Our intense interest on material culture has always mirrored how humankind has evolved into sophisticated beings that we all are today. We are mesmerized by our innate ability to express our unique identities through the clothing and footwear we choose to don. We find meaning in the mundane and we translate these simple interpretations into extravagant experiences—from the conception to the consumption of wearable products that are more than just commodities. As cultures exhibit their intrinsic characteristics primarily through their behavior and spirit, so do they through the way their fashion is presented and celebrated.
Today, one such celebration recognized and valued across the globe are fashion weeks. As we trot regions, we trace and celebrate the significant contributions of key people and events in this vibrant and dynamic industry—recognizing the roles which has led to exuberant creativity and innovation in fashion design.
We conceive and create, we parade and show. This is our fascination for fashion.
Katharine Whitehorn covered her first Paris fashion show more than sixty years ago having been assigned to cover the collections for the British photojournalistic magazine Picture Post in 1956. After that baptism of fire, she became the fashion editor for The Observer in the early 1960s and personified the crucial role of the press during the most important week in this fashion capital of the world. Katharine relived her Paris Fashion Week high moments with former colleagues in the paper during a trip half a century after her first. She noticed how much things have remained the way they used to be while others have dramatically changed at the same time.
What has stayed the same? The hype and hysteria over this annual fashion festival carried on and remained loud and thunderous. Paris Fashion Week has kept its significance in the calendars of fashion designers and fanatics alike. Interestingly, not all designs shown during the fashion week are meant to be wearable. In most cases, those ludricous and farcical designs paraded on the runways are actually not supposed to be taken literally but conceptually—what is pounded on the minds of the spectators are not exactly the specific creations but rather, the exciting new shapes and silhouettes embodied in the designers’ collections.
What has changed? Katharine noted two main differences: Places and Photography. She recalls the rich and lavish experience of watching these highly-anticipated shows in lustrous couture houses and while the show is happening, she remembers the silent focus of officially designated photographers packed at one end of the hall. Secrecy back then, according to Katharine, was top priority during these couture house shows as sketching, let alone photography by the audience, was obviously prohibited.
Its essence, despite these transformations, lingered on and undoubtedly, will persist.
Highly respected as the ‘original fashion publicist’, American Eleanor Lambert’s illustrious career spanning seventy-five years catapulted her into the elite list of most important achievers and contributors in the American fashion industry. She has dedicated much of her life in furthering the agenda and advocacy of fashion as she dedicatedly worked to establish New York as a global fashion capital while she simultaneously pioneered the professionalization of the fashion publicists’ valuable role. Her astounding contribution includes a list of organizations and initiatives she had painstakingly established and pursued. To name a few: theestablishment of the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1962; the launch of the major annual sartorial event International Best Dressed List in 1940; as the first ever press director of the Whitney Museum of American Art; as one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art; and having established the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This doyenne is most respected for having created the Fashion Press Week in 1943—a milestone as it was the first coordinated fashion event having showcased various designers in a series of shows during the week. Today, we know this as the must-go-to New York Fashion Week. Prior to this, American women had to settle for knock-offs and the American fashion industry was obliterated by Parisian couture. Over time, NYFW has evolved and became one of the big four global fashion week events alongside those of London, Milan, and its original inspiration, Paris.
Indebted to the ‘Empress of Seventh Avenue’, the American fashion industry is eternally grateful for the invaluable legacy of Eleanor Lambert who passionately believed that ‘taste is a sharpened eye for the beautiful, the interesting, and the unusual—coupled with the talent to apply all of these to one’s life’.
An Italian businessman, Giovanni Battista Giorgini’s pivotal role in the Italian fashion scene is deeply rooted upon his heritage. Belonging to an aristocratic family, Giovanni’s penchant for fashion combined with his business savvy propelled him into promoting Italian craftsmanship to the American market.
After the war, while Paris haute couture immediately restored its prominence, Giovanni recognized the need and realized the urgency of uplifting the Italian creativity and quality. Equipped with his entrepreneurial skill set, he put forward yet another major business proposition to the buyers from American department stores. It was in 1951 when he hosted the First Italian high fashion show at his house in Florence where a strictly selected press covered the very important event. The memorable day-long event with a series of fashion shows repeated its success over the years and following Giovanni’s lead, new Italian fashion designers, mostly coming from the nobility, captured the consciousness of buyers when they launched and unveiled their own fashion enterprises.
In the middle half of the 20th century, Australian born Percy Savage was a non-conformist in the Paris fashion stage and he eventually became a prime mover in the British scene. He was a close friend to Christian Dior and in fact, Percy was the inspiration behind Dior’s Parfum Eau Sauvage. Having worked as the Chief of Publicity for the famous brand name Lanvin, his powerful connections and close relationships with key people in the fashion world were his strong suits. Percy was also pivotal in the career of then young designer Yves Saint Laurent as he recommended his apprenticeship at the house of Dior. He was also the first to have seen the worth of celebrities’ wearing designer clothes at important events as an effective fashion PR approach—after having gifted Elizabeth Taylor with a Lanvin dress when the famous actress came to Paris in 1954 for a film premiere event.
More interestingly, Percy is regarded as the ‘Grandfather of Fashion TV’ as he was ahead of his generation for his having introduced the use of video technology in fashion.
The Asia Fashion Exchange is an important platform for promotion and positioning of Singapore as SouthEast Asia’s leading fashion hub. Jointly organized and mounted by both the public and the private sector, AFX ran for 15 years from its launch in 2001. This staunch event consisted four pillar events including:  the Asia Fashion Summit—a business conference which generated thought leadership content and insights for fashion industry professionals;  Star Creation—a design competition across the region for young and budding talents in fashion design;  the Audi Fashion Festival Singapore—a showcase of emerging and top local and international fashion designers’ collections; and  the Blueprint—the trade show which brought together international buyers and design players thereby creating business opportunities for the Asian fashion industry.
While it may have closed its curtain, the AFX paved the way for Asian fashion (not just Singapore’s) to stand tall beside the big four capitals. It has elevated the heritage, craftsmanship, and entrepreneurial spirit of Singapore bringing along all the aspirations of its Asian neighbors as belonging to one creative region.