"Twice each year, the fashion industry succumbs to the allure of pure, exhilarating spectacle. Seventh Avenue traffics in fantasy, myth-making, and romance. Audiences assemble around the catwalks in anticipation of the clothes, the models ... the magic."564
It is clear today that the fashion taste and the development of new design are not only influenced by the ritualised presentation of the new fashion through couture shows in the major fashion capitals.565 Nevertheless, we will focus on the phenomenon which has not changed over so many centuries, and there is no doubt that the circulated images are synonymous with the introduction of fashion.566 Fashion shows are held twice a year and a couple of months before the new collection appears in the show windows.567 The fashion shows of the major fashion brands are held in the creative centres of fashion. Only a handful of designers present their new collections to a small group of journalists, buyers and celebrities. The ritual audience is strictly limited. What happens behind the closed doors? Fashion author Michael Gross describes the search for truth undertaken by the ritual audience:
"What happens is that every season, the collective unconscious of the designers, the media, and the stores have to agree on what they call a story. And a story, in the business, doesn't need a beginning, a middle, or an end. All it needs is a word - and that word can be Red, or that word can be Mod. And the minute they have that word, they have their story. And that gives them the fuel that they need to run on for the next six months."568
564 Givhan (1998)
566 According to Gross (1995:40), the catwalk presentation was introduced in Chicago in 1914.
567 The introduction of the new spring/summer collection is currently at the beginning of October. Presentation in the show window starts at the end of January.
568 Gross (1998).
So, a potential crisis is also implanted into the system. We can imagine that the ritual audience is often as anxious about selecting a trend for the next six months as fashion consumers usually are when asking themselves what they want to choose for the day.569 Once the oracle has declared its decision, the message is circulated in fashion journals. Since the ultimate consumer is absent at the catwalk presentation, the messages are interpreted by the media.570 It is, therefore, a live performance in a mediated culture. Ancient Greek festivals were not "live" performances in this sense, because no means of recording existed then.571 People were physically present when they took place. Today's fashion victim watches the procession from afar, and usually only months later.572 But by then the spectacle has already been interpreted. The fashion buyers have ordered and fashion editors have made their picture selections and layouts for the upcoming issues. The reportage is split into two parts. While some of the articles appear in daily newspapers in the fashion show period, the larger coverage comes only months later in the fashion magazines, parallel to the launching of the new seasonal collection. The catwalk is a kind of procession with a complex split of audience in time and space.573 The involvement of young female participants in the procession is a phenomenon we are quite familiar with from the study of ancient Greek processions:
"Processions were particularly suited to make symbolic statements about power relations, since they often drew large audiences. For example during the sacrificial procession of the Panathenaea Athenian colonies and allies had to parade a cow and panoply, the daughters of Athenian metics carried parasols for female citizens, and adult metics carried sacrificial equipment; colonies also had to contribute a phallus to the processions of the Great Dionysia. Whereas processions thus demonstrated Athenian superiority, they could also demonstrate modesty. During the Spartan Hyacinthia festival, adolescent girls rode down in a procession to Amyclae, showing themselves off to the community after, probably, an initiatory seclusion at the border area."574
569 Clarke/Miller (2002:192) conducted an ethnographic study about the anxiety of consumers to choose the right dress assuming that the fashion industry and the journalism associated with it may have little concern for this problem
570 Kahn (2000:116).
571 Auslander (1999:51).
572 An increasing number of fashion boutiques now presents recorded fashion shows in its show rooms. Is this permanent representation of the power of fashion a sign of crisis?
573 For the perception of rituals through media and about how shared enthusiasm is flattened into spectacle, see also Bell (1997:243).
