The Most Extravagant Runway Shows Of All Time

Our epic roundup of the most over-the-top runways of all time, right this way.

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    In need of a serious mental getaway? Try this; we’ve rounded up 16 extravagant runways, and we mean extravagant. From a catwalk set on a 2200-year-old landmark, to an army of models marching down desert sands; we suggest you take a sip of coffee and enjoy this 2-minute-vacation.

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    PHOTO: Andrew Walker/Getty Images for Fendi

    Fendi F/W 2007

     Location: The Great Wall of China in Beijing, China

    Leave it to Karl Lagerfeld to construct his runway on a wonder of the world. Despite it taking a year to get permission to set up the Italian fashion label’s catwalk on this 2200-year-old landmark, he managed to pull off the world’s longest running runway show, flawlessly, and for $10 million.

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    PHOTO: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

    Pierre Cardin S/S 2008

    Location: Whistling Sand Mountain Near Dunhuang, China

    Like a scene from an exotic movie, the French fashion house unveiled a collection of 200 dresses along the picturesque Silk Road in northwest China in honor of Mr. Cardin bringing his collections to China 30-years prior. Talk about a long-term commitment!

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    PHOTO: Dominique Charriau/WireImage

    John Galliano F/W 2008

    Location: Grande Halle de la Vilette in Paris, France

    This decadent, eastern-influenced runway was some parts Buddha, other parts showgirl, and all parts indulgent. With guests seated atop plush chaises longues, the models slinked down the runway in Galliano’s wild signature styles.

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    PHOTO: Tony Barson/WireImage

    Chanel F/W 2008

    Location: Grand Palais in Paris, France

    It’s virtually impossible to imagine a Chanel runway that’s anything less-than-extravagant, but this specific catwalk is too fantastical not to share. As you probably guessed, tweed-baring models sauntered up this larger-than-life, pearl-embellished, oversized purse-and-bow-adorned carousel that began to spin once all were safely (and stylishly) onboard.

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    PHOTO: Dominique Charriau/WireImage

    Sonia Rykiel For H&M 2009

     Location: Grand Palais in Paris, France

    All stops were pulled out for this magical collection launch. We’re talking a gigantic replica of the Eiffel Tower and lingerie-clad models riding bicycles, swinging on chandeliers, and seducing on silky sheets. Oh, and who could forget the French geese parade? We certainly couldn’t.

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    PHOTO: Randy Brooke/WireImage

    Alexander McQueen F/W 2006

    Location: Salle Marcel Cerdan Palais Omnisport de Paris Bercy in Paris, France

    For the final look of his Widows of Culloden collection, the renowned showman surprised his audience with a life-sized hologram that appeared in the center of a glass pyramid on the runway. A result of collaboration with video maker Baillie Walsh and state-of-the-art technology, the spinning image came into focus to reveal Kate Moss in a ruffled gown. The hologram was poignant not just for its ethereal appearance, but because it demonstrated McQueen’s support for his friend Moss who was lying low due to a cocaine scandal. 

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    PHOTO: Tony Barson/WireImage

    Valentino Haute Couture S/S 2006

    Location: Paris, France 

    The backdrop: a multicolored sky in a vast desert of dunes. While Valentino didn’t transport guests to an actual desert, his replication emanated an ethereal quality enhanced by changing colors. Fun fact of the day: this runway collection was featured in the 2008 documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor.

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    PHOTO: Pool BASSIGNAC/BENAINOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

    Christian Dior Couture F/W 2005

     Location: Bois de Bologne in Paris, France

    Galliano chose a haunted garden—including Edwardian gates and a horse-drawn carriage for the arrival of the opening look—as the setting for the F/W 05 couture show. Celebrating the storied history of the Dior house, the ghost-like characters wound their way through the mist, carving a path between broken statues and fallen chandeliers. Say what you will of the man, but his showmanship was certainly something to behold.

