The Forgotten Spirit of the Runway Shows of the Past

I've been very interested recently in early McQueen and Galliano fashion, and the 80s & 90s fashion  scene in general. As I viewed what vintage fashion shows on YouTube I could find, the first difference from shows today that caught my eye was the format. You couldn't exactly call the catwalks in the videos plain, but they did look rather basic when one thinks about today's contesting fantasy worlds created by Karl Lagerfeld and Raf Simmons. Though the set of the vintage shows were undoubtedly simpler, they somehow felt more special, and not because there were only a handful of them published on YouTube.

The shows seemed to truly transform the viewer to the world of the collection. And not the world of the brand, but a concentration of the motifs and themes the the collection represented. There was more concern for the styling of the clothes to match the message that the designer wanted to get across, not to fit whatever would go viral on social media. They were extravagant productions, attended only by fashion people, as opposed to today where anyone remotely fashionable will get a seat and, if not on the guest list, anyone at all can see the whole thing on Instagram. The "share-ability" of shows today heightens the experience for someone who isn't present at the show, but vastly depreciates the value of the show and the value of being there in person. 

Alexander McQueen, 1999.

The aspect that struck me most about the vintage runway shows weren't the clothes or the set, but the models. Or, more specifically, their behavior. They were individuals with spirit and attitude and character - imagine that! Today's standard, plain runway walk and unsmiling faces may bring more attention to the clothes (considering the set or front-row celebrities haven't already stole the attention), but 90s models that personified their role added to the message of a collection; who the girl was, what she wanted, what the story was, etc. Depending on the collection, the models would give the finger to the audience, moon them, smile or cackle accordingly, or just simply go with the flow of the music and the feeling of the clothes, which was odd for me to see because the wildest gesture I'm used to seeing on the runway is a hand placed in a pocket or on a hip.

A character in the Maison Margiela fall 2015 ready to wear show by John Galliano.

We saw a glimpse of that past style of runway modeling in the Maison Margiela fall 2015 ready to wear show, where a few of the girls prowled the catwalk, scowled at the audience, and muttered restlessly, a little bit of acting that added miles to the depth of the mad characters. But acting on the runway hasn't been seen recently much apart from that, even though some runway shows would greatly benefit from a little personality. But I imagine that if runway acting did come back, brands would take it to the extreme and put as much focus on that as they do the scenery, which is to say, overpowering and just too much. 

John Galliano's graduate show at Central St. Martin's, "Les Incroyables," 1984.

Brands today are all about extremes, they seem to need the-very-best-most-extravagant-runway, but what they really need is the balance and perspective of the past. The balance between simplicity and extravagance, salability and artfulness, and between ordinary and individuality. What I feel most from watching the vintage shows is sorriness  and regret for the industry that the individuality seems to have evaporated with the turn of the decade, but, on another hand, fashion has made so many comebacks that I have hope for the return of a true runway show, a runway spectacular.


If you don't agree with anything I just wrote, I recommend watching all of these, and then getting lost watching a bunch more on YouTube, and then go watch one of the latest Chanel or Dior shows. You will miss the vivid personality of the past.


  1. The most interesting thing about the 90s is the rise of the supermodel. Uniformity had not sunk in and models were seen as individuals and characters. The public also became fascinated in their personal lives.
    By contrast models have a different kind of uniformity but tattoos and coloured hair are now celebrated and less of a deterrent in terms of casting now then they were say, a decade or so ago.

    1. It's interesting that even with how much the public can look into model's lives (Instagram, twitter, etc.) they still all behave the same on the runway. They turn into a character, just a uniform one, despite their now-accepted visual differences, such as tattoos and hair, as you mentioned.

  2. Wow thanks for bringing this to my attention, so cool! I love the alexander mcqueen one! x

  3. Cool retrospective Sophia! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I was just thinking about runway shows from the sixties today, so this plays in wonderfully. Such a great post!

    Amber | y a c h t s m a a n