A show of fashion


About two years ago, in a past life it seems, while watching a fashion show in Manila, a jumpy tune came on that signaled the end and the curtain call for a designer who was presenting his collection. All the models jauntily walked out, almost filling the entire ramp, and out came the designer, to a loud applause that filled the ballroom.

It didn’t matter whether one liked the collection or not, what mattered was that one followed the obligatory moment of joining in the hearty clapping to express gratitude, if not admiration, for the work done and presented by the designer in that show. To anyone who has watched a fashion show, this is the polite, if not the right thing to do.

As I stood up and joined in the obligatory clapping—a ballroom full of people who were, more than anything else, appears to be relieved that the show was over, I found myself paying more than the usual attention to the music being played, than to the designer bowing and receiving bouquets of flowers in an overt acknowledgement of the crowd’s seeming adoration. Usually, designers never bother to walk the entire length of the runway. Designers would often just almost painfully pop out into where most everyone can see him, wave a little and bow a little and clasp his hands a little, and hurriedly exit behind the stage. But no, this time, the designer decided that he’d join his models in walking down the entire length of the catwalk. I can imagine that the crowd, like me, was a bit amused, but everyone took it all in good humor, and good grace. I mean, who would dare not honor the designer on his supposedly triumphant night? It was, after all, the right and proper thing to do for the audience.

To everyone’s collective relief, the designer, with his models, finally walked off as the stage light dimmed, and the house lights came on.

As I surveyed the crowd, and as they began to slowly and almost ritualistically file out of the ballroom, I can almost hear what was on everyone’s thoughts: The collection wasn’t exactly the best work of the designer, and certainly not the best compared to the work of any other designer (of which the ballroom was full of), and neither was the show memorable, but it was undeniable that, for an hour or so, as one model after another did their number on the ramp, that it was somehow entertaining, certainly a much more enjoyable way to spend one’s evening compared to most any other evenings.

The fashion show, though it has steadily devolved from extravagance to stern simplicity through the years, has become a cherished ritual, proof that the fashion industry is alive and well. Still.

Any fashion designer who has dreamed and dared to stage a fashion show knows how much time and effort, heart and soul, goes into mounting a production. It’s not something that happens in a snap. It is a deliberate and focused enterprise that is undertaken to promote not just one’s collection but bolster one’s reputation as a designer. Together with the influential set, a mafia composed of members of the lifestyle press, along with a handful of society’s most influential persons, a gala is one way to press forward a fashion designer’s agenda.

It must take a lot of chutzpa to do something like that. The production involves countless people and a lot of money. In putting it all together, I’ve seen how it can take so much more. It is a concerted effort of so many. But after the last light has dimmed, and after the last note of the music played, the staging is almost always worth it. Those who have seen it will surely talk about it and the press will write about it, assuring a fair share of mind space among the people to whom the show is mainly addressed—the clients. And for that alone, it is an achievement. Perhaps nothing more, but certainly, nothing less. For all intents and purposes, it is a show of fashion.


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