Fashion has long been intertwined with celebrity culture – and never is this more prominent than at fashion shows. Now inextricably linked, it’s hard to imagine an era in which the cast of Netflix’s latest smash hit isn’t occupying the front row – but back in the day, fashion and celebrity culture were two independent entities. So how did we get here?
As the epicentre of the cult of celebrity as we know it, fashion shows in the U.S began in department stores in the early 1900s. Aiming to replicate the fashion parades going on in Paris at the same time, their main focus was to introduce European fashion to American women and journalists. But as WW2 came about, access to European fashion was abruptly cut off – leading to the formation of ‘Press Week’. Press Week saw designers and houses show collections sporadically, in a way that continued until the 1990s which saw the first New York Fashion Week – which is where things truly kicked off.
At the start of the 90s, three things happened to create the basis of what we now recognise as fashion month: NYFW was created, so was the internet, and designers like Gianni Versace were beginning to tap into pop culture in a way not previously seen before. Aside from co-creating the growing phenomenon of the 90s supermodel by employing them to walk their shows, designers were increasing their cultural capital by inviting celebrities to sit on their front rows.
One of the designers doing this the earliest, and thus with the most impact, was Tommy Hilfiger. When we caught up with him in New York earlier this month, he told us that the brand has “always kept its finger on the pulse” – something which his 90s FROW can attest to. Featuring everyone from Lenny Kravitz (this year’s CFDA fashion icon) to Wyclef Jean. Fast forward 30 years, and Tommy’s latest presentation took celebrity involvement to the next level.
From its inspiration – Tommy’s friend Andy Warhol – to the inclusion of editorials and campaigns in the show’s actual set, Tommy Hilfiger’s fascination with celebrity was clear. Then came the cast – featuring “some faces we’d know, some we wouldn’t”, including Julia Fox, Paloma Elsesser and Alton Mason. The front row played host to everyone from Sita Bellan to Kravis and John Legend – and the constant camera flashes and frantic activity formed a show in itself.
Nowadays, this is the case for most fashion shows. Whether they are organic fans of the brand or invited (and paid) by PRs to come and make an appearance, celebrity and fashion culture are one and the same. Balenciaga both pointed this out and pointed fun at this fact with its SS22 ‘meta-show’ – which saw show attendees inadvertently form the first half of the catwalk as they walked a red carpet to the (implied) show venue. Here, Demna started an ongoing dialogue: a meta-commentary on the world of fashion and celebrity. What makes a fashion show? And what if you don’t know you’re walking in one?
With the boundaries of ‘celebrity’ ever-changing (read: influencers dominating the FROWs of the last 2 years), fashion’s relationship with celebrity will continue to adapt to. However, whoever they may be, it’s clear that the two industries have a mutual interest in maintaining each other: this is a symbiotic relationship that we can’t imagine will be going anywhere fast.