Fashion Show Basics for Tech Nerds

You may have wondered about the mystical fashion show.  What is it?  What do people do there?  Why?  Seems like a lot of fuss over something pretty superficial.  For the moderately curious, I’m going to walk you through one.

I first want to warn you, most of the time you spend at a fashion show looks like this, waiting and networking:

You often get 15-30 minutes of actual runway.

Get rid of your preconceptions.  The fashion industry gets a bad rep for being superficial and wasteful.  The industry is damaging to our minds, bodies, and our environment.  In other words, it has power.  Fashion touches us literally, figuratively, and indirectly in every moment of our lives.

Garments are the interface between humans and the world.  The psychology, the relationship we have to outside objects, the way we interact, the way we feel, all has to do with garments.   A gust of wind blows a long skirt.  The cold seeps through the holes of a knitted sweater.  The environment affects our experience and clothing reacts to or changes that experience.  If you care about human-machine interaction, maybe get closer to understanding fashion.

Fashion Shows have been used to showcase the most spectacular work of a designer/brand to tell a story.

You might think, “I don’t get it.”  That’s okay.  Some of it shouldn’t be taken literally.  If you think that something on the runway is impractical, you are probably right.  And trust me, the person who designed it knows that too.

You might think, “Who would wear that?”  The most extravagant pieces in a show, the ones that make you ask the question, often aren’t for sale or are one of a kind.  They are a marketing tool.  It’s a type of designing for extremes, a theme that works across industries for all kinds of products.

A common criticism of fashion is that it’s focused on elitism and exclusivity.  Every human has aesthetic preferences.  Even if someone’s preference is not to care, it certainly will come across.  To me, it’s about finding your tribe.  By the way, every industry has an element of elitism and exclusivity.  What about the Tesla Flying Car or the Gold iPhone?  Or a $2,000 Skateboard?

What’s the hype?  Onlookers can’t wait to see the latest fashion in the way a music fan can’t wait for their favorite band to release their next album.  Or a Star War’s fan can’t wait for the next Star War’s film.  Or a Comic fan can’t wait for Comic-Con.  We can all relate to the kind of excitement and passion that comes from anticipation.

Basics Behind a Fashion Show

Fashion shows are expensive.  Smaller, business savvy brands will find advertising sponsors.  This could mean advertising anything from perfume vendors to e-cigarette companies to technology companies.  In general, the sponsors have similar customer demographics.  They pay a fee to advertise their products at the fashion show.  Why?  The brand offers the image they’re looking to be associated with and having a venue gives advertisers access to a fairly large number of people at one time in one place.

In the past, the runway shows were a pre-season event.  Buyers would get the chance to see the collection presented at the show and put in their buy before the collection went to production.  While some shows still work on this model, there has been major disruption over the past couple of years with new business models offering products immediately from runway shows.  The more traditional business model is still highly prevalent.  In which case at the show, the garments are one of a kind samples.  A stylist (or several stylists and tastemakers) work with designers to put the looks together and add any pieces they feel are missing.  Some pieces might be tailored days before to fit particular models.  In general, it’s a mad scramble to get everything buttoned up and perfect before hitting the runway.

Model casting is a big deal.  Brands will have casting calls just before fashion week when all the modeling agencies fly in talent from all over the world.  Modeling agencies put models up in apartments that they manage around the city and get them access to clubs and parties.  When fashion week is over, they hop on a plane to the next city for the next fashion week.  It’s a limited pool of models that are used over and over again.  They typically don’t make much money from walking the runway but get free products (“trade”) and exposure.  Exposure can land them print jobs, magazine covers, etc.  That’s when they make actual money.

The Emotions of Fashion

I attended RISD’s first Fashion Show at NY Fashion Week this year, which was sponsored by Tommy Hilfiger.  (RISD is my alma mater.)  For me, the show was the visualization of a lot of the personalities of people I know.  Perhaps you too will find an element of a friend’s  personality in the show below.  Or maybe you will just think it looks crazy…

Fashion can be rooted in tradition.

Photo by The Fashion Robot.

Photo by The Fashion Robot.

Fashion can be glamorous.

Photo by The Fashion Robot.

Photo by The Fashion Robot.

Fashion can look kind of familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.


Fashion can be beautiful.

Fashion can have an unexpected twist.


Fashion can be subversive.

Fashion can be bold.

Fashion can make a political statement.

A fashion show can daze and dazzle you.  It can make you thinkquestionjudge.  It can entertain you.  It can be a work of art.  It can be a technical challenge.  It can be a live experiment.  It connects human creativity and technical functionality.


Thank you RISD Class of 2017 for giving us so many of fashion’s emotions in one show.  Congratulations on a job well done!

FashionLeanne LuceRunway