Big picture, since fashion gatherings resumed earlier this year, the most remarkable phenomenon has been witnessing how some designers have been tearing down the fourth wall between the audience and the runway.
Walking into Paria Farzaneh’s event at the ICA in London was one of those what’s-going-on occasions. A casually-dressed crowd was clustered around the bar, chatting, drinking coffee, and snacking on an Irianian picnic breakfast laid on by her mom Fereshteh. It took a few minutes for it to sink in that this wasn’t the prelude to being ushered into another room to see her spring show. It was the show.
“You know, the people who wear my clothes don’t really tend to be catwalk models,” Farzaneh shrugged, smiling with a pleasantly subversive glint in her eye. “So I’m not doing a catwalk show. These are my friends, people I work with who are important to me.”
Amongst those standing about—demonstrating her point that there’s no false pretense of distance between Farzaneh’s collection and reality—were the designer’s pattern-cutter, her accountant, a pro skateboarder, a DJ friend, a boxer, and two of her cousins. Regular role-playing formalities were suddenly collapsed and dissolved in a Farzaneh-created social-barrier crasher of a situation.
It’s awkward to stare at what strangers are wearing, and an ‘audience’ isn’t supposed to talk to ‘models.’ But there we all were, nattering away almost as if it was… normal. Not quite, of course. Farzaneh’s dispensing of back-to-normal catwalk behavior was designed to celebrate, and cement, the importance of human interaction in these mid-pandemic times. She was part of her own ‘invisible’ show herself, wandering around dressed in a curvy ankle-length khaki fishtail skirt with a central utility pocket and a gray-white checked zip-front camp shirt.
It was part of a collection that she formerly aimed only at men, but is now getting equalled up. There were extreme-flare jeans and box-pleat skirts, and a dress and a halterneck top implanted with cartridge pockets. Something about Farzaneh’s crew looked ready for action: hers is a re-rooted sub-genre of military-utility clothing which comes stamped with a block-print signature hailing from the centuries-old artistic tradition of her family’s culture in Isfahan in central Iran.
This season, men and women both got similar shirts, cargo-pocketed shorts, and bucket hats printed
with those emblematic markers. Meanwhile, in a semantic twist only readable in her collection notes, she’d redrafted the name of a “bomber” as an “ Anti-Aircraft jacket.”
The nuance, affect, and atmosphere of designers’ attempts to mount real-life confrontations with the absurdity of ‘the runway’ are (ironically) impossible to transmit digitally. Demna Gvasalia got close to it as he smashed fourth walls between the real, fake, and hilariously meta during every passage of his Red Carpet Balenciaga show. Francesco Risso did it by involving the entire audience in his Marni happening. Pierpaolo Piccioli attempted to break the elite-insider set-up of a trad Valentino show by having his collection walk in front of a public audience on the street in Paris. Nowadays, to stay relevant, the work of a smart fashion thinker is as much about reinventing, satirizing, melting, and morphing the old rules of fashion shows as it is about designing novel clothes.
Paria Farzaneh may be a very long way from those exalted places, but she too—and so many of her generation—are part and parcel of this great critique of the absurd 20th century ways that persist in so much of the 21st century fashion industry.