The first tentative steps on the catwalk

THE FASHION show allows the designer to introduce his new collection to store buyers and private customers, and the success of a show - and its press coverage - can make or break that season's profits.

At the top of the pyramid are the haute couture shows presented annually in January and July. Haute couture is clothing individually made by hand, to order, for the customer.

The two designers universally acknowledged to have instigated the fashion show are Charles Worth and Paul Poiret in France in the early 1900s. They were the first to use models to display their clothes.

Before that, designers used famous women to model clothes in their salons. Each outfit was named, numbered and presented to society ladies, with an assistant describing the outfit. In the Sixties, designers realised there was money to be made in more mass-produced clothing. So pret-a- porter, or ready-to-wear, was introduced as designer-label clothes bought "off the peg".

This made designer clothing more affordable to women, and in late-Sixties London, ready-to-wear clothing was being produced most notably by Mary Quant, Ossie Clark and Zandra Rhodes. Inspired by the street style, French designer Yves Saint Laurent was the first big-name couturier to put on a pret-a-porter show in October 1971. Young designers, like Kenzo, Sonia Rykiel and Karl Lagerfeld at Chloe, staged small collections in their boutiques. The Italians soon took the hint, and designers such as Missoni, Armani and Krizia started showing pret-a-porter in the mid-Seventies.

There are two pret-a-porter seasons each year: spring/summer and autumn/winter, shown in London, Paris, Milan and New York. New York kicked off the autumn/winter season this month.

Susannah Conway