I really don’t like going to runway shows. I don’t like waiting in lines for things, I don’t like sitting on uncomfortably tiny chairs trying to figure out who the B-list celebrities getting their photos taken are, and I don’t like watching the clothes through my neighbors’ digital SLR and iPad screens. I get that runways do serve some purpose for creating a theatrical display to showcase a collection, which can be done to magnificent effect — if you have a Chanel budget to work with. But even with the combined resources of brand capital and corporate sponsorship, sometimes a runway show is a disconnected way of doing things. Especially if you’re not sitting front row, which I basically never am. Okay, rant over.
Gareth Pugh presented his Spring 2015 collection at New York Fashion Week last night as part of Lexus Design Disrupted, and succeeded in doing exactly what that suggests. It took place at Basketball City, deep in the Lower East Side and decent walk from the closest train — well after nightfall — just getting to the cavernous venue removed much expectation of what a fashion show should be like.
But while you might expect such a large-scale incarnation of one of New York Fashion Week’s hottest ticket shows to be one of the most intimidating experiences, it was really the most democratic. Actually, scrap that — it was anarchic. Almost unsettlingly so. Inside the crowd glided between three open bars inside a stylized stone circle, stood hesitantly in front of giant LED screens, and looked generally lost without seating cards to fiddle with or a front row to snap. Some guests got up on various platforms that had been erected and got their friends to take photos of them, which made other people think they were models and also take photos of them, which was kind of hilarious.
Just after the scheduled showtime of 9pm, the far right of the three largest screens lit up and the crowd surged toward it in waves. I was standing next to a speaker and almost had my eardrums blown. To be honest, I didn’t actually see much of this first segment apart from silhouetted heads and some ghostly, pixelated forms on the screen. When things went black and the middle screen lit up, I pushed my way up a bit further. Front row at this show meant having a genuine desire to see something rather than to get a Moët refill. Celebrities moved around with the plebes. I came extremely close to elbowing Maggie Gyllenhaal. (Other guests I didn’t have the pleasure of almost bowling over included Coco Rocha, Jesse Metcalfe, and Sarah Jessica Parker.)
And unlike a runway show, where what you see further back is a diluted version of what the designer intended, last night’s performance made one crowd experience totally different things. Those at the back might have seen only pixelated representations of British folklore and its multitude of rites and rituals, ghostly forms moving on the screens. Those closer to the front saw these merge with live performances from dancers who wore garments allowing for movement. The rise of the phoenix was the final flourish.
“The show exceeded what I expected,” said Brian Bolain of Lexus. “When we went in search of someone to work with, we needed somebody who was going to push the envelope. Instead of searching for someone we would have to convince, he is already there.”
But the best part of the show wasn’t that it was mind-blowing. It was that it gave the audience the chance to experience, and to share on Instagram, whatever they wanted to rather than whatever their seating cards dictated. It proved corporate sponsorship isn’t always the enemy.