Fashion

Unforgettable Fashion Shows and Iconic Runways That Redefined Style

Unforgettable Fashion Shows and Iconic Runways That Redefined Style

From the shimmering catwalks of Paris to the electric runways of London, the global fashion stage has borne witness to some of the most remarkable fashion shows that have left an indelible mark on the industry over the last three decades.

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From Versace’s unforgettable 1990s spectacle to Coperni’s 2023 showstopper, here are the 30 most celebrated fashion exhibitions since the internet became a household name.

A fusion of vision, craftsmanship, and storytelling, each of these 30 fashion shows weaves a tale of sartorial brilliance and distinctive stylistic moments.

Let’s embark on a journey (in descending chronological order) through the 30 most iconic fashion presentations of all time, reacquainting ourselves with the moments that have shaped the fashion landscape.

VERSACE A/W 1991 by Gianni Versace

If there ever was a fashion show that possessed the power to break the internet before the internet even existed, this was it.

Gianni Versace’s autumn/winter 1991 show witnessed Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Cindy Crawford strutting arm-in-arm down the runway. 

Arguably the most legendary fashion models of all time, they lip-synced to George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” in a defining 90s fashion moment that catapulted them into superstardom (“We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day,” quipped Evangelista to Vogue).

These models exuded strength as they graced the runway in leather ensembles, ranging from pastel mini-coats to black bondage straps adorned with lace and gold jewelry. 

Gianni’s once-edgy concepts, confined to dungeons and bedrooms, took center stage, captivating socialites and fashion aficionados unafraid to shock onlookers with their bold sexuality.

CHANEL S/S 1994 by Karl Lagerfeld

Chanel’s spring/summer 1994 show marked the moment when the venerable French house of haute couture boldly embraced the 21st century.

Karl Lagerfeld, in Chanel’s 1994 event, struck the perfect balance between pop culture and the house’s illustrious couture creations. The runway showcased logo suspenders, chained belts, itsy-bitsy bikini sets, and even roller skates.

THIERRY MUGLER A/W 1995 by Thierry Mugler

To commemorate the brand’s 20th anniversary, Thierry Mugler transformed the fashion show into a spectacular blend of music and lights at Paris’s iconic Cirque d’Hiver.

The show featured luminaries like Pat Cleveland channeling Madonna as she descended from the ceiling, along with Jerry Hall, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Veruschka von Lehndorff, and Patty Hearst, who even performed a striptease. 

Critics worldwide lauded this event, which concluded with the legendary James Brown performing on the catwalk as sparkling confetti rained down on the designer, models, and attendees.

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN A/W 1998 by Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen’s 1998 fashion show remains an enduring symbol of one of the most iconic fashion moments ever and a harbinger of a new era for runways, catwalks, and fashion parades.

The British designer’s “fire and blood” theme introduced the audience to a theatrical masterpiece that seamlessly blended digital and physical elements. 

McQueen’s 1998 A/W ready-to-wear show marked a transition from physical to digital fashion events through innovative digital filming technologies.

YVES SAINT LAURENT A/W 1998 by Yves Saint Laurent

The internet has ushered in a new era of fashion shows, live broadcasts, and cinematic creations, delivering immersive visual and emotional experiences.

Yves Saint Laurent’s 1998 World Cup Final fashion show bestowed Stade de France with a mesmerizing fifteen minutes of fashion magic, foreshadowing what lay ahead.

The show featured over 300 models supported by a team of 200 technicians, 130 dressers, and 70 makeup artists, captivating 80,000 spectators in the stadium. However, YSL’s 1998 fashion show made history by broadcasting live to an astounding one billion television viewers worldwide, earning it the title of ‘A Fashion Show Watched By Billions.’

DIOR S/S 1998 by John Galliano

No other haute couture Maison could provide John Galliano with a canvas as grand as Dior to unleash his passion for theatricality.

In his spring/summer 1998 show, Galliano transported the audience into an operatic wonderland, setting the stage on the majestic staircase of Paris’s historic Palais Garnier opera house.

