could the internet kill the catwalk show?

In a time when every fashion show is live-streamed, do we even need to attend them anymore? A stream can never be compared to the real thing says i-D’s Fashion Features Director Anders Christian Madsen.

by Anders Christian Madsen
18 March 2015, 2:00pm

As the anointed show bunny at Team i-D, I'm generally the go-to person for all writing in defense of the fashion show. I attend pretty much all the major fashion weeks throughout the season, and as I'm writing this it hits me I've never actually watched a live-stream of a show. So when I was making the womenswear rounds in Paris two weeks ago and an email rolled in from the office asking me to write this story, it had all but written itself. "How live-streaming shows has democratized the fashion industry," the brief read. "If we can all get the same view as Anna Wintour from the comfort of our living room, where does that leave the fashion show? Unless you're front row, is there any need to go?"

Being in the middle of a particularly emotional show marathon, there was no question about it for me: we attend the shows, as Haider Ackermann once told me, "because there is nothing more beautiful than being present at the défilé and hearing the music properly and feeling the person breathing next to you and seeing the movement of the fabric." Haider is as unapologetically old-fashioned about it, as I am. "Every show is about movement," I remember him saying. "I think you have to be in the space to understand what the person has to say. It can touch you." Nothing could be truer for the fall/winter 15 shows I've just been through than those pithy words.

Following the terror attack in Paris early this year, there was something in the air this season, which turned these shows into an emotional rollercoaster. It was stuff that could never be captured or felt on a live-stream: Rei Kawakubo's "ceremony of separation" where cushioned titans clashed mid-runway, quietly dancing around each other as they parted ways, set to an epically poignant Max Richter score. Or Valentino's statuesque black and white gowns, floating softly down the runway like ghosts to Shigeru Umebayashi's haunting theme from 2046. Or what about the rush to the stomach when an army of fifty Dries Van Noten models march towards you in a finale parade?

These are moments that can be captured and played back, but much like going to a pop concert or the symphony, the screen will never give you the entrancing sensory overload that sitting in that show venue provides. Sure, there are many shows you would get just as much - or, indeed, little - out of, watching on a live-stream, but when a show is good and the designer actually wants to make a theatrical impact, there's no comparing the two. These shows could never be replaced by a live-stream, because the magic would disappear. I guess that's why streaming a show has never crossed my mind. Similarly, I have rarely watched the video of a show I was present at. The flatness of it somehow taints the memory for me.

Of course I understand that live-streams are a great thing and should be there for those who aren't able to attend the show. I was, however, asked to write about the idea of the industry not attending shows altogether, or leaving them entirely up to a small front row crowd. While it's true that everyone doesn't have the best view at fashion shows, a runway - like any theatre - needs a certain amount of guests to create an atmosphere of excitement in the room. Someone on row thirteen may not be able to see the shoes, but their presence is just as important to the show and the mutual experience created by the audience, as the people, who sit front row.

Then there's the rather compelling argument of editors going to New York and London and Milan and Paris for the fashion weeks to actually see - and re-see - the clothes we'll be featuring over the next season, as well as having key meetings and doing other fashion-y industry stuff. If only the front rows of the world went to fashion week, the industry would collapse from lack of manpower altogether. But serious business aside. When it comes to keeping the shows alive, I much prefer the romantic argument exercised in the paragraphs above, because fashion - in its capacity of being a cut-throat, money-making superpower - needs that element of theatrical, dreamy, emotional presentation value so it doesn't all come down to dollars and cents.

Fashion may have a reputation for being cold and cynical, but it's actually at the shows you most feel the heartbeats of the industry. No live-stream could have conveyed the electric atmosphere in the room when John Galliano made his return to ready-to-wear at Maison Margiela this Paris Fashion Week. They might have captured the three models rushing down the runway forward-bent and frenzied, and they might have captured people's reactions when it happened. But no camera or microphone could have picked up on the vibrations in the room, the goose bumps you got when the photographers started chanting John's name, or the intense conversations that were already unfolding as we exited the venue. These experiences are what being at the shows is all about.


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams

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