With the epic ready-to-wear season of shows coming to a close on Wednesday, those that need more catwalk moments might get their fix at a new exhibition at the London College of Fashion entitled “Simon Costin’s Impossible Catwalk Shows.”
Running through December 13th at the Fashion Space Gallery, the show explores the infinite possibilities of catwalks, as seen through the eyes of this creative set designer Simon Costin who has worked with everyone from Alexander McQueen to Gareth Pugh.
And while such designers might be known for their fabulous fashion and shows, Costin takes the possibility of the catwalk to a new level to explore other ways that one might stage shows, including puppets getting in on the act and nuclear power stations as sets.
The exhibition also includes some real life input, such as behind the scenes Alexander McQueen video footage and Gareth Pugh mood boards.
Although the exhibition aims to “give insight into the working processes of set design and to allow visitors to experience the relationship between fashion and its environment,” as per a release, a secondary idea might be to inspire designers to think outside of the box.
“When Ligaya Salazar (director, Fashion Space Gallery) approached me to create some kind of exhibition within the space, my first impulse was to do something that questioned why, after so many years, the basic structure of a fashion presentation is still a bunch of girls or boys walking up and down a catwalk,” Costin told NowFashion. “It hasn't really changed since the turn of the century, despite all the various ways that new media allows people to see collections seconds after the runway show, all across the world. People are still able to review a show even though they were not actually present in reality. I thought it might be nice to be playful and look at other ways a collection could be presented. Of course some designers have questioned the usual mode of presentation, such as Gareth Pugh.”
A number of real and imagined spaces have been chosen to stage his ideas, including a cardboard forest where models hide among the trees.
“The premise of the exhibition is to present a series of starting points, some 'what ifs', to get people thinking. Why couldn't a designer employ some graffiti artists to represent their collection, spray across the walls of a street where the models are cast from the street and are walking up and down with members of the general public and journalists,” said Costin who found his inspiration in part through visits to other exhibitions.
One of those was staged in a council flat.
“A year or two ago I went to see that incredible Art Angel show by the artist Roger Hiorns, called 'Seizure,’” he said. “He filled an empty council flat with copper sulphate solution, which created vivid blue crystals over every surface. It was quite incredible and I thought, what if he were to cover an entire disused nuclear power reactor in crystals? A reactor where an accident had taken place. Garments could then be displayed as a presentation and clients could choose how long they were exposed to the radiation for and so arrest the level of molecular decay.”
The Pugh mood board was included to give people some understanding of how fashion is put together.
“The show is mostly about process, so I wanted to show a designer’s mood board, which is where a lot of ideas start to ferment for a designer and it is often the first thing I get shown when asked to design the setting for a show,” he said. “I have worked with Gareth Pugh now since he started, and seeing as this season he referenced a lot of British Folklore, a subject very dear to my heart, it seemed appropriate to include it.”
Meanwhile, does he think that fashion designers are stuck in their approach to shows?
“They haven't really changed much since the turn of the century. They need re-thinking,” he said. “What is a fashion show selling apart from clothes? Lifestyle? Ideals of glamour and beauty? What does clothing do for people? What message does it give to people? What effect do they have on perceptions of body image? These are being currently debated but you don't see them being reflected in the shows very much. Some astute re-evaluation is needed to push things along and infuse it with some new life. It’s long overdue.”
And in short, Costin’s show is an invitation to “dream and speculate.”
Other ideas on show include a collection shown as graffiti spread across a deserted street; a collection on show in a forest where guests are given binoculars and invited to, “spot the models, perched like exotic birds among the branches.” Or through a box, one can see a deserted nuclear power station, the interior encrusted with crystals with a collection that slowly decays.
Costin’s sketches and notebooks are also on view.
Costin has worked as set designer for the Gareth Pugh brand for the last eight years and worked on Alexander McQueen’s Spring Summer 1998 show “Untitled” (formerly called The Golden Shower), for which Costin designed the set.
He has attended hundreds of shows but from these the moment that most stands out is when, “Shalom Harlow got sprayed by the robot arms in the McQueen Spring Summer 1999 show takes some beating,” he said.