At the pinnacle of his dramatic prowess, Galliano orchestrated an extravagant performance that included an orchestra, tango dancers, and a multitude of extras dressed as characters from the world’s most renowned operas.

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN S/S 1999 by Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen had the power to move hearts with his extraordinary London shows, including Bellmer La Poupee, Joan, and The Overlook. However, it was “No. 13” that left an indelible mark, even making McQueen himself shed a tear.

Staged, like many of his collections from that era, at Gatliff Warehouse, a disused bus depot in Victoria, this remarkable fashion event featured intricately carved prosthetics and spray-painting robots.

The robots sprang to life as Shalom Harlow emerged in a strapless Broderie Anglaise dress, cinched at the bust with a leather belt. 

As she gracefully spun on a circular platform, the robots engaged in a meticulously choreographed dance, turning the show into an artful, almost fetishistic performance, transcending the boundaries of traditional fashion.

HUSSEIN CHALAYAN A/W 2000 by Hussein Chalayan

Hussein Chalayan’s fascination with the intersection of the human body and science led to some of the most inventive runway presentations ever witnessed.

Appropriately, most of Chalayan’s fashion spectacles unfolded at Sadler’s Wells, the legendary London dance venue.

For his autumn/winter 2000 fashion show, models ingeniously transformed chairs into dresses and coffee tables into hooped skirts. The event transcended the realm of fashion and evolved into a breathtaking physical theater, with models unzipping chair slipcovers and donning them as shift dresses.

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN S/S 2001 by Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2001 collection positioned the audience before a reflective glass square in the center of the arena.

As the show began, fluorescent lights illuminated the cube’s interior, where models moved aimlessly and disconcertingly, as though afflicted by psychosis.

As the show unfolded, spectators and critics alike realized that the glass was a one-way mirror – the models couldn’t see the audience, but the audience could see them.

Attendees observed as models strolled around in their outfits, acting like ordinary individuals preparing for a performance, creating a surreal and introspective experience.

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN S/S 2004 by Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2004 fashion show drew inspiration from Sydney Pollack’s 1969 masterpiece, ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’

The narrative depicted young dancers trapped in poverty, and McQueen enlisted professional dancers to recreate the haunting atmosphere of dancing to exhaustion.

McQueen’s show reached its climax with Karen Elson in a tattered dress, carried across the stage as if lifeless, all orchestrated by contemporary dance maestro Michael Clark.

With its haunting echoes of burnout within the fashion industry, McQueen’s 2004 fashion show carries a poignant significance, given the designer’s tragic suicide six years later.

FENDI A/W 2007 by Karl Lagerfeld

Almost a decade after YSL’s groundbreaking mega fashion show, Karl Lagerfeld brought a spectacle to the fashion world in 2007 with his Fendi presentation.

This monumental event was a year in the making and came with a staggering price tag of over $10 million. Lagerfeld commandeered the iconic Great Wall of China, which boasts over 2,000 years of history, and transformed it into the longest runway ever conceived.

Visible from outer space, the awe-inspiring show featured strobe lights and enormous Fendi logos projected onto the mountains. The audience, composed of 500 VIPs, witnessed this extraordinary production, making it an absolute sensation.

PIERRE CARDIN S/S 2008 by Pierre Cardin and Sergio Altieri

Pierre Cardin’s fashion show for the Spring/Summer 2008 season, aptly named the ‘Silk Road,’ etched its place in the annals of fashion history.

In October 2007, against the backdrop of the resounding sands of Dunhuang and the dunes of the Mingsha Shan mountain desert, Cardin’s runway evoked the journeys of Marco Polo to China centuries ago.

Set along the iconic Silk Road, a trade route linking European textile merchants with Asia, Cardin’s models showcased over two hundred mesmerizing silk creations to an audience of more than 200,000 carefully chosen guests.

From fashion luminaries to journalists and critics, the industry hailed Cardin’s fashion show as a pivotal moment in the history of fashion.

LOUIS VUITTON S/S 2008 by Marc Jacobs and Richard Prince

Marc Jacobs’ Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2008 collection featured a striking ensemble of twelve models clad in sheer nurse uniforms, complete with the brand’s name emblazoned on their nurse’s caps.

