After two years without a full, in-person slate of shows in New York, London, Milan, and Paris, this fall’s flurry of fashion week presentations made the statement that the industry is back in a big way.
Over the past four weeks, designers, models, editors, and celebrities have flocked from city to city for the biannual marathon of runway shows that is fashion month—leaving behind the memories of the spring 2020 shows in Milan, which marked industry leaders’ first devastating confrontation with COVID-19. That spring, an outbreak in Italy caused many designers to cancel their plans and return home, marking a shift to what would become multiple seasons’ worth of cancelations and alternative planning. Some fashion houses turned to virtual events, while others saw the pandemic as an opportunity to challenge the traditional timeline, choosing to show off-season. Some held off from showcasing new designs, while others cautiously hosted small shows with mask mandates and other COVID protocols.
This season marked the first to bring fashion month back to its robust traditional form. Fashion shows have long been a space for fantasy and spectacle, and designers seemed to be making up for lost time with statement shows that challenged expectations and made headlines, for better or worse. It wasn’t just the clothes that were the draw—from celebrity cameos to performance art stunts, there was no shortage of buzz-worthy moments staged on the runway. From Bella Hadid’s sprayed-on dress to Kanye West’s controversial surprise fashion show, these were the best, worst, and most outrageous moments from the Spring/Summer ’23 shows.
Best: Lil Nas X makes his runway debut at Coach
Music’s “Industry Baby” Lil Nas X made his runway debut in Coach’s presentation during New York fashion week. Walking to his own song, the apropos “Star Walkin’,” the rapper wore a brown leather vest with matching shorts and carried a gold bag, then went on to headline the brand’s after-party.
Most outrageous: Doja Cat’s bold beauty looks
Pop provocateur Doja Cat has never shied away from turning heads, and she made statement after statement with her makeup during fashion month. From New York, where she wore black lipliner and a black-and-white wig as the headlining performer for Marc Jacobs’ buzzy Heaven party, to Paris, where she wore gold chest and face paint a la Goldfinger for the Awake Mode show, all eyes were on Doja and her show-stopping beauty looks.
Best: Linda Evangelista returns to the runway
Supermodel Linda Evangelista made her triumphant return to the runway after a 15-year absence to close out Fendi’s New York show, which celebrated the 25th anniversary of the brand’s famed baguette bag. The return of Evangelista—who recently made headlines after publicly revealing that a cosmetic procedure had left her, in her own words, “brutally disfigured”—was met with a standing ovation by a front row that included Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Kardashian, and Kate Moss.
Worst: Kim Kardashian “curating” Dolce & Gabbana’s show
Kim Kardashian’s collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana for their runway show during Milan fashion week was puzzling for more than one reason. Many fashion enthusiasts were quick to point out that the “Ciao, Kim” show wasn’t a truly original collection, but instead Kardashian’s curation of archival pieces from past collections ranging from 1987-2007, essentially a reintroduction of old designs fit for the current Y2K revival. Others were more critical of Kardashian’s co-sign of a brand whose founders have had a long history of problematic behavior—over the years, they’ve been accused multiple times of racism, casual sexism, and homophobia.
Best: Cher makes a cameo at Balmain
Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing tapped 76-year-old superstar Cher to close out his music festival-themed show. The singer made a surprise appearance to her own 1998 hit “Strong Enough,” sporting a skin-tight black and teal bodysuit reminiscent of her outfit from the song’s music video. To the delight of the audience, she strutted down the runway before embracing Rousteing and joining him for his final bow.
Most outrageous: Balenciaga’s mud show
At Balenciaga, Demna revisited the dystopian themes for which his brand has become known with a dramatic show that took place in a dreary mudscape. In the show notes, the designer emphasized that he was resistant to the idea of being constrained to “a box” when it came to identities or ideas, a conflict he sought to illustrate by staging his show of designer clothing in a sea of mud. While the unorthodox setting and stunts like models carrying life-like baby mannequins and sporting punky facial hardware were all noteworthy, the most buzzy moment may have been when Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, made his runway debut as the show’s opener.
Best: Bella Hadid’s spray-on dress for the Coperni show
In one of the most stunning finales of the season, model Bella Hadid stood still as a white dress was sprayed onto her body for the final look of the Coperni show in Paris. The spectacle—which brought to mind the Spring 1999 Alexander McQueen show in which supermodel Shalom Harlow’s white dress was spray-painted by robots—began with a nearly nude Hadid being hand-sprayed with Fabrican, a patented spray-on fabric. The Fabrican at first looked threadbare and cobwebby, but after a few layers it began to take solid form. One of the designers then styled into an off-the-shoulder look with a slit. Hadid’s Fabrican dress is washable and can be worn again—that is, if the wearer has the model’s exact measurements—or it could be put back in its original solution bottle to regenerate.
Worst: Kanye West’s harmful message at his Yeezy S9 Show
West’s return to fashion week wasn’t limited to his runway walk at Balenciaga; the polarizing musician also staged a surprise show for his Yeezy S9 collection, where Michele Lamy and Naomi Campbell walked the runway and students from his Donda Academy performed. The show, which was designed in collaboration with Hood By Air designer Shayne Oliver, was overshadowed by furor over West wearing a shirt that read “White Lives Matter,” for which he offered no explanation. Later, the backlash grew when West attacked Vogue editor and stylist Gabriella Karefa-Johnson online, after she shared a critique of his decision to make the shirts.
Best: Thom Browne puts a spin on Cinderella
In one of the final shows of Paris fashion week, Thom Browne offered a happy ending with a fantastical re-imagining of the story of Cinderella. Starring Gwendoline Christie and MJ Rodriguez, the show paid homage not only to one of the most beloved fairy tales, but also to the pop-culture classic Grease.
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