Ready to Wear: Should designers be forced to show under one roof?

By Susannah Frankel
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:53

And so adieu, the Carrousel du Louvre. Established as the heart of the Paris collections back in 1994 – when governing body La Chambre Syndicale decreed it a practical indoor and underground alternative to tents set up in the great museum's grounds – and with IM Pei's shimmering glass pyramid overhead, it was announced last week that it was to be used no longer.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Chanel thought so, showing its spring couture collection there that same year and being the first major name to do so. In fact, in the mid-Nineties such a corporate space – think row upon row of chairs and a capacity to rival the average football stadium – suited fashion's breakneck expansion, driving home the fact that this is a business after all.

There was, though, more than a touch of the trade fair about it; meaning that, for all the convenience of a central location with audiences asked not to travel all over the city for the next show, but simply to cross a hall, any so-called directional names avoided it like the plague.

And so the argument raged both in the French capital and closer to home. Should designers be forced to show under one roof, and in an anonymous, purpose-built space? Even the term appears anathema. Or ought they be free to pick their own venue, forcing mavens in talon heels to invest time, money and considerable effort for the privilege of seeing their forthcoming collections?

Certainly, the Carrousel lacked any mood-enhancing qualities. By comparison, 17 Rue Commines for example – the bright, white, space where Helmut Lang always chose to show – perfectly enhanced his resolutely metropolitan, real-life – by designer fashion standards – mindset. John Galliano, meanwhile, was, and on occasion still is, famous – and famously berated – for dragging a jaded fashion entourage to the outskirts of the French capital where even the convenience of a Métro station is nowhere to be seen.

But what marvellous shows these were – in the Bois de Boulogne one season, at the Orangerie in Versailles the next, horses, gypsy caravans and even the odd goose made an appearance. One can only imagine the health and safety issues arising had he opted for a more strictly controlled environment.

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