Designer calls for a halt to fashion week's celebrity circus

By The guardian, Edward Helmore/ The Observer, Updated at 2013-09-03 06:50:57 +0000


Oscar de la Renta halves his guest list for show in New York as critics say too many poseurs crowd the runways.

Some of America's most prominent fashionistas are calling time on the overcrowding, demand for endless "newness" and general hoopla that has become an obsession in the industry.

Before this week's opening round of New York spring-summer 2014 presentations, Oscar de la Renta, one of the most respected figures in American fashion, has announced that he will halve the number of people at his show. De la Renta, a former couturier for Jacqueline Kennedy, said decision-makers in the business should not have to fight their way through "30,000 people, and 10,000 who are trying to take pictures of all of those people, who are totally unrelated to the clothes".

His call for a new, sober approach to replace the traditional, celebrity-infused fashion week frenzy has struck a chord. In the New York Times, leading fashion journalist Suzy Menkes echoed his call, rueing the pace of high fashion, which she described as "a whirligig that seems to be spinning out of control", with designers being asked to produce as many as 10 collections each year.

In an earlier article, Menkes told of how she could hardly get into shows "because of all the photographers snapping at the poseurs". She wrote: "There is a genuine difference between the stylish and the showoffs – and that is the dilemma. If fashion is for everyone, is it fashion?"

In the same newspaper, critic Cathy Horyn reminisced about the messiness of fashion in an earlier era, when the models seemed to be at the centre "of a respectable orgy". With the fashion conglomerates focused on global branding, guests are commanded to tuck in their legs and handbags so that photographers can get tidy shots of the clothes. "It's pretty embarrassing, like sitting in study hall," Horyn wrote.

The notoriously fickle industry is being transformed by social media technology. As the control and judgment of a select few is challenged, designs and ideas that would once take months to reach the public are now global – and illicitly replicated – in a matter of seconds. Fashion is changing, and with it the fashion show, said industry consultant Robert Burke.

De la Renta, who this year engaged John Galliano to design some of his collection, represents a counter-reaction. "If a show is highly chaotic and a real circus, the people that do matter aren't going to be put into the best of moods," he pointed out. "Do you want to jeopardise the experience of the 100 people that matter with the 500 people that don't?"

Burke described a "circus" of bloggers and people holding out phones and posting on Instagram and Facebook. He said that the number of people taking photographs is dramatically greater than even five years ago. "Sometimes you can hardly see the show because people are jumping up to photograph each other," said Burke. "Designers want to bring the focus back to the clothing. Bloggers and celebrities are important, but there needs to be a balance."

Some designers, such as Tom Ford, already show their clothes to a select few and forbid photography. But with fashion's global audience accustomed to instant pictures and streaming, Ford's approach may not be the answer either. Business is business and, without orders, the fashion show would cease to exist.

British fashion creative Simon Doonan, author of The Asylum, a fashion memoir published this week, said that publicity is all fine and dandy, "but at the end of the day designers need orders. A discerning buyer makes their selection objectively. Their choices are not based on which designer gets the most celebs in the front row."