What is a fashion show? It is an event, a showcase, a neurosis, alienation. It is collective exaltation, mania, and obsession. It is a phobia, or it is simply nothing. One thing is sure: it reflects our being. Like Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, a fashion show tells about an inner search, a journey, an enterprise: a path towards what shines deep within us.
Like Virgil, semiologist Claudio Calò – known for his role as Global Communication Director for the Armani Group, among others – guided us and placed us in front of every aspect of it, showing us every piece, every lie, and every truth.
The reason for this encounter was his brand-new book La sfilata di moda come opera d’arte [The Fashion Show as a Work of Art], published by Einaudi (Turin, 2022).
by Giorgio Scarpellini. Cover Image: Illustration by Wenjie Dong for I′M Firenze Digest.
I’MF: Was this book an urgency or a necessity?
CC: The genesis of this book is not so obvious. It was a bump on the road. Through one of my teachers and mentors who writes for Einaudi, I learned they were relaunching the “Gli Struzzi” series. They wanted to make a book not so much about fashion but more about the fashion show concept. So this friend of mine put me in touch with the publisher.
They were interested in my experience in different fashion and communication houses. So, at the end of an hour-and-a-half chat during the first lockdown, they asked me: “but why don’t you write these interesting things down?”. I found myself with a job to do during the pandemic, which happened to be quite favourable. I had so much time and less to do back then, so I started studying.
I am not a fashion journalist, I studied semiotics and marketing communication, but I have always worked in fashion, focusing on communication and business. The publisher asked me to provide an external or non-journalist perspective. They wanted someone who knew the industry, but up to a certain point, with a broader view of the runway as a social, cultural and artistic phenomenon. The only thing that was clear, right from the start, was the title.
I’MF: So if it was neither a necessity nor an urgency, who do you think could be your ideal readers?
CC: Is there an identikit? Yes. There was a clear ideal reader right from the start. We wanted to write for an audience that knows about fashion, loves it and studies it. But that wasn’t too academic, too specialised, or only for insiders. We wanted it to be also for those who have never seen or heard of a fashion show. But, above all, the idea was to make it clear how fashion and fashion shows are an expressive pinnacle, which feeds on and gives back to the culture and the way we communicate and perform today.
The idea, in the end, was to explain how vital such a trivial, frivolous, and superficial thing as a fashion show is and to show how much it actually mirrors our culture.
Through the voices of the people I interviewed (about thirty people), you can see what lies behind the construction of a fashion show, the concept, production, and all the players involved. This, I think, emerges above all from direct interviews.
I’MF: In your book, you pinpoint three different ways of doing a fashion show. How did you trace the state in which, in your opinion, the fashion show has arrived?
CC: We live in a time where fashion shows and many other things have been questioned. I liked to conclude my book with some possible answers to the question: “And now, how do you do a fashion show in post-pandemic 2022?”. My will was not to answer with my first-hand account and opinions. But to put together, like a conductor, a bit of all the voices wondering about it. This is because stylists, producers, or even directors work on it, so it was an attempt to understand their point of view.
I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but, in reality, there is no actual conclusion. There are many possibilities. There is still so much good to do.
I’MF: Are there any fashion shows you would recommend to our students to study?
CC: I asked the interviewees the same question, and none of them could answer me. It was as if they had to choose their favourite child. Impossible. However, if I have to choose one, I believe that the whole [Alexander] McQueen corpus is absolutely essential.
McQueen said, “I don’t want people to come to my fashion shows, applaud and leave happy, I want them to go out and vomit. They have to have such a visceral reaction because they’ve heard about important things.” He is a character with a tragic story and a tragic ending, and you can see this in his fashion shows. He distils these moments in all his shows with consistency, culture, and incredible wisdom. So yes, if someone were to make a lifelong stylist’s choice, I think he’s a must.
Then, my three favourite fashion shows for the brands I worked for are Ralph Lauren’s fortieth, S/S 2008, where the designer himself comes out of a tent set up in New York’s Central Park. The second is for Pucci, where I first saw Naomi walk in the S/S14 collection. It was a moment of complete transmutation of human genders. The third is Giorgio Armani’s fortieth, celebrated in 2015, with a forty-minute parade that all of Hollywood was there to see.
I’MF: What do you hope to feel and see in the fashion shows yet to come?
CC: I hope to be amazed. I hope to see more episodes of The Simpsons like Balenciaga did. I hope to see more fashion shows like Prada dismembering the fashion show and the split, and why not, triples it, with variations on the theme of diversity. We can get back to travelling, or not. I hope there will be more cross-pollination, with more references to the past and future technologies.
Claudio Calò is a Communications Director and Writer. At Istituto Marangoni Firenze he has been teaching Strategic Management of Communication Projects and Creative Direction for the course Fashion Promotion, Communication and Digital Media.
Giorgio Scarpellini is a Fashion Styling and Creative Direction undergraduate student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
Wenjie Dong is a Fashion Design postgraduate student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.