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The Evolution of the Runway

Designers have never been shy when voicing their opinions through their work, but have the pressures of society started to restrict what we see in the industry? Has this forced more conservative looks to be showcased? Or, is creativity being explored in new ways that are opening up new opportunities within fashion?

Catwalks date all the way back to late nineteenth century, when models would present looks instead of mannequins. Of course, the culture was different and so garments focused on coverage, with a similar silhouette used in order to follow trends. Designs used muted colours, ensuring that they remained practical, however details like ruffles and bows added personality.

Image via Fashion History

In the early twentieth century, catwalks became more popular with live models preferred over mannequins. Shows started to explore venues, too, using these locations to capture the excitement of the audience.

Fashion had evolved further, too, and dresses were slightly more relaxed and comfortable. The flapper dress was the new statement with designers focusing on detail through embellishing designs. Garments remained conservative, with dresses ending below the knee, paired with a fur coat. Overall, the ‘Roaring Twenties’ influenced the runway by creating exciting outfits and shows, without the strict conservatism seen before.

Image via Vogue

As we continue into the 70s, another important aspect of the fashion timeline, we see the rise of colour, flares, and halter necks. Like now, celebrities had become highly influential, so runway designs often incorporated A-listers.

Image via Harpers Bazaar

As we continue to the 90s, we begin to see designers experiment, both with the layout of their shows, and with a rise in political statements through fashion.

Supermodels Kate Moss, Adriana Lima, and Naomi Campbell rose to fame, becoming highly influential within the industry. Their personalities, too, were being displayed on the runway, as opposed to the norm of models being walking mannequins. Runways were seen as an exciting showcase of new fashion collections, as opposed to focusing solely on selling the clothes.

Boundaries were being broken and designers felt less restricted, using their designs to convey personal messages. There was a wider range of silhouettes, too — plus the rise of the slip dress, a piece of lingerie now being seen as everyday wear. Some designers chose to experiment with colours, fabrics, and the deconstruction of garments, whilst others continued in the image of the brand they had built up.

Image via Vogue

Next we hit the twenty-first century, a time of low-rise, bright colours, and comfort. Paris Hilton and pink were everywhere, alongside mini skirts and low-rise jeans. Designers continued to make political statements, and the catwalk carried personality. Victoria's Secret Angels — and runway shows as a whole — included music, colour, and most importantly, fun. Victoria's Secret, in particular, would host annual fashion shows, and an entire culture would form around it; the excitement, the glamour, the prestige of the title 'VS Angel.' As problematic as the brand is, their fashion shows were once iconic, and emblematic of the time.

Currently, designers are revisiting political statements within their designs. Runway shows are reflecting societal changes, whilst showing personality through setting, the presentation of models, and the designs themselves.

The runway overall has evolved to unapologetically voice opinions, influence others, and show the power of creativity. Whilst the industry still needs to become more inclusive, hopefully we'll continue to see this throughout the industry — and beyond.

Words by Kennedy Hamilton

Edited by Lucy Eaton


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