Inspired by Richard Prince’s nurse paintings, one of which graced the cover of Sonic Youth’s 2004 album, “Sonic Nurse,” each nurse carried a monogrammed LV bag adorned with Prince’s Jokes series on the side. To complete the look, they wore black surgical masks featuring the iconic LV monogram print.

MAISON MARGIELA S/S 2009 by Martin Margiela

The enigmatic designer Martin Margiela celebrated two decades at the helm of his eponymous label with a runway show that showcased his greatest hits.

Among the standout pieces revisited in the 2009 Margiela show were the synthetic wigs from the autumn/winter 1995 collection, now styled as power shoulders on bodysuits, and a reimagined version of the circle leather jacket from the autumn/winter 2005 collection, which still sends die-hard fashion enthusiasts into a frenzy.

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN S/S 2010 by Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen’s ready-to-wear collection for the spring-summer of 2010, nicknamed “Plato’s Atlantis,” served as the British designer’s final show before his untimely passing.

Described as otherworldly, the show delivered a commentary on global warming and evolution. McQueen envisioned a world where melting ice caps and rising sea levels led to human evolution for survival.

The futuristic theme extended to hair and makeup, with models sporting horn-like braids or towering teased hairstyles and no eyebrows. Digitally printed dresses and robot arms equipped with cameras projected the show on screens, transporting viewers years into the future.

However, the real showstoppers were the “Armadillo” boots, towering at 30cm and intricately carved from wood. These iconic boots became synonymous with Lady Gaga, who even tweeted a link to the show as she premiered her single, causing the website to crash due to the influx of her millions of followers.

DIOR S/S 2012 by Raf Simons

The Dior Couture collection for Spring/Summer 2012 marked a significant moment as it was one of the first without John Galliano. All eyes were on Raf Simons, who took the helm, and the show produced by Bill Gaytten received mixed reviews.

Galliano had been known for extravagant runways, but Simons took a minimalist approach. Models adorned with clown makeup and hair that defied gravity, a stark contrast to Galliano’s flamboyance, left some fashion critics underwhelmed.

However, a closer examination of the collection revealed that it was not just about pretty clothes but a homage to the craftsmanship behind Dior’s haute couture. The iconic bar jacket was reimagined with contrast stitching and a half-pleated skirt, giving it a touch of unfinished elegance.

The entire show paid tribute to the brand’s heritage, taking place in the very building where the French Maison’s legacy as Dior was born.

CHANEL S/S 2012 by Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Lagerfeld was renowned for his knack for taking fashion showgoers on extraordinary journeys, whether to Chanel-branded supermarkets, protest marches, or even on-stage rocket launching pads.

In 2012, Lagerfeld orchestrated a unique under-the-sea fantasy for his Chanel show. The grand finale featured Florence Welch emerging like Venus from a clamshell, dressed in a pearly white couture gown, serenading the audience with her track, ‘What the Water Gave Me.’

JEAN PAUL GAULTIER S/S 2014 by Jean Paul Gaultier

Jean Paul Gaultier’s fashion shows are nothing short of a party, and the Spring/Summer 2014 show was no exception.

The show commenced with three judges seated at a table, while models stood behind, holding audition number cards. One by one, models stepped in front of the judges, showcasing dance moves and strutting down the runway, eliciting reactions from the panel.

Intermittently, models broke into choreographed dances, with Coco Rocha taking on the iconic “You’re The One That I Want” dance from Grease, and Karlie Kloss flaunting her voguing skills to “Let’s Have A Kiki.” 

The show concluded with all models dancing down the runway in a joyous parade of high fashion.

CHANEL A/W 2014 by Karl Lagerfeld

For Chanel’s Fall 2014 collection, Lagerfeld created an entire supermarket within the Grand Palais. Guests wandered through the aisles before taking their seats, perusing over a hundred thousand items cleverly labeled with references to the fashion house.

Models carried Chanel bags in shopping baskets, which received the full Chanel treatment with gold chains and leather. Some bags were even wrapped in plastic, reminiscent of fresh meat packaging, offering a thought-provoking commentary on consumerism.

