What is a runway for when the clothing obviously will never be worn again?
For years I had the same question and it was partially the reason I started studying and got certified as a fashion stylist. So when I got this question about runway clothes on my Quora feed, I wanted to explain the whole process in order to make the ultimate answer clear. Let’s start with some technicalities about the fashion world that will help to understand the way a catwalk show works for a fashion label.
There are different parts of the process of creating a piece of clothing: you start with a sketch. Then, the designer decides which kind of fabrics need to be part of it and the rest of the materials you need for embroidery, for example. Then, it comes one of the most important and expensive parts of the process: creating the patterns. A pattern is a hard paper which is made by following each individual component for a style of garment or apparel. Actually, a pattern is a template from which the parts of a garment are traced onto fabric before being cut out and assembled. It is one of the most important parts of garment manufacturing industry. Pattern making is a highly skilled technique which calls for technical ability, sensitivity for design interpretation and a practical understanding of garment construction. Pattern making is a bridge function between design and production.
It is like an architect that creates a 3D replica of each part of the project she’s building. It will be one of a kind for each part of each piece of cloth that needs to be cut and then sewn into an assembled piece that will then be worn. Although there are a lot of automated processes in the textile industry, when a fashion label develop a new collection, there is a lot of hands-on work. This comes from the couturiers involved in the process of creating each of the designs that will be shown at the fashion show.
What does this step-by-step description relate to the question? Well, it all comes together when you realize there is only one piece of each design when we talk about Haute Couture (for Ready-to-Wear there maybe 2 of some of the pieces) available at the moment of models walking the runway. Those designs are called “samples” and build up in the sample size, which is the size the original pattern has been created.
These pieces are for showing different skills to buyers and clients. In the case of Haute Couture, the designer wants to show the skills of the people who work at the atelier -often called “Les petite mains” or “the little hands”. And each piece is an exquisite piece of art made by hand. And if a private client -let’s think about some oligarch women or extremely wealthy Middle East royals- likes some of the designs, she will be willing to pay a hefty price to able to have a made-to-measure haute couture piece for herself.
When it comes to Ready-To-Wear collections, the head of design of the fashion label uses the runway to show the different options of designs that her collection has. There, the buyers and clients can see the clothes moving. They will decide which pieces they want to have available at their stores, based on their knowledge of what their customers would like to buy. Then, they order the selected pieces and the fashion label starts its production and delivers them to the stores.
The samples that are shown in a fashion show will be worn again several times by models and celebrities at different events and editorials. Most of the models and celebrities fit the sample size. Fashion stylists know how to tweak a piece of clothing to make it fit each person that would wear it.
As a fashion stylist, I can tell you this: when you want to use any of the runway designs for a photo shoot or event, there is a protocol to ask for it. A lot of times you won’t get what you were aiming for because someone else has the total runway look or part of it. Also, a lot of times the more exclusive a brand is, the most pricey the shipping and handling for the piece of clothing is.
Most of the fashion brands keep their samples as part of their historic archive, alongside with the patterns and sketches. Some of those big names get featured at exhibitions like the one organized annually by the MET Fashion Institute and Vogue. Others, like Valentino, create their own museums and exhibitions in different cities in the world.
Runway clothes are not going to be worn just once. Chances are that you will see the same red leather jacket or that tulle dress over and is over. You will see it worn by different people in the upcoming months after the fashion show was held.
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