574 Bremmer (1999:40)
Two main aspects emerge from this description of ancient Greek rituals, which we will further discuss in the context of the catwalk spectacle. The first aspect is that the procession creates power. The second one is the involvement of young female participants. The power of the catwalk to make symbolic statements was also exploited when a French fashion designer did the first catwalk fashion presentation in Moscow in 1959.575 The power of the catwalk is well-known in fashion theory:
"The catwalk show is likely to remain an integral part of the fashion industry's marketing armour. It provides a tried and tested method of presenting products and establishing trends. But as a means of social or political expression, the catwalk show is only ever going to be marginal, destined by design to be ephemeral. The fashion show is an important event, during which nothing is said - at least nothing of substance."576
The repetitive performance of the fashion show creates a sense of tradition where the origin is blurred. According to Barbara Myerhoff, the invisibility of the ritual's origin is important for the power of the ritual. People do not want to see the ritual as a product of their imagination, but as a reflection of their wishes and dreams.577 When people gather in order to perform a shared action, it creates fear in the audience. The communitas of the fashion models marching up and down the catwalk in step with each other - often dressed in similar outfits - creates a sublime atmosphere. Setting a sign, marking, showing and establishing a sense of community, as well as fixing man's position in the cosmos are archaic acts.578 The authors of these dramatisations are the fashion designers:
"Each designer concocts a carefully choreographed runway 'look' designed to augment, destroy, or revitalize the existing house identity."579
The fashion houses invest a lot of money in fashion shows. It is a kind of potlatch, a competitive wastefulness amongst rivals in the couture scene. When the fashion show is over, the designers
575 Charles-Roux (1959:46-51).
576 Kahn (2000:119).
577 Bell (1997:224).
578 Rychlik (2003:174)
579 Doonan (1998:90).
Death of come on stage, go down the catwalk and are applauded by both the fashion models and the audience. This is a ritual of great strength, and it is reminiscent of a ritual that ancient kings were obliged to perform. They had to regularly prove in a competitive race that their powers had not waned, that they still held sway. This ritual was then transformed, and the competition was replaced by a procession of the king.580 Fashion designers, too, must prove their creative power twice a year. If they fail, they loose their throne. We have also pointed out the involvement of young females in the runway ritual. The fetish of youth and beauty and certain properties, once associated with young females, are still present today:
"One of the very basic movements of a catwalk show is that of young, classically beautiful and slim women walking up and down a runway. This tradition accedes to the idea of physical perfection - it is so elementary to the idea of the catwalk that it can easily be trivialised or undermined."581
All the photos taken during the performances are strikingly similar. They usually show just one or two models. We see the black background of the auditorium and the illuminated runway on which the models, wearing the same garments, walk in a ritualised way. Surprisingly enough, this pattern is not used by haute couture alone. Cheap fashion brands and sportswear are also presented in the same way. Whether the ritual unfolds its power or not does not depend on the style of fashion. And this might be an answer to the above critique that nothing important is articulated during the fashion show, simply because it is not possible tohe various rituals with individual expressions only confirm the power of the ritual, which belongs to the fashion industry. They are only different ways of worshipping the myth of the never-ending creativity of fashion. According to Catherine Bell, the catwalk show fulfils all categories of "ritual-like activities": the traditional link to ancient processions (traditionalism), the use of a restricted code of communication through the way mannequins act (formalism), the disciplined set of activities which are repeated (invariance), the way human action and interaction is channelled (rule-governance), the use of "holy" signs such as the logo or the name of the fashion house or
580 Frazer (1993:157)
581 Kahn (2000:119).
designer (sacral symbolism) and the multi-sensory involvement of the audience by the use of light, actors, and music (performance).582 We will attempt yet another approach for those who maintain that the street has the power of influencing fashion. The production of meaningful action can be based on detaching an action from its original context. People walk on the street and wear their clothes. We can now detach this action from its original context and objectify it as an autonomous entity by enacting it on the catwalk with a restricted audience. The action of walking up and down the street acquires autonomous status and can then be addressed to an indefinite range of potential readers.583 A normal action like that of walking down the street becomes meaningful as an action that introduces new trends on the catwalk. Identities are not just assigned but created by performative processes, and this is true for the fashion brands as well.584 As Clifford Geertz claims, the ritual melts together the imagined world and the real world into a new system of symbolic forms.585 The everyday experience of the street and the "ideal world" of the fashion industry, where everybody is young and beautiful, are enacted in the ritual of the catwalk show. Realising this requires ritual power, a power that is not necessarily based on rational arguments:
"Rituals are not only in the service of power; they are themselves powerful because, as actions, they live from their power of assertion. Whoever wishes to ritualise actions must also be prepared to implement them. He or she must ensure that the actions are implemented and recognised despite resistance or lack of understanding. Ritual knowledge is knowledge that has asserted itself."586
According to Humphrey and Laidlaw, rituals are a quality of action and not a class of events.587 And ritual action has to be separated from action:
"To recapitulate: action which is not ritualised has intentional meaning (warning, delivering, murder), and this is understand
582 Bell (1997:138-159). Each scholar creates his own set of categories to define ritual action. In order to prove our theory of the relation to older rites, we have chosen these rather strict ones.
