Moving Beyond The Runway at Fashion Weeks Globally

Sustainable fashion forgoes the runway this fashion week season.

Whether you subscribe to the increasingly popular slow fashion diet, it’s likely that the adrenaline-pumping rush of runway fashion shows still whet your appetite for some saucy people-watching and a sprinkling of sartorial novelty. Front-row celebs and A-list models tottering on impossible heels are quite possibly the Bread and Circuses of our time, but with fashion weeks coming to a conclusion here in Europe, it is welcome news that everyone can finally return home and reflect inwardly on future fashion ‘needs.’

New York, London, Milan, and now Paris this week, are indisputably about high-octane performances staged on the catwalk, with a few designer tantrums thrown in for added controversy. Thankfully, one redeeming trend gaining momentum during the recent Fall 2011 shows was the increase in fashion installations and collaborative art films. Sustainable fashion has particularly embraced this strategy, perhaps because of the strong narrative component and the possibility to literally slow things down for editors, retailers, and fashion lovers who want to fully inspect and comprehend new concepts in the pipeline.

Christopher Raeburn Fall 2011 presentation in London’s Aldwych tube station

During London Fashion Week both Christopher Raeburn and Ada Zanditon created quite a stir with their creative alternatives to the catwalk spectacle. Raeburn, who has been generating a steady stream of in-store fashion installation projects during the past year, positioned his street-savvy models in niches of the abandoned Aldwych tube station, suggesting that upcycling in fashion might now need to incorporate dead-stock urban zones as well.

Ada Zanditon Fall 2011 Cryoflux presentation and film showing at On/Off in London

Ethical fashion superstar Ada Zanditon similarly opted for a posse of sustainably clad mannequins and the multi-media debut of her Cryoflux art film at the Mercer Street Studios On/Off venue during London Fashion Week.  Co-directed by Andrew and William Ho, the film’s narrative  portrays ”a beautiful alien who evolves under the ice of Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) and then comes to earth to visit Antarctica in the middle of the dark barren winter, “ as Ada decoded for UK.

Ada Zanditon’s Cryoflux installation with her own design preserved in ice

This is not the first time that Zanditon has artfully melded themes of extreme landscapes and fragile climatic states into her collections. A two-meter high ice sculpture was a focal point of the Cryoflux installation with one of her latest designs preserved in the frozen matter. This standing room only fashion event allowed the designer to tell her complex story in a manner that the runway just does not afford. She was even seen toting her iPad around so that editors and buyers might see the Cryoflux film in more detail while Zanditon added her own personal commentary and sartorial spin.

Attendees get a hands-on look at London Fashion Week in 1926

Perhaps it is no surprise that sustainable fashion designers are leading this campaign to provide more engaging and interactive formats for fashion week presentations. The history of the runway is a bit sketchy, although we know that Parisians hosted ‘fashion parades’ in 19th century France, a phenomenon that was adopted in the early part of the 20th century in America by department stores like Wanamaker’s who needed to more enticingly feature designs for women. Is it possible that we have come full circle now as designers seek to better engage their audience in a dialogue regarding fashion concerns of the moment and the process behind and the impact of our clothes?

John Patrick makes adjustments at his ORGANIC Fall 2011 presentation

Flashback to New York Fashion Week in early February where John Patrick ORGANIC breaks new ground by showing his ‘Organic source map’ film that demonstrates how select garments for his Fall 2011 collection were sourced and sustainably and locally made. It was pure poetry to see a film like this during a high profile fashion week presentation, as well as proving that we could actually handle the real substance of ORGANIC’s collection so beautifully presented on his fresh-faced and ethnically diverse models. The lesson learned? Educating editors, buyers, and  fashion followers can be engaging in ways that are multi-faceted and not as linear and cryptic as the catwalk.

STUDY NY Fall 2011 presentation in the High Line Room of the Standard Hotel, NYC

Tara St. James of STUDY NY also gave us a nourishing lesson in chic though approachable fashion during her Fall 2011 schoolroom presentation in the High Line Room at the Standard Hotel in NYC. An apple a day keeps things organic in theory, but it was this designer’s focus on zero-waste methods, artisanal collaborative production, and experimentation with the latest sustainable fabrics, that schooled viewers about sustainability in a transparent though seductive manner.

km/a’s installation at WHITE ‘s concept space, Via Tortona in Milan

One of my favorite art fashion installations from Milan Fashion Week’s WHITE trade show was km/a studio’s latest textile wearables displayed in the concept basement at Via Tortona. Devoid of models but all about the surface design and topography of textile recycling and the beauty of fashion as sculpture, km/a’s Fall 2011 collection advocates cool minimalism while also providing us with a good story to get wrapped up in. Perhaps it is this underground deviation from protocol and the inherent message that the clothes themselves convey that will define the future of fashion week shows and collections. Models as hangers is evidently no longer enough to go on as a barometer for how we want to parade or fashion ourselves, sustainably or otherwise.

Lead image courtesy of km/a studio; Ada Zanditon images via UK; John Patrick ORGANIC via SkylightTalk; STUDY NY photo via Gretchen Jones; all km/a images courtesy of the designers