the case against making fashion week public

Fashion fans are calling for shows to be opened to the public, but the idea would destroy the very point of them.

by Anders Christian Madsen
Sep 2 2014, 1:25pm

Mitchell Sams

For the Pre-Fall 2014 issue of i-D, I wrote a feature in defence of catwalk shows. Faced with the digitalisation of fashion and an increasing pressure to be inclusive, the show is experiencing an existential crisis of sorts and as a traditionalist who enjoys a good show, I spoke out against it. "What of all the people, who can't attend the live show?" I wrote. "Well, for one, if they're not in fashion, why is it exactly that they should? I certainly have no claim to attending a dentist's convention, and if I did, I would probably work very hard on getting a medical degree. If I blogged about dentistry, I wouldn't feel entitled to attending said convention either, because I still wouldn't be a dentist, now would I?" Needless to say, my Twitter feed had a good couple of weeks of fire and brimstone. I was called "elitist" and "snobby" and some more colourful words, and among the more constructive criticism someone argued that I was taking fashion away from the people.

The last remark stung a bit, I have to admit, because if it weren't for 'the people' there'd be no shows to fight for at all. Leaving out haute couture - which is an institution with a different objective - fashion should always be for the people because it reflects the spirit of the people and is made for the people. It's the same reason I can't stand heavy, pretentious fashion writing, overprotective fashion PR, and anything else that alienates the product to the public. But when it comes to the fashion show, I distinguish between designer-to-intermediary communication and intermediary-to-consumer communication. While the shows are live-streamed and put on YouTube for all the world to enjoy, there's a very precious moment that's created between designer and reporter - or designer and buyer - when show guests first witness a collection walk down the runway. Because a show isn't complete until it's received a reaction from the industry that nurtures it.

In other words, the greatest collections of all time aren't just great collections because they were designed well, and because the show was well-produced, but because of the spirit that was created around them by the press, who first loved them and gave them rave reviews, and the buyers, who couldn't snap them up quickly enough, and the thrilling adoration they all communicated to the public, who then followed troop. I'm not saying a review changes the product, but critique is what makes a product stand out beyond its own effect. It's the first chapter in the product's story. If catwalk shows went big-scale and everyone was invited, or if we got rid of them altogether and just did a film or whatever, the role of the press would be diminished because the public wouldn't be as interested in reading what we had to say. Why would they, when they had been there themselves and heard the music and smelled the air and seen the clothes from every angle, just like the press? 

With nobody needing to know the details, less and less people would need to read show reports, and less and less people would be exposed - whether intentionally or not - to all-important expert opinion and knowledge, which would bereave the truly great shows of the build-up of history and character that follow in the wake of them. The history books wouldn't recall the superlatives of gushing reviews (or indeed the opposite), and little by little the individual fashion show would lose meaning. Collections would become disposable. In a world where everyone feels like a tastemaker, and anyone can set up a blog, exclusivity is more important than ever because it distinguishes between expert opinion and, well, the opposite. "Everybody's got something to say, and it doesn't touch me. It seriously doesn't," Haider Ackermann told me last December, while on the same subject. "What do you want to express if you just say, 'I like this show,' or, 'I didn't like this show'? I don't think it's that easy to judge things. I often don't have the knowledge for it myself."

Haider's comments are important because they underline another issue related to the inclusive-fying of fashion, namely the designer's desire and right to be reviewed by professionals. I'm not saying that blunt public opinion doesn't count, because it certainly does - and a lot of designers value what's written about their shows even in the darkest corners of cyberspace - but if there's too many cooks in the kitchen the harmony that currently exists in fashion, where most critics tend to agree in their reviews, could easily disappear. And that would be a mess. On that note, opening the floodgates of fashion and letting them all in would also somehow devalue the industrial element of the industry. Going back to my dentist analogy, I wonder how professional a bunch of dentists would feel if any kind of random person was allowed to sit in on their convention, obstruct their view (and I mean this figuratively), and chime in on new root canals and how best to attach braces. Not very professional, I'm sure.

But in pretty much any other industry, if someone argued against inclusiveness, they wouldn't be called elitist and snobby. This only happens with fashion, because the industry's oh-so covetable glamour and bow-wow-wow allure makes anyone who likes shopping think they should turn their hobby into a job. Or, at the very least, get to go and see their favourite designer's show live. The truth is, going to shows is a four-week marathon that deprives its contestants of sleep and any food before nine in the evening, and a great many members of the industry, who'd be warmly welcomed at any show, choose to stay at home. For those of us who like it, it's exhausting but thrilling work. But it is work. A number of incredible critics and social media fiends attend the shows every season to communicate them to the public. I know only too well how the excitement can build when you're sitting in front of a computer waiting for the pictures from your favourite designer's show to hit the internet, but a little processing time always makes for a better result. In order for fashion to be for 'the people', the people need to give it some space and let it work.


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams

anders christian madsen
a/w 14