History Buff: On the Runway
by Tess Ma | Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Let’s be honest: nowadays, only half of a fashion show is about the clothes. The other half goes to theatrics, both on and off the runway. Show-goers and their virtual followers expect to be wowed. In the recent fashion weeks, Opening Ceremony had a wall on which one ton of melted chocolate dripped down, a voguing performance closed the Hood by Air show, Iris Van Herpen featured vacuum-packed models, and Chanel’s show took place against a lavish and detailed supermarket backdrop. Then there are the star-studded front rows, from celebrities to notorious magazine editors to street style regulars. Ample attention is paid to who sat where, who did or didn’t show up, or which of our favourite style icons took selfies with each other.


You might, then, be surprised to learn about how it was way back when. Fashion and academia don’t often go hand in hand, so Caroline Evans’s The Mechanical Smile is the first of its kind – a book that looks into the history of the fashion show starting from its origins in the early 20th century.


Recording your experience was a definite no-no, as designers were paranoid about having their designs copied – definitely the opposite of the live posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and online media today. The exclusive, buyers-only shows could also last for up to three hours, and you can bet your Givenchy boots that there wasn’t any voguing for those short on attention span. Models were not known by their first names. In fact, they were preferred to be as bland as possible to put the focus on the clothes. Basically, it was the antithesis of the modern day fashion show.


Even if you aren’t a history buff, The Mechanical Smile would make for interesting Sunday reading, if only to glean some little known titbits to impress your fashionista pals with.