The catwalk used to be the way in which designers showcased their collections. Now it’s all about the performance.

In a memoir in 1954, Vogue editor Edna Woolman Chase denounced the fashion show. Not only were fashion shows staged during lunch or teatime, ladies were hard-pressed to find a major hotel or store without one. It was hard enough to eat, let alone sip a cocktail, she added. (Ironically, Chase is also credited as the first to organize one in America.)

There was no escaping the “lissome young things…swaying down a runway six inches above her nose,” Chase wrote. The fashion show, she continued, had become a way of life.

Before long the catwalk uprooted to clubs or lofts, where falling chunks of ceiling plaster, as it did at a 1990 Michael Kors show, generated a different kind of excitement. The tents of Bryant Park, here in New York, have long given way to other locales–most recently, off-the-beaten-path ones at Manhattan piers or Brooklyn. But despite the mishaps, theatrics or unlikely venues, it could not negate the obvious: the presence of fashion.

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That is, until Gareth Pugh happened upon New York on Thursday night. His was a celestial vision of the cosmos assigned to large projector screens. What followed was an onslaught of fleeting images (tornadoes, fog, models in pagan headpieces) in quick succession as the “immersive presentation” moved from one end of the space to the other. Then, adding alien-like movement from live dancers, Pugh kept his message simple–to the point where a catwalk and his clothes, lacking in real-time presence, were not necessary.

I was no fan of Pugh’s spectacle; I wasn’t alone. “Is that it?” remarked one fashion editor, seemingly misled by the catwalk disappearance.  Pugh’s live presentations in Paris and London have always had an element of showmanship–ever since he staged a fashion carnival for his first show. With Lexus sponsoring the event, perhaps this was Pugh’s way of drawing a heady crowd: where a fashion week bash combines with a multimedia attack of the senses.

But to reduce a fashion show to its purest emotion? It’s a novel concept that has yet to be explored in depth. At the junction of man and technology, ritual and experiment, the catwalk meets its demise. Fashion meets its future.

Words by Sophia Gonzales

Photos by Seena Shahmardi

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