584 Kolesch/Lehmann (2002:347)
585 Geertz (1973:112).
586 Belliger/Krieger (1998:28-29)*.
587 Humphrey/Laidlaw (1994:3).
Death of able by means of the ascription of intentional states to its agents. Ritualised action is not identified in this way, because we cannot link what the actor does with what his or her intentions might be. Instead of being guided and structured by the intentions of the actors, ritualised action is constituted and structured by prescription, not just in the sense that people follow rules, but in the much deeper sense that a reclassification takes place so that only following the rules counts as action."588
The stagings of the catwalk shows also follow fashion trends. The catwalk can be a raised architectural element extending into the audience, but it can also be an empty passage on the floor, framed just by the seats of the audience. Thus, it is only the ritualised action of the mannequins that creates ritual space. Common to both is a street-like arrangement with space for the audience to its left and its right. The catwalk is usually on the long sides and at the dead end surrounded by the audience, while on the other side we have something that functions like a kind of door through which the models appear and disappear. This door also separates the backstage area from the area for the public. Catwalk shows can be performed in various places, and the installation is usually temporary. But today, several fashion brands also build their own permanent ritual architecture for the sole purpose of catwalk shows. This can perhaps be compared with the time in which temples were built for the performance of religious services. Humphrey and Vitebsky characterise sacred architecture as follows:
"A sacred building comes into a relationship with human worshippers through ritual action. Rites of purification make the building into a suitable meeting point between humanity and divinity. Within this space, the meeting is generally enacted through the central religious act of sacrifice (whether literal or symbolic), which is also developed and elaborated in other kinds of action such as praying and dancing. These human deeds are matched by actions of the gods, who grant favours and bless worshippers within the arena of the building. This two-way communication intensifies the sacred power of a site, sometimes turning it into a magnet for pilgrims who come, often at enormous personal cost, to seek a transformation in
I their lives at this proven gateway to the gods." 589
The performance of rituals and ceremonies is the central function of sacred architecture. The catwalk can also be counted as a type of sacred architectural form since it is only built to perform the ritualised introduction of the new fashion collection. By this token, the catwalk is the temple of fashion. But festivals also exist that are celebrated outside the temples in worship of the arrival of the new fashion. We found some examples of processions organised by big department stores, which are also founded in the history of promoting new fashion items:590
<• This procession comprises several trucks with a decorated loading platform. The truck, decorated by a big department store in London, was all white. Even the loading platform was white and bore the following inscription: "THE CYCLE OF FASHION" Several small bicycle wheels were used as decoration elements. In the centre of the platform was a huge white wheel around which young females in white dresses stood waving to the spectators lining the street.
The interesting point in this event is that its staging is totally unrelated to the actual fashion collection. The ritual actors wear dresses that are not "in fashion" but represent the archetype of the white ritual dress. They are young and could as well be followers of an ancient Greek ritual. The dramatisation is the articulation of pure myth. The fashion god is present in the form of a big and several smaller wheels. The prayer is written on the ritual carriage as well: A cycle of fashion. Here, the audience can follow an archaic spring rite, organised by a fashion retailer. We even found one such example in Germany:
The ritual vehicle passes by the department store. Its flat platform is completely decorated with flowers. On the platform is a carriage with two horses. They, too, are fully covered with flowers. In the carriage are a woman and two children wearing the same dress. The dress has a pattern that is currently en vogue. On the side of the car we can read: "modisch dem Frühling entgegen.
589 Humphrey/Vitebsky (1997:60).
590 Parrot (1982:35) reports that in sixteenth century Venice, a life-size mannequin was used to present to the Venetian public the new fashions of Parisian Couture on a gondola. This presentation took place during the festival of the "marriage of the doge with the sea".
Flowers were always an important element in the dramatisation of the Anthesteria. As a last example, we will quote Nietzsche's description of the worship of the god of "beauty":
"The virgins who ceremonially approach the temple of Apollo bearing laurel branches and singing a procession song remain who they are and retain their names as citizens: the dithyrambic chorus is a chorus of people who have been transformed, who have completely forgotten their past as citizens, their social position: They have become the timeless servants of their god, living outside all spheres of society."591
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