical forest for Cara to frolic through with her pack of Mulberry hounds.

    Mulberry autumn/winter 14

  • 4. Alexander Wang’s magic roundabout

    For Alexander Wang’s show-stopping finale the catwalk came alive and started revolving, spinning its models around the massive greenhouse space like a carousel. That’s not all though. As Wang’s futuristic fabrics spun under the heating vents they began changing colour, with limes and lemons and grape purples fading thermochromatically into one another.


    Alexander Wang autumn/winter 14

  • 5. Roberto Cavalli’s ring of fire

    In 14th-century Florence the poet Dante described the nine circles of hell, characterised by the likes of lust, gluttony and greed. Now, in 21st-century Milan, Roberto Cavalli has set his circular catwalk alight, flames licking around a dark reflective pool. And while this season saw a surprising number of models taking a tumble all over the place - maybe it’s the Jennifer Lawrence effect, maybe it’s all the trailing tripwire skirts - thankfully none of Cavalli’s models fell into his burning ring of fire. Also, as an aside, the collection took inspiration from 1940s Vogue photographer Lee Miller, who once took this utterly amazing self-portrait of herself naked in Hitler’s bathtub.

    Roberto Cavalli autumn/winter 14

  • 6. Iris Van Herpen’s model wall

    Most terrifying set? It had to be Iris Van Herpen’s warehouse in Paris, with vacuum-packed models such as Soo Joo hanging weightlessly in the non-air and breathing calmly through a tube. As someone asked me, “Is she in the Matrix now?”

    Iris Van Herpen autumn/winter 14

  • 7. Christian Dior’s light show

    For Raf Simons’ first Christian Dior show five salons were lined with, literally, a million flowers, and such blooming extravagance has become a part of the house’s handwriting. Not this time around though. The show space was illuminated with thousands of colour-changing lights in all sorts of shapes and sizes - including, of course, bright blossoms - coming together as a phosphorescent colour field hanging from an electric sky. Although this was surely the ceiling of the season, Marc Jacobs also deserves a shout out for his hundreds of shadowy clouds hanging ominously above the audience.


    Christian Dior & Marc Jacobs autumn/winter 14

  • 8. Meadham Kirchhoff’s perfumery

    I once visited an exhibition by architects Herzog & de Meuron in Tate Modern that included samples of their own perfume Rotterdam; an evocative concoction of tangerine, Rhine water, patchouli, hashish and dog. So that was my most memorably effluvious experience of the Turbine Hall, but this season’s Meadham Kirchhoff show comes a close second. Their first ever fragrance Tralala, a collaboration with brilliant nose Bertrand Duchafour for Penhaligon’s, filled the vast hall with overpowering notes of whiskey, saffron and green violet that followed the audience all the way home, while its iconography of purple ribbons also wound its way through the doorways, golden curtains and heart-shaped boxes of the shimmering set; which somehow really reminded me of an obstacle course at Crufts.

    Meadham Kirchhoff autumn/winter 14

  • 9. Topshop’s virtual reality

    At the ever innovative Topshop show a wide-angle camera scanned the models as they walked by and streamed it across the river to five Oculus Rift headsets in the windows of Topshop Oxford Circus, making an immersive experience out of the collection. In this virtual world viewers could watch the show unfold in front of them, or turn to the side to watch the stars on the front row, or turn around to teleport into the backstage; and all the while digital birds dropped digital flowers from the sky, inspired by the collection’s theme of decay. With this sort of technology sets could soar beyond the limits of physical possibility - like the computer-animated fractal cathedral that threeASFOUR constructed for Lily McMenamy this season - and one day allow anyone to experience shows from the comfort of their own bedrooms.

    Topshop autumn/winter 14

  • 10. Fendi’s drones and Cara’s phone

    I once heard a rumour about a certain Italian fashion house that hid secret cameras and microphones in its corridors so it could clandestinely listen in on the audience’s thoughts as they left the show, which I’ve always thought was very clever. This season though it was Fendi that tried out spy technologies, with three surveillance drones floating in the skies above the catwalk - occasionally buzzing towards one of the models for a closer look - and streaming its Fendi Parrot perspective around the world in real time… But surely the best show stream was at Giles, where Cara Delevingne filmed the first ever catwalk selfies while walking the show. And really why watch the show from a virtual front-row or a wobbly flying robot, when you can experience what it’s like to walk the hallowed runway yourself?

    Cara at Giles & drones at Fendi, autumn/winter 14