When the right designer puts the Zeitgeist in a choke hold with an inspired collection, 12 minutes of loud music, bright lights, and runway catwalking can send the culture careening in wild new directions. Here, we break down 16 fashion shows that changed the way we dress.
Prada | Fall-Winter 2012
Miuccia Prada wasn’t the first designer to send celebrities striding down the catwalk as models, but she did it biggest and best. In fact, the wattage she pulled still hasn’t been outshined. In a show that’s gone down as one of fashion’s greatest flexes, she turned her runway into a red carpet for seven Hollywood leading men—among them Gary Oldman, Adrien Brody, and Willem Dafoe—and expanded the size of menswear’s circus tent forever.
Dior Homme | Spring-Summer 2002
Before he stormed the gates at Yves Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane made his mark with an influential stint as the creative head of Dior Homme from 2000 to 2007. Among his contributions to the menswear canon: skinny jeans, skinny ties, and skinny models, many cast from the street by Slimane himself. Perhaps his most indelible legacy from those years is the skinny black suit, with high armholes, narrow sleeves, and low-rise trousers, that became the uniform for rockers (both real and imagined) throughout the aughts.
“There came this new line from Hedi Slimane at Dior that you needed to be slim to wear. It said: ‘You want this? Go back to your bones.’ And so I lost it all. I lost 88 pounds and never got them back.”—Karl Lagerfeld, 2010
Dolce & Gabbana | Fall 1996
According to the label’s co-founder Domenico Dolce, “absolute elegance” was the inspiration for his then ten-year-old brand’s famous Rat Pack collection, which channeled the masculine swagger of the Sinatra–in–Palm Springs era. That meant retro polo shirts, velvety smoking jackets, coats with massive fur lapels, and a raft of swanky accessories: Models wore felt fedoras, chomped on long cigarette holders, draped their necks with silk ascots, and even cradled live exotic cats in their arms. (Hey, a show doesn’t become legendary without a few truly wild, unforgettable moments.) To quote GQ creative director Jim Moore, who was seated front row at the show in Milan, “Every piece was perfect.”
Rick Owens | Fall-Winter 2006
Few designers can match Owens’s uncanny knack for jaw-dropping runway high jinks. (His recent collections included penis-exposing tunics and models backpack-strapped to other models in the 69 position.) Ten years ago, at Pitti Uomo, he installed a wax statue that depicted him urinating on the floor. But even that wasn’t enough to eclipse the sports-inspired clothes, which were so far ahead of their time they are still influencing collections a decade later. The truly groundbreaking moment came with the introduction of his iconic high-top Geobasket sneakers, the first-ever high-fashion basketball shoes (there have been about, oh, a thousand trillion variations since), that came to be known, simply, as “the Rick Dunks.”
“I wanted monster trucks on my feet.”—Rick Owens
Stephen Sprouse | Fall 1984
Back when the East Village concert venue Webster Hall was known as the Ritz, punk-design legend Stephen Sprouse packed the house for a show of graffiti-inspired prints and Pop colors that brought street culture to high fashion. Among the 1,500 in attendance were the most glamorous downtown personalities of the time, including Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry. It was “near pandemonium,” wrote Roger Padilha, co-author of The Stephen Sprouse Book. Transgender model Teri Toye led the show, which ended with a video of a NASA shuttle launching into space—the perfect metaphor for Sprouse’s trajectory. In 2001, fellow punk-influenced designer Marc Jacobs would collaborate with Sprouse on graffiti-print bags for Louis Vuitton (and siphon off untold sums of cash from fanboy Kanye West as a result).
Helmut Lang | Autumn-Winter 1998
For arguably the single most influential runway event ever, the minimalist (and now highly collectible) designer, a man famous for pioneering distressed denim and making military outerwear chic, embraced technology in fashion like no one had before him. The show was initially held in a raw space with concrete floors, where he presented his men’s and women’s collections not for a seated audience but to be recorded and broadcast over the fledgling Internet and later distributed to the press via CD-ROM.
