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Fashion Week: A Private or Public Affair?

11/09/2014 11:12 BST | Updated 10/11/2014 10:59 GMT

It's September, which in the world of high fashion heralds the start of spring! Yes, it's that time of the year when the industry's great and good embark on their whirlwind tour of the four fashion capitals, to witness first hand what designers have in store for us next season.

But there have been increasing calls from ardent fashion fans to open these 'trade shows' to the public, and as part of i-D magazine's #IDFashionMonth, the case for and against this plea has been debated online.

Firmly in the yes camp is writer Mallory Rice, who argues, "...being an event at which professionals need to get actual work done is not a good reason to keep the public out of it". After all, he goes on to say, live concerts are not just for rock critics. He believes that great clothing is art, and as such, access shouldn't be restricted to the privileged few.

The case against, put by Anders Christian Madsen, i-D's Fashion Features Editor, seems rather less succinct. He believes that making fashion week public would destroy its raison d'être, going on to say that if the 'precious moment' that's created between designer and reporter or designer and buyer when witnessing a show first hand is lost, then ultimately, we will all lose. Why? Because without expert industry opinion, individual fashion shows would lose meaning. This to me seems more of a case for maintaining the role of the press.

A much more straightforward, and vehement, dismissal of the case for making fashion week public was made by the Independent's Fashion Editor, Alexander Fury, who in response to Mallory Rice's piece simply tweeted "Fashion is not entertainment. It isn't art. It is a business and these are trade shows, not a three-ring circus". Whether fashion is art is, I think, a matter of personal opinion, but I do believe that it's quite difficult to argue that fashion is not entertainment and that these are simply trade shows, especially when designers themselves are blurring the lines between what is private and what is public.

The catwalk show has come a long way since its inception back in 19th century Paris. It was customary for designers of the day to use static mannequins to show their clothes to clients and buyers. That was until the 'father of haute couture', Englishman Charles Frederick Worth, introduced the concept of the fashion parade, which has since evolved into the spectacle we are familiar with today.

I was privileged to attend Ann Demeulemeester's autumn/winter catwalk show back in 2007. My boyfriend and I travelled to Paris for the fifteen-minute presentation, which on paper probably sounds ridiculous, but for a fashion obsessive and Demeulemeester devote, this was the invitation of a lifetime! Standing amidst a sea of Ann's black clad fans, I was transfixed as the sullen models stalked the catwalk in the designer's signature androgynous styles, accompanied by haunting music and low, mood enhancing lighting. I also vividly remember the presence of the Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue, Anna Wintour, hiding behind her trademark dark sunglasses, swathed in fur, and flanked by two burley security guards. But this was in the days before developments in the digitization of fashion, the growth in social media and the courting of the consumer turned fashion critic.

The once simple fashion parade, witnessed by an intimate audience, is now part of a worldwide event accessible to all, albeit virtually, with live streaming straight from the catwalk. First introduced by British super brand Burberry back in 2010, the company is now expected to launch direct selling via Twitter at London Fashion Week. With these very public orientated developments, not forgetting the role of the blogger now as front row fixture, can fashion week really be considered just a series of trade shows?

And fashion as entertainment? Well according to Matthew Schneier writing in the New York Times it's "...the order of the day". Designers such as Alexander McQueen were well known for eschewing the traditional catwalk show for a more experience based presentation, and others are now following suit. Last season, Rick Owens caused quite a stir when he hired a dance troupe to present his collection, and during New York Fashion Week this week we've already had an 'immersive presentation' of music, dance and art (Gareth Pugh) and a play (Opening Ceremony).

The 'not entertainment' argument is surely weakened further when you consider the celebrity circus that now surrounds fashion week. Stars such as Beyoncé and Rhianna are rumoured to be paid six figure sums by designers to appear at their shows, with media coverage of A-list attendees often eclipsing that of the clothes!

Fashion is a business yes, and like any business today it is constantly looking for new ways to engage the consumer. And while we can sit in front of our computer screens and catch catwalk shows in real time, perhaps the next step is the introduction of ticketed fashion week events? After all, nothing compares to experiencing a show live. I can vouch for that!