Why are Fashion shows filled with unwearable garments?

Rick Owens SS16 Cyclops, Paris

Have you ever watched a Fashion show and wondered who those garments were targeting, why there were all seemingly unwearable and thought this was ridiculous?

I live in a world of Fashion. I love Fashion, work in Fashion, spend a lot of time looking at Fashion, reading about Fashion, thinking about Fashion and a very large part of my life actually revolves around Fashion.

I like to talk about Fashion and I believe my friends and relatives usually are ok with this, some of them even developed an interest in it.

But every time I show pictures from the catwalk comes a sentence I basically cannot avoid: ‘This is UNWEARABLE’.

First of all, it means something awful for the Fashion industry as it underlines its terrible inability to communicate with consumers. Obviously, there are reasons why some of the pieces that are showcased on the runway look so weird (and yes, you’re right, they ARE indeed unwearable). But the Fashion world is so closed, so secret it is very complicated for outsiders to guess why!

We are talking about High, Creative Fashion here, made by designers and usually marketed as luxury goods, not casual and everyday-life fashion from H&M, Zara, Nike and other mass-market brands.

Every brand, every designer intends to sell. No brand could survive if it were only manufacturing unwearable clothes, especially considering the budget and effort it takes to organise a show.

Actually, those bizarre pieces you see on the runway will never end up in boutiques and department stores. But why are they showcased then and why are we spending so much on showing something that must, by any logic, be completely unprofitable?

There are several reasons to that I am going to try and explain now.

First, you should know that not every designer actually plays that game. Most of them don’t even throw shows. A majority of designers cannot afford a catwalk and are limited to a showroom they open during the Fashion Week (by the way, there will soon be a post about Fashion Weeks and what they are used for).

Plus, even among those who do have one, many actually organise 100% Prêt-à-Porter shows (i.e ready-to-wear, clothes you’ll find in stores). The best examples of this type of shows are found in American Fashion and the New-York Fashion Week with designers such as Calvin Klein, Tom Ford or Michael Kors.

Calvin Klein FW17, New York— Michael Kors FW17, New York

Those who watch the shows and those who read about it in the aftermath know exactly what they are going to find in stores and it is easy for them to pick what they like and prepare on buying it once the collection is available.

Those brands’ shows never get too crazy and they offer a more down-to-earth kind of Fashion. They obviously target a larger segment of the population and usually tend to hold large market shares. As a result, they are considered to form the easy-access, first level of luxury Fashion.

Now let’s get to those who actually design those weird stuff and try to make a list of the reasons why they do it.

Each designer may have their own spectrum of personal reasons but there still are two main reasons that can explain the very existence of those unwearable garments, and they are totally intertwined.

First, as I like to explain, Fashion is not only about looking pretty, it is ART. This is why I precised this article was only about creative Fashion. Designers are artists and they wish to express something through their designs. As you can easily imagine, a basic T-shirt or a pair of trousers are not deep enough to be turned into powerful artistic supports (unless you decide to write a strong statement on them but that is called ‘punk’ and has been done before and done again a million times). Many of them thus need to be able to create their own sculptures, real artworks that play the role of canvas. An analogy can be made with most of the things you see in your local museum of modern art. Apart from the paintings, most of them are not intended to be purchased and displayed in anyone’s living room. In fact, it would be impossible for they are too large, too fragile and simply not fit for a house…

Comme Des Garçons FW17, Paris

This piece from the Comme Des Garçons’ Fall / Winter 2017 collection is a good example. By creating this dress, the designer Rei Kawakubo did not intend to present a simple piece of garment. What she offers here is to be seen as a sculpture in which the human body is used as a material. This is much more than a weird-looking, armless dress. This is a modern version of the Venus de Milo (Aphrodite of Milos), an interpretation and parody of female form, possibly a symbol of how women are trapped in absurd body expectations society forces onto them.

In other words, a runway show that features unwearable garments should be seen as an art exhibition. Shows do not last long and are closed to the public but also aim at getting a press coverage. That way, people will get to see the artworks on pictures in their favourite magazines or on social media. The most talented journalists who attend the show (and some shows do suffer from a terrible lack of talented press) will act as a cultural mediation team and offer their explanations of the artist’s work.

The second, and probably the most important and less clear reason why Fashion shows are filled with unwearable clothes is because they are, surprisingly, often not intended to sell individual items.

They actually aim at providing the public with an overall feel, a theme, a mood, an artistic background and atmosphere of the collection that will be available on shelves.

This is actually why it is called ‘a show’ and why it is not simply a range of products displayed on still mannequins. It is some kind of dance in a carefully chosen venue, with finely-worked decor and music. The garments you see can be compared to costumes. The audience needs to interpret the moves and costumes to understand what the story is about in a ballet. This is basically the same with a Fashion show.

The collection that is being showed is like a general mood board, a widely exaggerated version of the actual prêt-à-porter collection consumers will later find in stores. It thus does not show you the clothes you are going to be allowed to buy:

It showcases the fabrics, technics and materials.

Rick Owens SS17 Walrus, Paris

By showing pieces like those during his SS17 WALRUS show, what Rick Owens meant was ‘this collection is about draping, coiled fabrics and will feature embroidery referring to light and the sun. It is based on melancholia and a voluptuous feel’.

Rick Owens Walrus top as showed and sold on Farfetch.com

What you see there will later be translated into more wearable things that look similar, true to the runway pieces, made from the same materials and technics except the overall look will be far less crazy.

The mood they set will be found in more easy-to-wear clothes, things you can actually assemble with other pieces you have or will purchase without having to reproduce the look you saw on the catwalk.

Runway pieces are like muses, they make for some kind of base on which the actual collection will rely on. Presenting such exaggerated pieces also makes it easier for us to understand what were the real inspirations behind the collection. They sometimes are used to subtly introduce new hints on what the designer wants to do for future seasons. After the show and if the public liked it, an idea may survive and be found in upcoming collections. There is thus another reason why Fashion shows are so weird-looking: they display several ideas from the designer in order to guide them and set the guidelines for future collections.

They also are a way for designers to display their creativity and technical skills to the public. They confirm the designer’s position as a real artist and hold a very special kind of prestige for that reason. All brands want to sell their products and runway shows are a great way for them to get a press coverage and increase brand awareness. Featuring unbelievable pieces is a perfect way to help the brand build its own image and aesthetic in the mind of consumers and get more recognised and popular.

All those unbelievable pieces are very often used as inspiration by other artists and designers. In a certain way, they set the bases for future trends and you may very well find some of their features in casual fashion five years later.

In the end, it is often worth it to have a look at them and think about what they mean and what they forecast for the future of the clothing industry.