RICK OWENS S/S 2014 by Rick Owens

Rick Owens’ fashion shows are known for their unpredictability. From blasting plumes of colored smoke to strapping models to one another, Owens’ presentations always defy expectations.

For the Spring/Summer 2014 show in Paris, Owens enlisted a step team, drawing inspiration from the military drill and cheerleading traditions of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The show aimed to introduce overlooked corners of the performing arts to a new audience and challenge outdated cultural stereotypes.

VIKTOR & ROLF A/W 2015 by Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren

Viktor & Rolf’s A/W 2015 couture catwalk show blurred the lines between art and fashion. The event began with a model draped in a blue smock that resembled an entire canvas, complete with a frame.

The true magic unfolded as the designers took the stage, removed a similar canvas-esque skirt from another model, and hung it on the wall. This process continued with increasingly complex canvases, culminating in a triptych that spilled over three frames when hung.

KANYE WEST 2016 by Kanye West and Vanessa Beecroft

Kanye West’s 2016 fashion show at Madison Square Garden was a departure from traditional seasonal showcases. In collaboration with Italian contemporary artist Vanessa Beecroft, the event explored the intersection of fashion and music.

Drawing inspiration from the 1980s and Paris Fashion Week, the show offered a contemporary reinterpretation of those times. Naomi Campbell’s runway appearance served as the pinnacle of a meticulously choreographed fashion and music extravaganza orchestrated by the American celebrity.

CHANEL A/W 2017 by Karl Lagerfeld

Chanel’s Fall 2017 ready-to-wear fashion show redefined the traditional runway modeling experience.

Karl Lagerfeld transformed the Grand Palais into a futuristic space station, complete with a Chanel-branded spaceship poised for takeoff.

This sensory extravaganza, backed by a staggering $1.46 billion spent on advertising campaigns that year, served as a bold declaration of the fashion world’s future direction.

Behind the scenes, models were dressed in understated gray attire and elegant black and white chiffon evening gowns. True to Chanel’s essence, the collection featured layers of pearl accents, symbolizing intergalactic particles while paying homage to the iconic French fashion house.

Regarded as one of the most extravagant fashion shows ever, it drew attendance from fashion luminaries such as Gabriela Hearst, Michael Kors, and Marc Jacobs.

VERSACE S/S 2018 by Donatella Versace

Versace’s Spring/Summer 2018 fashion show served as a heartfelt tribute by Donatella Versace to her late brother, Gianni.

The Italian designer masterfully weaved references to her brother’s iconic 1990s collections throughout the show, incorporating elements from logos and prints to model choices and the soundtrack.

The soundtrack featured Donatella’s voiceover speaking about Gianni, while the logo harkened back to the original Versace emblem from the 1980s. 

The runway showcased dresses adorned with Vogue Magazine and Marilyn Monroe prints from the Spring 1991 collection, the baroque Versace medusa prints from Spring 1992, and butterfly-printed cocktail dresses from the Spring 1995 collection.

The show’s pièce de résistance came during the finale when Gianni’s favorite models—Carla Bruni, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Helena Christensen—graced the runway in mesmerizing gold chainmail dresses.

MOSCHINO RESORT 2019 by Jeremy Scott

Designer Jeremy Scott, known for his flair for camp and extravagance, brought unbridled joy and frippery to the runway with Moschino’s 2019 resort collection.

Set in the heart of Los Angeles, Scott orchestrated a circus-themed pageant fashion show that embraced all the razzle-dazzle of a circus ringmaster.

Taking on the role of the ringleader himself, Scott’s show concluded with circus performers, including RuPaul’s Drag Race star and burlesque performer Violet Chachki, delivering a show-stopping aerial acrobatics routine.

DIOR S/S2019 by Maria Grazia Chiuri

Maria Grazia Chiuri’s unapologetically feminist vision has consistently celebrated influential female artists and performers from around the world. From Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Mexican rodeo horse riders, Chiuri has elevated the voices of women.

