The Rise of the Democratic Runway Show

Jessica Schiffer
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Getty Images

The fashion world has long been considered an exclusive sphere, but the rise of the internet and social media have been rapidly chipping away at that reputation by providing brands with far-reaching platforms with which to share their message. And with this democratization has been a growing public interest in fashion—one that’s also upheld by Hollywood celebrities, who are now essentially required to dress very well as a counterpart to their other talents. But despite these changes, the fashion industry itself has remained largely removed from the greater public, generally allowing access to events and shows only from a distance—via one of many social media platforms.

So when Givenchy opened its spring 2016 runway show to the public, it was a striking move, one that had us all wondering if it would reset the tone for how fashion week is done. With 1200 tickets given to “real people” (a portion of whom were fashion students and faculty), the brand worked with the city of New York to offer free tickets online to its fans on a first-come-first-serve basis. Explaining their decision, Givenchy’s chief executive officer Philippe Fortunato told WWD at the time that it came down to designer Riccardo Tisci’s fascination with American culture. “Riccardo talks a lot about America as the origin of trends, very much looking at the streets,” he explained, emphasizing the influence of both youth and minority groups on such trends. Given that, it seemed only fair to open a show to “the street” itself—or, at least, a handful of the people who comprise it.

The show turned out to be a great success, maintaining a slightly exclusive bent by placing industry folk in a raised section above the public audience. And while it didn’t disrupt the fashion system for good, it certainly inspired a handful of other brands to follow in its lead. That following February, designer Rebecca Minkoff—known for doing things differently, especially as it relates to technology—chose to invite some of her “top customers” to sit alongside the usual industry crowd. Kanye West also famously opened his Yeezy Season 3 show at Madison Square Garden to the public, although in this case customers had to purchase their tickets rather than simply luck out with a lottery. More recently, Virgil Abloh invited a portion of his Instagram followers to Off-White’s spring 2017 menswear show, where they were given a standing spot inspired by Abloh’s steady push towards fashion “inclusivity.”

All of which begs the question of whether or not all shows should be open to the public, at least partially. Though it’s a somewhat subjective matter, inclusivity is the customer-friendly option, a way of giving thanks, in effect, to the very people who help keep brands afloat. Offering free tickets, especially, allows for a more diverse audience—one that is more likely to echo the street that Tisci and other designers often look to for inspiration. It’s a move that feels American in the best sense of the word, and at a time when the larger world is rife with conflict, breaking down some of fashion’s walls is very welcome. This season we can add Tommy Hilfiger to the list of forward-thinking brands, the designer is opening its show to the public for this year’s New York fashion week. 

Shop some of the newest Givenchy arrivals , and let us know in the comments whether or not you think shows should be open to the public!

This post has been updated by Michelle Scanga.

Opening Image: Getty Images

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