The best play that I’ve ever been to was in New York City in September of 2006. This theatrical performance had the makings of a Broadway play: a Tony worthy acting troupe, a talented directing duo, extraordinary costumes and even celebrity guest stars.
It was the 2006 Spring/Summer Heatherette show.
Fashion is art and a fashion show is a theatrical performance. Each model brings to life a make-believe character and it is up to the discretion of the designer, or in this case, designers, to direct the actors. As in movies, plays and television, wardrobe is part of an equilateral triangle. With the character, setting and costume carrying the same weight. The runway is no different from a movie set or stage. A designers’ artistic vision resonates through every element of the show.
Fashion and theater are two of the oldest forms of artistic expression. The Ancient Greeks and Romans were masters of theater and consequently, fashion. This week’s edition of the Haute Historian spotlights three of my favorite playwrights: John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Richie Rich and Traver Rains of Heatherette.
John Galliano’s designs are visual stimulation; he never fails to convince. Born in Gibraltar, he grew up in London and launched his own label before becoming chief designer of France’s haute couture flagship, Christian Dior. His haute couture runway shows are arguably the most fantastical displays of textiles, tailoring and embellishments in the world. Danton, a play he worked on as a dresser at the London National Theatre, inspired his first collection, which he debuted as part of his degree from St. Martins School of Art in 1984.
Living in Spain as young boy greatly influenced the couture art that has come to life on his runway. â€œThe souks, the markets, woven fabrics, the carpets, the smells, the herbs, the Mediterranean color, is where my love of textiles comes from,â€? said Galliano.
In his debut collection, Les Incroyables, there were jackets worn upside down and inside out, romantic organdie shirts accessorized with everything from magnifying glasses, smashed and worn as jewelry to rainbow-colored ribbons sewn onto the insides of coats.
By the mid-1990s, Galliano had reinvented the 1930s-line bias-cut dress and made it modern, as well as creating narrow, very feminine tailoring. After he was appointed chief designer of Givenchy, a title that ultimately went to his successor-Alexander McQueen, Galliano moved up to become head of Christian Dior; a position he maintains until this day.
With Galliano at Dior and McQueen at Givenchy, it’s clear that Bernard Arnault – chairman of LVMH – appreciates the revolutionary vision that the aforementioned designers bring to his luxury conglomerate.
Like most of Britain’s famed designers, Alexander McQueen graduated from Central St. Martins in 1991 with a display of flair and innovation. At the age of 16, he was given an apprenticeship with Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard. It is clear that McQueen’s precision tailoring, a skill that he aptly demonstrates in each couture collection, stems from his time on Savile Row. His beautifully crafted and outrageous designs attract a fiercely loyal following.
McQueen has solidified his reputation as the bad boy of fashion. The designer’s mix of controversy, creativity and technical mastery has earned him three British Designer of the Year awards.
He indulged his rebellious streak, causing controversy in Autumn of 1998 with a show which included car-robots spraying paint over white cotton dresses, and a double amputee model striding down the catwalk on intricately carved wooden legs.
When McQueen launched his own label he made instant headlines with his infamous low-cut “bumster” pants. His collections are often cohesive thematic interpretations, alluding to dramatic media events. The â€œHighland Rapeâ€? collection was a consortium of tattered dresses and bloody catwalkers. McQueen’s â€œTransitionsâ€? collection for Spring/Summer 2003, can be interpreted as a disaster at sea. The hem of his sand-colored organza â€œOyster Gownâ€? is like the wavy lip of a giant mollusk, which further emphasizes the seashell quality of the design.
It seems fitting to close this celebration of fashion’s best theatrical performers by paying homage to a relatively new designing duo. Richie Rich and Traver Rains of Heatherette are flamboyant, colorful characters, whose runway shows are more surfer on acid than Goth glam.
Nothing says trash and flash like the dazzling pop aesthetic of a former cowboy and infamous club kid. Unlike Galliano and McQueen, Heatherette is lighthearted, kitsch and their designs articulate a beauty queen-chic; an oxymoron perhaps, but that’s why it works.
Their 2006 Spring/Summer show opened with Paris Hilton strutting down the runway in a leopard print gown with her own song, â€œStars are Blind,â€? blasting in the background. She dragged behind her, a suitcase, bringing to life the jet-setting persona her directors envisioned. With Hilton as the opening model, a celeb-studded show ensued, with sister Nicky wearing a knee-length strapless tuxedo dress, Mena Suvari modeling gold lame leggings underneath a rainbow mini skirt topped with an electric blue sleeveless T-shirt and singer, Kelis, radiating in a short magenta dress with a tutu skirt and heavy shell embellishments.
It was the craziest beach party that I have ever attended. The show ended with a transvestite priest marrying Paris and a male model, as the wedding party- a combination of drunk beach bums with oiled skin and bikini-clad models-looked on. With his gold old-school roller skates, Richie Rich skated his way on stage, hand clasped in design partner Traver Raines’, and the duo that is Heatherette took a bow.
The curtain closed and the crowd erupted in applause.