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    PHOTO: FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images

    Chanel Pre-Fall 2012

     Location: The Grand Palais in Paris, France

    Only Lagerfeld could conjure such extravagance for a pre-collection presentation. Drawing inspiration from Indian palatial excess, he transformed the Grand Palais in Paris into a luxurious maharajan dining room, complete with crystal candelabras, tiers of sweets and fruits, and even a toy train carrying scotch. In keeping with the décor, the models paraded in silk harem pants, saris draped over trousers, and strands upon strands of jewels.

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    PHOTO: Chris Moore/Catwalking/Getty Images

    Marc Jacobs F/W 2012

    Location: The Lexington Avenue Armory in New York, NY

    Jacobs’ good friend, the artist Rachel Feinstein, created the paper-cut out backdrop for his pilgrim collection. While at first glance the all-white constructions and runway look like an icescape, a closer look reveals a decomposing castle structure, including a fountain that was positioned mid-way along the winding runway. Feinstein designed and realized the structure in just a week and a half, and relied on a team of 50 carpenters to install everything in the Armory space in under two days. Not to be outdone by their backdrop, the eclectic clothes were artfully layered and topped with floppy, Dr. Seuss mink hats in a rainbow assortment of colors.

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    PHOTO: FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images

    Louis Vuitton F/W 2012

    Location: Cour Carrée in Paris, France

    In a collection that harkened back to the romantic heyday of train travel, Marc Jacobs used a custom-made steam train (reportedly costing $8 million) to deliver his models and their porters to the runway. The show was repeated in Shanghai to celebrate the opening of the first Vuitton house in China, and was also carried over as the theme of the corresponding ad campaign (albeit on a much smaller scale). 

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    PHOTO: Catwalking/Getty Images

    Marc Jacobs F/W 2013

    Location: Lexington Avenue Armory in New York City

    Nothing says “extravagant” quite like a colossal, suspended sun on your catwalk. Jacobs sent his models out onto the runway not once, but twice, experimenting with different lighting each time so as to distort the color and composition of the clothing.

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    PHOTO: Catwalking/Getty Images

    Christian Dior S/S 2014

    Location: Musee Rodin in Paris, France

    As the backdrop for his S/S 14 show for Dior, Raf Simons commissioned a tropical hanging garden to festoon the venue. Combinations of thousands of square meters of real and fake neon vines, wisteria and roses were attached to the ceiling and walls of the Musee Rodin venue. He described the scenery as the “experimental habitat of the new flower woman” and unsurprisingly, the strands of flowers were echoed in the floral prints on the clothing.

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    PHOTO: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

    Givenchy S/S 2014

    Location: Halle Freyssinet in Paris, France

    Givenchy’s Creative Director, Riccardo Tisci, cited his inspiration for the S/S 14 collection as a confluence of Japanese and African sentiments: “a car crash of the two cultures – the fragility of Japan and the draping of Africa.” In case this was too cerebral for reporters, he had a literal six-car pileup of a vintage Jaguars, Bentleys, Mercedes, Saabs and BMWs smoking in the center of the circular runway.

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    PHOTO: Catwalking/Getty Images

    Kenzo S/S 2014

    Location: Cite du Cinema in Paris, France

    Creative Directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim are native Californians and chose this fashion show to highlight overfishing and ocean preservation. In keeping with this theme, the models walked alongside hundreds of mini fountains, each of which erupted to the beat of the music and were backlit by colored bulbs. In combination with the rain-shower backdrop, the resulting effect was simple but powerful.

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    PHOTO: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

    Louis Vuitton S/S 2013

     Location: Palais-Royal in Paris, France

    Picture this: four escalators, an enormous white and yellow check floor, and pairs of models (enjoyably reminiscent of Diane Arbus twins) walking down the runway. Oh, Marc Jacobs. You never cease to create a surreal world of fantasy and delight, even if it’s for a few mere minutes.

EXPLORE: Fashion News, Givenchy, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Dior, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, Pierre Cardin, John Galliano, Sonia Rykiel & H&M, Valentino, Christian Dior Couture, Christian Dior, Kenzo
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