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About Those Runway Shows & The Orla Kiely Closure

We are back with the portion of our look at two inter-related topics: runway shows and modifications made to Kate’s clothing, be they off the rack styles, or runway pieces.

We’ll start with that phenomenon known as a runway show.  We are in the middle of fashion month: New York and London fashion weeks are done, and Milan is now underway, with the Paris shows closing out the cycle by the end of the month. In a February story for the Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic Robin Givhan articulates what many of us have thought after seeing video or photos from a runway show.

In one of the most dynamic runway shows last fall, Thom Browne ended his Paris presentation with a model dressed in white guiding an enormous unicorn puppet.

Two dancers, padded like marshmallows, had opened the show, flitting and twirling across the wooden floor of the majestic City Hall. In between, models crept precariously atop daunting heels in exquisite attire one could never wear to the neighborhood market.

What is a casual consumer of fashion supposed to make of such a sight?

Exactly. How many times have we looked at pictures from runway shows, rolled our eyes and wondered, “the point of all that was….?” To be fair, Mr. Browne’s shows are an extreme example; Ms. Givhan’s story offers some insight:

Most designers need to project and to exaggerate so that their message reaches the cheap seats — or at least the most oversaturated viewers. Prabal Gurung says he wants to connect his runway show to the broader cultural conversation.”

Below, the Prabal Gurung show in New York earlier this month.

Ms. Givhan also describes other shows, including Alexander Wang’s, who “…treats his presentations as parties — emphasizing the street-cool, nightlife-loving attitude of his clothes.” Below, the runway at Alexander Wang last month.

Alexander McQueen was known for pushing the boundaries; this is from a March 2018 story about the designer:

His collections and showmanship always pushed the limits, cajoled, and shocked the fashion realm. From catwalk shows staged in the fringes of London to subversive designs, a gothic Victorianism always ran through the veins of his collections.

Below you see the designer at the conclusion of his March 2009 show; the models wear designs from that same collection.

This is from a March 2017 story by Renaud Petit titled, Why are Fashion shows filled with unwearable garments?

Designers are artists and they wish to express something through their designs.

They actually aim at providing the public with an overall feel, a theme, a mood, an artistic background and atmosphere of the collection that will be available on shelves.

Getting back to the Thom Browne collection, Ms. Givhan quotes longtime fashion writer and author Booth Moore:

“Why a unicorn on the runway in Paris — at this moment in history?” she asks rhetorically. “You’re not meant to take everything at face value.”

The investment required to stage a show is sizable, and design houses continually assess the value proposition: is it worth the expense? Are fashion houses better off simply doing presentations? This is the route Jenny Packham has chosen. More from British Vogue:

For spring/summer 2019, Packham is returning to London after 17 seasons in New York. “I was getting a bit tired; it was very chaotic.” She’s sticking to her preferred presentation format, foregoing the traditional runway extravaganza.

Selected photos from the collection are released, like these from the spring line, and the designer can spend time more time with media and buyers.

(We’ll take a look at the spring 2019 Jenny Packham designs in a future post.)

Another big question now facing most big fashion brands: should they allow people to immediately buy the clothes they see on the runway, instead of following the ‘traditional’ fashion calendar, with merchandise arriving months after it is first seen? After its runway show this Monday, Burberry sold styles from the new collection via Instagram, WeChat and in its Regent Street store.   

Ralph Lauren is selling some styles from the Ralph Lauren Collection 50th anniversary show online, as well as at other retailers like Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf.

Returning to Robin Givhan’s story:

For anyone lucky enough to sit in the audience of a fashion show, the spectacle can be intoxicating.

Liz Cabral, a New York-based stylist, recommends viewing a collection in a video, if possible. “Find the most immersive, 360-degree outlet or experience available,” Cabral says. “A lot of brilliant clothes fall flat when looking at them strictly from a front-only, two-dimensional view.”

She adds that “hearing the soundtrack, watching the clothes move and being entirely in that moment is the only way to be truly captivated by these awesome 15 minutes of showmanship.