For Dior’s spring/summer 2019 show, Chiuri turned her gaze to Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal, the founder of the Batsheva Dance Company. Chiuri’s regular muses, including Ruth Bell, Adesuwa, and Selena Forrest, graced a petal-strewn set while dancers paid homage to the legendary American dancer Martha Graham.

This refreshing and feminine take on the fashion runway spectacle countered the often aggressive, alpha-male energy associated with such events.

PYER MOSS S/S 2020 by Kerby Jean-Raymond

Kerby Jean-Raymond, the co-founder of the Tabernacle Drip Choir in 2015, used his Pyer Moss runway shows as a platform to showcase the ensemble’s remarkable talents in gospel, hip-hop, and blues.

For his return to New York Fashion Week, Jean-Raymond orchestrated a grand spectacle, featuring 90 members celebrating the history of black music, from Donny Hathaway to Cardi B.

Notably, Jean-Raymond paid tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the black female gospel singer renowned during the 1930s and 1940s, who is often overlooked for her contributions to rock ‘n’ roll. Jean-Raymond’s homage celebrated the past while making history by spotlighting black music and its profound connection to style.

MOSCHINO S/S 2021 by Jeremy Scott

In a groundbreaking move, Jeremy Scott, Moschino’s creative director, presented the world’s first-ever virtual fashion show for the brand’s 2021 collection.

Scott drew inspiration from the couture collections of Théâtre de la Mode in 1945, an idea originally conceived by Robert Ricci. During World War II, French fashion houses faced challenges due to limited funds, scarce materials, and travel restrictions for clients. In response, couture houses donated materials to create miniature versions of their designs.

Scott’s show featured 40 miniature marionettes donning some of his favorite models’ looks. These mini models strutted down a runway lined with puppet replicas of fashion’s most iconic front-row guests, including Anna Wintour and Hamish Bowles.

Interestingly, Scott was not the only designer to draw inspiration from this concept, as Dior also created a short film featuring mythical creatures presented with miniature versions of dresses from their Fall 2020 Couture collection.

CHANEL A/W 2022 by Virginie Viard

Chanel’s 2022 fashion show, held at the Grand Palais Éphémère, was a tribute to Scotland’s river Tweed. The set was meticulously designed with earthy light brown seating, black walls adorned with pops of color, and a pale green runway, all reminiscent of Gabrielle Chanel’s countryside walks.

Legend has it that during her strolls in the region, she gathered flowers and greenery as references for the fabric colors she desired.

The show featured unique multi-pocket hunting jackets and coats, incorporating fluffy fleece and jackets reminiscent of the Duke of Westminster’s lodge in Lochmore and the Eaton Hall country house terrace.

Virginie Viard completed the collection with a sense of escapism, showcasing colorful thick-ribbed tights, rubber Wellies, and thigh-high waders adorned with the iconic interlocking double Cs.

COPERNI S/S 2023 by Sebastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant

Coperni’s Spring-Summer 2023 runway show, presented in the textile room of the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris in September 2023, made waves in the fashion world.

The collection delved into the spirit of the nineties, blending asymmetrical designs with elegant tailoring pieces, long slip dresses, and light asymmetrical skirts.

However, the show’s grand finale was a breathtaking performance as Bella Hadid graced the catwalk wearing nothing but a thong and covering her chest with her hand.

In the middle of the runway, a team led by Dr. Manel Torres, the inventor of spray-on fabric, awaited her arrival. This performance was reminiscent of Alexander McQueen’s Spring-Summer 1999 show, where model Shalom Harlow was sprayed with black and yellow paint on her chiffon dress.

Coperni’s audience witnessed a poetic and innovative spectacle as, in less than ten minutes, they created a dress right on Bella’s body by spraying her with a white liquid made of cotton fibers and synthetic materials. The American model then walked the runway in this iconic virginal dress, etching her place in fashion history.

In the vast realm of fashion, these 30 iconic shows transcend mere garments and accessories. They encapsulate designers’ visions, anticipate upcoming styles and trends, and celebrate the transformative power of style. These moments remind us of the boundless creativity that defines the world of fashion.

 

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