In our current times that are defined by social media and selfies, it is not uncommon for fashion designers to solely focus on the front sides of the garments they design. Is this a reflection of our current digitally-obsessed era, or does this tendency reveal a decline of true craftsmanship?
The contrast was striking. On September 25th, Anrealage’s Creative Director Kunihiko Morinaga chose to present his Spring/Summer 2020 silhouettes in groups of three. Therefore, side by side, the models walked to the front of the runway and their silhouettes emphasized the particularity of his collection entitled “Angle.” That is, sets of cuts and trompe-l’oeil effects giving the impression that the volumes of a blazer, an oxford shirt, a braided suit, a trench coat, and their characteristic necklines and pockets, as well as further details and inscriptions, have been distorted, flattened, or stretched – depending on the angle at which they were viewed. Morinaga’s craftsmanship was absolutely stunning when viewed from the front and, surprisingly so, of no interest when viewed from the back. The majority of his clothes were beautifully twisted in the front, and yet revealed to be without any noteworthy features from behind, once the models made their way back on the runway.
Unfortunately, Kunihiko Morinaga is not the only designer this season whose silhouettes demonstrate a clear discrepancy between the front and back sides. One could very well list all the “semi-original” designs of the season, but it would be difficult to provide any further evidence as images of runway models seen from the back are becoming increasingly rare. At the Musée Bourdelle in Paris, the exhibition “Back Side: Dos à la Mode,” which runs until November 17th, opens with an image gallery of 3,524 silhouettes from the previous Spring/Summer collections that were unveiled in September 2018 during the 79 official runway shows that were scheduled on the Paris Fashion Week calendar. And unsurprisingly so, only the frontal views of the looks were showcased. “These digital images, which can be shared instantly with the whole world, do not take into account the three-dimensional nature of the garment,” Alexandre Samson, the exhibit’s curator, pointed out. “My job doesn’t allow me to attend all the shows. I could make up for it by browsing through the web, like everyone else, but I personally cannot forge my own opinion without having been able to look at a collection from all its angles.”
Regrettably, the invited guests of a runway show are not necessarily able to get a more insightful opinion, especially when the models make a one-way catwalk only. This increasingly common practice of designers opting for a one-way catwalk show is also linked to the Internet’s ever-growing impact on the luxury industry and the live-streaming of runway shows. Top models must follow one another quickly in front of the camera. Then, they have to promptly leave the runway once they have arrived at the front of the podium, even if this means that most of the invited guests will never be able to visualize the silhouette details that were visible on the opposite side to where they were seated. “Designers are increasingly complying to the way in which images of their fashion shows are displayed,” Alexandre Samson added.
“During the preparations for this exhibit, some young talented designers admitted to me that they were no longer extensively working on the backside of their silhouettes because they consider it to be a waste of time and money. On this same occasion, we also studied the representation of fashion in major magazines such as Vogue Paris. In the 1920s and 1930s, 40% of the images and illustrations featured clothes viewed from the back. Today, these visuals make for less than 1% of the runway imagery.”
Recent fashion trends have also contributed to this progressive neglect of one half of the silhouette – logomania, in particular, with its bold logos and writings that were supposed to catch the Millennial’s eye. It also coincided with the rise of e-commerce. While every piece of clothing is presented from different angles on most of these e-commerce sites, it is still the front of a design that will matter the most when one swipes through the images on his or her mobile device. Deliberately or not, some designers are now focusing their attention on the front panel of their designs. In fact, these designers may be considered more artistic directors than couturiers, as they are rather used to researching and compiling images, and making collages, rather than developing a try-out on a mannequin. Other designers – these are purists in general – categorically refuse to focus only on the front side. “I never think of my silhouettes in terms of images,” explained designer Rabih Kayrouz. “Clothes are designed to dress a person. A person that moves freely both in the front and in the back. Creating clothes with only the front side in mind would be like building a house and only focusing on the façade... Maybe the result will be pretty, but it won’t last for very long.” This front-end approach was less significant towards the end of Paris Fashion Week, when many of the major fashion houses proved that they were fond of a certain sense of simplicity, and a more traditional and Couture-orientated spirit. On some runways – mainly Chloé, Hermès, Valentino, and Givenchy – designers actually attempted to sublimate the back side of their silhouettes and sent models on the runway that revealed décolletés which could be seen both from the back and the front of the garments. A subtle celebration of the backside, one that remains in our memories for a long time, even after the models left the podium.