The event is South Africa’s own incarnation of the international events from which it borrows its name. The most glamorous, notorious and downright fabulous of these events is Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, aka New York Fashion Week.
Fans of the Sex And The City franchise will be familiar with the pomp and ceremony that surrounds this social happening, which is now held at the Lincoln Centre. On screen, Carrie and co relished the thought of spending a day in the company of couture. And as depicted on the show, the who’s who of the social scene show up dressed in their most stylish ensembles to see what the fashion deities have deemed to be on-trend for the coming season.
The question is: how did the idea for any sort of “fashion week” come about? While it would be nice to think it was created for fun, fashion, and a few laughs, the reasoning behind it was more about dealing with a political situation.
Before the 1940s, Paris was the undisputed fashion capital of the world. Magazines and those in the know looked to the French city for inspiration, and then filtered their findings down to the masses. However, when World War Two broke out, editors and experts were unable to travel to Paris to see what the runways had in store for them. Cue mass hysteria and anguished throwing of designer gloves into the air.
Enter Eleanor Lambert – a woman with a head for business and a heart for haute couture. The PR maven decided to launch a Press Week, where American designers could show off their wares to the media. The idea was to attract attention away from Parisian fashion, and to get people to focus on what was available at home.
The event, held in tents in Bryant Park, was a success, and magazines began to feature more home-grown talent. Press Week became the first fashion week to be held, and inspired other countries to hold their own versions. There are now over 40 different fashion weeks held throughout the world, with a few happening here at home.
While this was the first official fashion week, it wasn’t the first big fashion get-together to be held. Much like Press Week, the pre-cursor to Fashion Week was arranged because of a war. During World War One, people were worried that studios in Paris would be unable to continue their design work.
The editor of the American Vogue magazine decided to ask designers to bring their best designs to an exhibition at a hotel, and took models to the designers’ stores where they were taught to walk and display the outfits. Tickets were sold to the wealthy, and so the first formal fashion event was born.
The idea of showing off fashion on live subjects dates back even further than the war. Fashion designer Jeanne Paquin, an 18th century trendsetter, would send her models to social gatherings to show off her designs, and would organise fashion parades so that her creations could be displayed.