The exasperation of the purely commercial aspect of the catwalks seemed to have heralded the imminent end of the era of models and fashion shows, now, according to many, no longer meaningful. In reality, after a long period of prevailing performative minimalism, in which the expressive detachment from the public by the bodies on the catwalk was a must, in recent times the the practice of commissioning choreographers, artists and performers to produce the stage sets fashion shows. In several cases, the shows no longer present themselves as simple product displays, but express a performative potential capable of leading to a deeper reflection, transforming the host space into a place where something happens, an act of resistance, a stance.
How, then, can we interpret this new will to free the body from the extreme control it has been subjected to over the years?
Alexander McQueen fashion show, 1996
Forerunner of this trend, Alexander McQueen he was one of the greatest exponents of this expressive mode, starting in the late 90s. The wonder, repulsion and terror aroused by his famous and spectacular shows such as “No.13”, “VOSS”, or “Deliverance”, (staged with the contribution of choreographer Michael Clark), continually recall the concept of sublime . Suffering models, covered in tattered, bloody clothes, hidden behind dark masks or clothes that make them look like disturbing animalsi, their theatrical and sometimes violent movements disturb, upset, awaken the spectator from the sleep of the catwalk. The disgust, bewilderment and disturbance that McQueen’s performances caused, gave us a profound and indelible sensory experience, placing us in front of man’s brutality, making us get in touch and visualize our most instinctive side, ” animal “, in fact.
Models and dancers in the Alexander McQueen fashion show in collaboration with Michael Clark, October 2013
In its current returned centrality, body language, long denied, is constructed as a matter, as a means of expression. Analyzing the body in the fashion shows, it should be noted that this body, whose identity is defined, is at the same time changeable in the game of appearances. And therefore, if the dress is the language of the body, it is to the body and its centrality that we must turn our gaze. So today fashion and fashion shows in particular are an exhibition of the body itself: clothes now have the ability to show and shape the gaze towards bodies that are increasingly proud of themselves in their aesthetic, social and gender variety. More and more autonomous and free, as in the tribal fiction of Rick Owens, or in the visionary one of Alessandro Michele, where they become a metaphor for the multitude of species.
Pat Boguslawski, movement director of Maison Margiela, directs on the stage a body that speaks in the first person with its presence and its movements. Anatomical parts such as the skin, the hair change and become equal to the clothes themselves: tools to transform into a hybrid that transcends human nature itself. The bodies are iridescent, the clothes and make up become extensions, transplanted into the body. The body that becomes the protagonist must, then, live up to its seductive function, it is an ambiguous body, under construction. The mutation no longer concerns only the dress, but directly affects the body through the processing of movement. The movements become marked signals of the affirmation of the ego. A tribute to plurality, like the performance designed by Francesco Risso, in collaboration with Michele Rizzo, for last autumn / winter by Marni. Following this narrative, the rejection of pre-established human codes and models becomes even more visible.
The performance moves the irrational part that is in us to the extent that the interventions of the subjects are capable of making us identify with what we see, and this is important in a world in which feeling touched is almost no longer possible. The space is therefore transformed both for the performer and for the audience: its condition is made changeable, tactile, it is influenced by the body language itself. Today, the catwalk shapes figures that aspire to surreal forms, chimeras, partly human beings, partly graceful volatiles or sinuous snakes. A spectacular narrative scenario of the last human representation, while the new hybrid bodies are already appearing.
Top: Shalom Harlow during the Alexander McQueen show where she was sprayed with paint, 1999