Roland Mouret has a video of his spring show on his site. It was a breezy day and you can see how designs moved in the wind. (Fair warning: yours truly found the music track a little grating.)

In previous posts, we have talked about the “commercial collections,” distinguishing between the different types of merchandise shown at fashion week. This 2014 CNBC story quotes Brook Jaffe, who was the Women’s Fashion Director for Bloomingdale’s for ten years.

Appointments include follow-ups with brands, where they will show a more commercial collection. That’s true of almost every designer. They have more high-fashion pieces that they show on the runway, and then they show more commercial options—whether it’s a basic black pant or something else you need in your assortment.

That’s really what’s different about retailers looking at a fashion show versus an editor, we look at the whole line. There’s really no way to predict how much of the store’s purchase is made from runway pieces versus appointment pieces. It’s always a mix, and you can’t have one without the other. You need the basics, and you need the fashion.

It is easier to envision how some styles will look in a retail environment than others. Below, the finale of this week’s Erdem show in London.

More on the way runway and commercial collections merge comes via this 2007 story in The Independent:

It should be noted, however, that buyers also visit designers’ showrooms following the initial impact of the show and, depending on the brand in question, are likely to see the more obviously commercial pieces behind the scenes.

There are certain designers who feel very strongly that what you see on the catwalk should be just what you get in a store six months down the line. There are others who use the shows as inspiration, a high-impact, quick fix to let press and buyers into the mood of their forthcoming collection, safe in the knowledge that a great pair of black trousers, say, and, more crucially, the season’s “must-have” accessories are best seen in the showroom, after the main event.

The Emilia Wickstead runway show earlier this week.

We return to Robin Givhan’s story to tackle a topic that frequently comes up in comments on fashion week stories.

But whether the shows are straightforward or avant-garde, they leave many civilians with questions:

Why don’t the models smile? (Because they are in character, and have been given directions by the designer to appear strong, confident, tough, aloof, nonchalant, whatever.)

There have even been experiments conducted on the subject; this NY Times story has details:

…the non-smiling faces of the higher status brands are not trying to make the consumer feel bad; they are simply attempting to display the signals that are associated with higher status.

Thus, the irony is that higher status brands are creating a positive image -– high status—by using a negative signal (lack of a smile).”

Below, much happier faces at the Marisol Deluna runway show in New York this month.

There were also smiles at the Ralph Lauren show, although that may have been a reflection of the evening’s celebratory focus.

Now that we’ve covered the fashion shows, in our next post we’ll look at how Kate’s clothing often differs from what is seen on the runway. I know there were multiple comments left on this topic, but I haven’t been able to locate them, so please accept my apology in advance if this doesn’t answer a specific question, and do email/comment to let me know what I may have missed.  Also, if there are examples you would like to see covered in Monday’s post, just mention them in a comment and I’ll see if I can find the photos of that outfit.


Many of you may have already heard about our other topic today, the news that Orla Kiely has shuttered its clothing business. Below, the Duchess wearing Orla Kiely.

The Duchess’s mother, Carole, and sister Pippa, also have worn the brand. This is what one sees on the company’s website

For those fond of the housewares and accessories, those items will still be sold. More from The Telegraph’s story:

So how can Kiely’s home business be thriving (her army of super-fans is testament enough to that), while her fashion business has gone under? It’s all to do with subtleties of taste. Times, as we well know, are challenging in retail and if you haven’t got your customer niche sussed, then you’re in trouble. A spokesman for Kiely put the closure down to “very tough trading conditions” but at its crux, that statement means that the label simply wasn’t selling enough of its feminine, vintage-look designs.

Back to the Telegraph piece by Bethan Holt.

There are fans of Kiely’s clothes who have true reason to be upset by yesterday’s announcement. They love the specific silhouettes and faithfully mid-century feel of her designs.

