Words: Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse
In the fast-moving fashion world, a moment may now only describe a single item, a picture or a garment. We can blame the internet, as we can with so many things, for the reduced attention span of society, the speeding up of the trend cycle, and the desire to be ‘liked’. These have somewhat justified the use of sensationalism and gimmicks, not just by TikTokers wishing to make a quick buck, but by fashion houses attempting to capitalise on ‘The Moment’.
We can still hold out hope that runways are the pivotal space for appreciation of unbounded creativity, but they are also becoming a catwalk of competition where each designer attempts to unashamedly one-up the next to get coverage and go viral.
"Comparing this to Bella Hadid’s viral sprayed-on dress feels like sacrilege. The supermodel may have stolen the show when she walked onto Coperni’s Spring 2023 runway, but not for the same reasons as Harlow."
Last year, as reported by Tag-walk.com, designers sent 35,581 looks down the runway. Earlier this year for the AW22 season, they reported that approximately 8,192 outfits, all of different compositions, were on show. Ignoring the blatant sustainability issue with these numbers, they leave no questions as to why a designer's desire to stand out is heightened in such an environment, but is the gimmick-driven shock factor the way to stick in people’s minds?
It’s no question that sensationalism has given us some incredible fashion moments. Especially in times of hardship, the escapism offered by a collection that ignores real-life parameters in favour of truly mind-bending clothing is welcomed with open arms.
Take Alexander McQueen, who made his name by doing exactly that. Each show would draw you in with its admittedly gimmicky nature but showed off clothing that had an impact. His shows were described as everything from taboo to artistic, from intellectual to dramatic, as the designer pulled inspiration from past and present alike to reflect and distract from the political and social landscape. It was paradoxical and sure, there were carousels, skeletons seated in the audience and models restricted by metal cages, but over his lifetime, McQueen managed to balance his sensationalist nature with unique clothing that would hold its own.
One of McQueen’s most famous moments is back in the spotlight as Coperni’s SS23 collection has drawn comparisons between the two. McQueen’s iconic SS99 runway show ‘No. 13’ saw model Shalom Harlow, and the large white dress she wore, attacked by two spray-painting robots. The spectacle made history as the first-time robotics were used in such a way and created a gorgeous finale that made McQueen King of ‘The Moment’.
"Tank tops and cargos, crop tops and suit trousers; take out the pieces featuring shoulder pads and the whole show was forgettable. But throw in that spray on dress and everyone is talking about Coperni."
Comparing this to Bella Hadid’s viral sprayed-on dress feels like sacrilege. The supermodel may have stolen the show when she walked onto Coperni’s Spring 2023 runway, but not for the same reasons as Harlow.
Hadid was surrounded by two artists that sprayed her body with Fabrican, a “unique spray-on fabric.” The fabric (that was not actually created by Coperni) formed a white dress over the supermodel’s body after several minutes of intricate attention to detail from the artists at hand. While the crowd gushed over the spectacle, mere days later, ‘The Moment’ had passed and the stunt was dubbed by Harper's Bazaar as an ‘empty trick’.
To decipher whether the act was a true ‘Moment’ or simply a well thought out promotional stunt designed to garner media likes, all you must ask is, ‘What did the rest of the collection look like?’ Can anyone answer the question - can you?
You would be forgiven if you cannot. The rest of Coperni’s SS23 collection was remarkably unmemorable. Tank tops and cargos, crop tops and suit trousers; take out the pieces featuring shoulder pads and the whole show was forgettable. But throw in that spray on dress and everyone is talking about Coperni.
Dubbing something as sensationalist doesn’t mean it is necessarily a ‘cheap thrill’ or objectively ‘bad’. Some of the best fashion, as we have established, is incredibly gimmicky and embroiled in stunts. At Gucci’s twinfest during Milan fashion week, sixty-eight pairs of identical twins dressed in matching catwalk finery walked the runway - undoubtedly a sensationalist stunt. Unlike Coperni though, there was clear thought and planning behind the double vision. After the show, Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, said “Fashion speaks strongly to ideas of otherness. I know that I have another side of me – I meet him when I go to my therapist. We all have another side of us, and sometimes we meet that person, and hold hands.”
Photo: The Guardian
In addition to the twin models, Gizmo - the iconic 80s furball of Gremlins fame - too graced the runway. Whether it was Gizmo’s face splashed across dresses or a slightly terrifying toy Gremlin peeking out from sleek leather handbags, the odd choice didn’t feel entirely out of place. Given that the cursed creature is known for multiplying if fed after midnight, his appearance in the house’s seeing-double collection felt fitting. The idea works, there is a connection there. They are undoubtedly gimmicks, and likely not the last ones to be seen under the unbounded eccentricity of Michele, but even so, they are intellectually playful. Pulling attention to their meaning, Michele explained, “They are like your own fear of your evil self.”
Take away the twins and the gremlins, and Gucci’s Milan Fashion Week show was still stimulating. Bright and bold colours, striking silhouettes, unrivalled pattern clashing, the collection took the classic stylings Gucci is known for, heightened the designs, and delivered a collection that belongs in 2022. In a coordinated clashing of couture and ready-to-wear, the seeing-double collection felt genuinely interesting with the gimmick additions only heightening the collection’s meaning.
"Misplaced gimmicks and empty gestures are easily identifiable, and for the average spectator, they will never replace the feeling of truly innovative and inspiring garment design."
As ever, Jeremy Scott sent a fantasia of gimmicky delights down the runway for Moschino’s SS23 collection. Referencing economic inflation, the designer incorporated blow-up beachside delights in the form of crab armbands and lilos that doubled as handbags, rubber-ring hemmed dresses and barbie-like pink heels accented with inflation valves. The kitschy designs came as no surprise, the toy box look of Moschino was cemented back in AW89 by Franco Moschino with his teddy-bear millinery. The sensationalist designs cannot be slotted under the title of ‘gimmick’ as the brand is simply reinforcing its identity, giving fans what they now expect.
Scott is perhaps incomparable to other designers. Moschino has been ‘The Moment’ before and while it is now not always held up as the be all and end all of fashion, the brand is consistently in the limelight with its unique designs. Moschino is popular because of its sensationalism, sure, but the garments are what truly define the fashion house’s identity.
These brands show the range of influence ‘The Moment’ has on fashion. For Moschino, becoming ‘The Moment’ allowed them to solidify their brand and the look of their clothing. For Gucci, it has elevated how they present their collections, allowing a greater sense of storytelling through their clothes. For Coperni, it has paved the way for empty sentiments and allowed the garments themselves to fall by the wayside.
Who knows, we could soon be experiencing these runways in VR and heaven knows what that will mean for the gimmick. The runways are undeniably bringing the wonders of creative minds to the forefront, favouring playful concepts over the once-standard runway look. Nevertheless, misplaced gimmicks and empty gestures are easily identifiable, and for the average spectator, they will never replace the feeling of truly innovative and inspiring garment design.