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In this age of social media, runway shows have an unparalleled ability to captivate and inspire the global imagination, which largely explains the increasingly elaborate and playful set designs that are revealed to the world to astounding effect, with only the most fanciful catwalks going down in fashion history.
Louis Vuitton 2017 Resort collection at Oscar Niemeyer’s Niterói Contemporary Art Museum
The late Karl Lagerfeld was the undisputed master of the runway show, with his concepts for Chanel regularly transforming Paris’ cavernous Grand Palais into any number of faraway places thanks to impossibly elaborate and larger-than-life set designs. Among his most memorable runway moments were the tropical beach complete with real sand and water that materialised for Spring/Summer 2019; a life-sized ocean liner that unloaded models for Cruise 2019; and a true-to-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower for Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2017 that was an emblem for the Kaiser’s love of his adopted hometown. His show for Fendi’s Autumn/Winter 2007 show was also a fantastic feat of diplomatic maneuvering, having built a functioning runway atop China’s preeminent national landmark, the Great Wall.
The Louis Vuitton Express, created for the brand’s AW12 show by Marc Jacobs
While no other creative mind rivals Lagerfeld’s set designs, some certainly come close. For Autumn/Winter 2012, Marc Jacobs built the ‘Louis Vuitton Express’ – a functioning steam train with passenger cars that towed a coterie of models and their porters onto the runway; while for its Resort 2017 collection, Louis Vuitton decamped to Oscar Niemeyer’s Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Rio de Janeiro to send outfits walking down the landmark’s famously flowing ramp. Anya Hindmarch, meanwhile, showed off a glacier-like, zigzagging runway at her Autumn/Winter 2017 show that was inspired by Swedish folk art.
Anya Hindmarch’s AW17 show was inspired by Swedish folk art
Although these runway set designs were undeniably conceived with spectacle in mind, they ultimately succeeded thanks to a deft interplay with the designer’s looks that were exhibited on stage, with each element informing the other. An ability to think outside the box and a willingness above all to imagine, these runway sets are a testament to the undeniable power of play.