“To the public all she’s known for is the ubiquitous stem design print, but I think she is much more than that,” says Francesca Ryan, <Stella> magazine’s assistant editor and a Kiely devotee with a 12-strong collection of the label’s skirts, coats and dresses. “I loved how she did 1940s/50s style with an edge, or clever twist. She is more original than people give her credit for.

In the late 1990s, she had a lightbulb moment: the idea to craft handbags from laminated cloth. “At the time, no one was doing anything like it,” she told the Independent in 2010. “Laminated fabric, in those days, meant tablecloths.”

The laminated bags became a signature product but it was Kiely’s stylized graphic patterns which really gave the brand its identity. The trademark ‘Stem’ graphic she created in the 1990s became the company logo and evolved to feature on everything from mugs and dresses to notebooks and even cars.

Below, some of the laminated styles carried at Zappos

And from the BBC:

Julie Palmer, a partner at restructuring company Begbies Traynor, said: “This latest victim of the high street slump has come a little from leftfield.

“Orla Kiely had the backing of high profile celebrities and clearly had appeal to the latest generation of shoppers. If this latest news shows anything, it’s that there is no magic formula to success.”

Below, Kate wears the Birdie Dress for a school visit in February 2012.

We’ll close with this montage of Kate wearing Orla Kiely to the National Portrait Gallery in February.

We’ll see you on Monday for the second part of our look at fashion shows, focusing on how designs seen on the runway (or off the rack) may be different when worn by the Duchess.


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Monday 24th of September 2018

The only Orla Keily dress Kate wore that I didn’t like was the one she wore to the NPG in January of this year.

I will not consider purchasing anything by Orla Keily because they let their workers invest 3 weeks of time for which OK knew they wouldn’t pay.

And onto the runway shows. Your article answered many questions about why these shows seem so outrageous. However, (and I am looking specifically at the Ralph Lauren photos) should my granddaughter wish to purchase anything in khaki with lots of rips and tears, I have some well worn fishing pants I will gladly tear, fray, and launder several times after which I will drive over them repeatedly, with my car. I will then place them in a shirt box lined with tissue paper, wrap the box for Christmas and put it under the tree. The only thing missing will be the RL tag. Oh and the price.

Once again, many thanks to you for all the work you’ve put into this site. It’s definitely one of my faves.

Daisy Poltimore

Sunday 23rd of September 2018

Thank you for the fashion info--and the Orla Kiely memories. I still covet the birdie dress and the grey with pleated skirt and black detailing.

Interesting comparing the over-the-top shows with something simple like the photos of the black and white ensembles on black and white backgrounds from Jenny Packham. To me, the latter did not fall flat despite being literally 2-d photos. The artistic use of negative space drew me in. Nicely done!


Sunday 23rd of September 2018

Thanks for all the runway show information! I learned a lot and will definitely have a more open mind the next time I see photos from a show. That photo from the Chanel collection in Cuba looks just lovely.

So sad to hear about Orla Kiely. I've always loved the Kiely pieces Kate has chosen. In fact, I was so enraptured with the grey dress first worn in 2012, that when I visited London for the first time that summer I happily snapped up my own Orla Kiely shirt. Luckily Uniqlo was doing a collaboration with the brand at that time that made it affordable! Now I'm glad I didn't hesitate - it's a shame I won't be able to get something a bit more unique from the label now. Fingers crossed Kate still has a few pieces left in her closet that we haven't seen yet!


Saturday 22nd of September 2018

I'm shocked by the closing of the Orla Kiely clothing branch. I have always, always loved Kate in Orla and I've voted many times for her designs in your polls. The pink and black for the Paddington movie opening (at the train station) was just perfection, and the gray dress with the black detailing at the neckline (which Kate repeated) was adorable. Ditto for the brown dress with black detailing.I can understand that not everyone would look as wonderful as Kate does in Orla's designs, but this is still a sad surprise. I do hope she comes back again. I'm going to look into her home goods because I would very much like to support her as a businesswoman and talented designer.


Saturday 22nd of September 2018

That black and white Jenny Packham is stunning!

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