Representing the creative future

Recipe For a Show: Paula Canovas del Vas SS20

A fashion presentation without the clothes present? Not quite, but Paula Canovas del Vas's virtual reality presentation comes close.

If all goes to plan, fashion shows and presentations invite viewers into a perfectly curated vision of a designer’s world, one that feels just as considered as effortless. But, if you’ve ever had the (mis)fortune of experiencing a show in its preparation stages, you’ll know that the behind-the-scenes is often peppered with sleepless nights, last-minute cancellations and budget crises. Such plagues can blight any brand, but it’s especially the case for young designers’ taking to the fashion week stage for the first time. So what warrants all the effort and expense?

To find out, we decided to dig a little deeper into some of our favourite shows by emerging designers at London Fashion Week SS20, starting with Paula Canovas del Vas. It’s now a known fact that fashion weeks are increasingly being called into question, whether for the woeful extent of their environmental impact or for their relevance as a presentational format in the broadest sense. In fact, in the wake of London Fashion Week back in September, we surveyed how altering fashion week as it currently stands could affect the city’s fashion design ecosystem, and speculated on solutions that could be implemented. The potential futures we have in mind are not, however, as far off as they may seem. Proving themselves the protagonists in the fight for systemic change, young designers are trying their hands at innovative solutions to the issues that physical presentations and shows pose.

For her SS20 presentation at London Fashion Week, Paula broached the field of virtual reality. Working in collaboration with creative animation studio NoGhost, the Central Saint Martins MA class of 2017 graduate staged a digital presentation that diverged from the typical understandings of how clothing ought to be presented and questioned the observer-observed paradigm we expect of a ‘traditional’ fashion show. Eager to learn more about the ups, downs and lessons learned, we caught up with Paula to fill us in on her experience of staging a virtual reality presentation during fashion week.

“I wanted to create something that would have a life beyond the catwalk—a way to encapsulate all those ideas and offer them to a wider audience. Virtual reality offered us that opportunity.”

“With the amount of work and research that goes into each collection, it felt limiting to see it all pass in front of you and a few hundred people in five minutes, or even fewer. We approach each season with a completely new eye, depending on the opportunities we’re presented with, what we believe a relevant presentation format is, and the topics we want to address. This season, I wanted to create something that would have a life beyond the catwalk—a way to encapsulate all those ideas and offer them to a wider audience. Virtual reality offered us this opportunity.

“The presentation itself was held at  WeWork in Aviation House, this incredible space in Holborn. I’d been trying to find an alternative to the catwalk show for years—we’d done it before, and something just felt intrinsically wrong about it. The passive audience, models being objectified…. Our idea was very clear from start: we wanted to invert the roles, and have the audience being actively watched by the collection. 

“Working with technology, there’s a lot that you have to figure out on the go. The results can be quite unpredictable.”

“Of course, working with technology, there’s a lot that you have to figure out on the go, so the results can be quite unpredictable. It was an extremely ambitious project from start, so we had to deal with a vast array of unknowns, but that’s part of the process and we learned a lot through it. I won’t lie, it was tough, but the learning curve was immense and I am very proud of the team and the project we put together. We were extremely fortunate to be working with NoGhost, as well as to have the support of HTC, WeWork, HP, as well as incredible mentors and partners like Maria Rakusanowa, James Castilo and Yann-Edouard Colleu.

“That said, while there were difficulties, I believe the possibilities are endless, and we plan to develop multiple projects using immersive technology. But, as with any good thing, we’ll surely need more than six months to make it come to life. VR requires time, research and financial support. It would be amazing if there were more opportunities and the right mentoring for designers to explore the medium! 

“For the time being, my advice would be: Try it and figure it out whilst doing it. That is how it has worked for us so far!”