Jean Paul Gaultier | Spring-Summer 1990
Whether they know it or not, the labels leading the next wave of sporty, gender-indifferent fashion—Givenchy, Hood by Air, Public School, Off-White—owe a major debt to Gaultier. His spring-summer 1990 collection had a rather esoteric inspiration (The Invisible Man, the 1933 film of the H. G. Wells novel), but the clothes, which combined boxing attire with tailoring—think ring-ready boots, hoodies under suits, blazers with shorts and leggings—set the precedent for integrating luxury fashion and athletic gear.
Giorgio Armani | Fall 1990
As early as the mid-1970s, Giorgio Armani was gutting jackets of the lining and padding that give them their structure, redefining Italian tailoring along the way. “Around me, I only saw men who wore rigid jackets that concealed the body, imprisoning it, in a sense,” Armani tells us today. “I sought the exact opposite: comfortable clothes that gave ease to movement, comfort, and nonchalance. Gradually, I also changed the layout of the buttons and changed its proportions: It was a process that radically transformed this garment. Since then, my jackets have been comfortable, lightweight, and even sensual in their construction.” His fall 1990 collection was the ultimate expression of his mission, one that still resonates today. “The excessive volume of the ’90s now seems outdated,” Armani says, “but the insistence on softness is still seen.”
“I sought comfortable clothes that gave ease to movement, comfort, and nonchalance.”—Giorgio Armani
Junya Watanabe | Spring-Summer 2006
Fashion is still collaboration-crazy (see recent collections from Gosha Rubchinskiy and Vetements), and nobody did it earlier, better, or more obsessively than Junya Watanabe. The Tokyo-based visionary combined tailoring with rugged workwear, bringing new life and a fashion edge to tough fabrics like canvas and denim by partnering with eight iconic brands—including Levi’s, Pointer, Dickies, Lacoste, and Converse—in one collection.
Thom Browne | Fall-Winter 2009
Thom Browne doesn’t just make beautifully constructed, instantly recognizable suits— he creates an entire world around them in the form of fashion shows that are more like performance art or theater. His fall-winter 2009 show was a proper clinic on the Thom Browne aesthetic: Models dressed as office workers wore the designer’s signature gray cardigan and trousers in a 1960s workplace (complete with individual desks and coat racks on which they hung their identical trench coats). They typed up assignments on typewriters and even brought apples to the desk of their model boss.
Dries Van Noten | Spring-Summer 1996
Thumbing his nose at self-serious fashion shows where models are instructed not to make eye contact or smile, Van Noten hung a disco ball over the statue of David in Florence’s Piazzale Michelangelo and turned his show into a raucous free-for-all party where the models bounded in gangs through the crowd. It felt like exactly what fashion should be—something you want to participate in, not watch from the sidelines.
Raf Simons | Spring-Summer 1998 | Spring-Summer 1999 | Fall-Winter 2001
Of his many contributions to fashion, Raf’s first few collections, particularly spring-summer ’98 (Black Palms), spring-summer ’99 (Kinetic Youth), and fall-winter ’01 (Riot Riot Riot), remain touchstones for their mastery of proportion, graphic imagery, and bristling energy—the kind Rihanna, Travis Scott, and Kanye West channel when they wear archival pieces from those collections today. Simons also stays far ahead of the curve with his locations: Kinetic Youth was held in front of an enormous mirror ball in La Villette’s Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie.
“For Kinetic Youth, I wanted a space (or, maybe better, a non-space)—an environment that felt like a record cover from Pink Floyd. A space where technique and surrealism come together.”—Raf Simons
Gucci by Tom Ford | Autumn-Winter 1995 & 2004
When Tom Ford took the reins at Gucci, his impact was immediate. He slimmed the suits, cranked up the sex appeal (jewel-toned velvet, anyone?), and introduced chic styling touches (like loafers sans socks) that still resonate in menswear. His sense of showmanship carried right through his last Gucci show, which featured pole dancers (both male and female) flanking the runway. Instead of coming out for a quick bow, Ford capped off his game-changing Gucci tenure by swaggering down the runway as only he could: shirt unbuttoned to mid-sternum, highball glass in hand.