The History of The Fashion Catwalk

For decades, the fashion catwalk has been the number one source of bringing life to a designer’s artistic work. Fashion weeks are a great way of exhibiting pop culture worldwide, where designers launch their latest fashion attires, and models flaunt those apparel elegantly on the runways. Not to mention the paparazzi’s and magazine editors who bring all the action to you.

Have you ever wondered how this charismatic and lavish industry came into being because fashion shows didn’t have this level of pomp and show to start with? While the industry is going through a technological revolution itself, a lot of history went into making the fashion catwalk as immaculate and full of glamour as it is today.

Why Is It Called Catwalk?

The term catwalk comes from how the female models walk on the narrow runways, closely depicting how cats walk on thin walkaways. Catwalks are usually performed on an elevated platform where models walk in a fashion show.

They use this walking style to move to the bottom half of the clothes and keep the front and shoulders reasonably still. It gives an extreme impression of confidence that gets people’s attention. It may look weird, but it is a technique to get more sales from the viewers.

History of The Fashion Catwalk

From the early beginnings of mannequin presentations to the rise of fashion parades and fashion weeks, the history of the fashion catwalk has a lot to unfold. Let’s figure out when the catwalk became a part of fashion and how it evolved over time.

Charles Fedrick Worth – The Father of Fashion Catwalk

The first modern fashion show was conducted in the 1860s when an English fashion designer Charles Federick Worth decided to use live models to exhibit his work instead of using mannequins. The designer established “House of Worth” – one of the first fashion houses ever created. The House hired young women known at the time as “demoiselles de Magasins” or ‘young ladies. 

Shifting from mannequins, a popular form of fashion presentation in the 1800s, to accurate models was a giant leap in fashion. This new concept changed the relationship between designers and customers. Instead of designing apparel for each customer, dressmakers could now present their attire’s live-action.

Although, these presentations were purely simple without any music, paparazzi, or show. Regardless of that, Federick’s inventive idea was readily popular in big cities like Paris and New York, which eventually earned him the “Father of Fashion.” He soon founded the Parisian haute couture, which dealt in exclusive and high-end tailor-made fashion attires.

The First Formal Fashion Catwalk Show

By the turn of the 20th century, many business-savvy fashion designers had employed in-house models that displayed their new works of art to the customers. However, these depictions were far from being formal shows or events.

By 1908 – 1910, fashion shows had become a bit more organized and secluded, commonly referred to as fashion parades. These shows would last around three hours and were held multiple times a week.

The idea of fashion parades soon reached America, where renowned dressmakers and high-end fashion designers held their first fashion show. Fashion parades were well-received by the local population, but they failed to impress a larger audience.

Fashion Parades as Organized Social Events

Paul Poiret and Lady Duff-Gordon laid the foundation of media-driven and seasonal fashion shows like what we have today. In addition to the theatrical innovation like lighting, music, decorated stage, grand entrances, and young models displaying choreographed poses, Paul Poiret and Lucile also use other creative tactics.

They sent out invitations to their valued clients, who brought with them paparazzi and magazine editors. Moreover, Lucile breathed life and emotions into her clothing line, making it feel less like merchandise and more like fantasy. She described her design shows as “gowns of emotions” and “love in a mist,” transforming her fashion attire exhibition into a full-scale social event.

On the other hand, Paul Poiret preferred hosting costume parties instead of standard fashion catwalks to promote his apparel designs. His party “Thousand and Second Night” introduced the concept of interactive fashion catwalks.

The Origination of Fashion Week

Europe was leading the fashion catwalk industry. Although the concept had traveled across the cost, the Americans were still struggling to establish organized fashion events in the country.

Therefore, by 1918, a high influx of foreign clients, mainly Americans, were looking to purchase the latest attire designs by renowned fashion designers in Paris and London. Couture houses started arranging fixed dates for fashion shows to facilitate these foreign clients. These shows were held two times a year, giving birth to the modern concept of “Fashion Week.”

Nevertheless, many couture preferred to keep their fashion catwalk shows exclusively for their clients to prevent design plagiarism by foreigners. This encouraged American dress manufacturers to hold their own catwalks shows and fashion parades. These parades started receiving better foot traffic as couture houses in Europe were shut down during WWII.

Publicized Fashion Events in the 1940s and 50s

By the 1940s and 50s, fashion catwalks became more formal in Europe. Designers’ salons and hotels were some popular destinations for organizing fashion events. The old interactive model walkabouts were taken over by organized stage catwalks that highlighted the works of a designer rather than the models themselves.

Instead of the runways, we have today, these fashion shows were held on stage. The front row seats were specified for journalists and editors, while the potential buyers and audiences were spread out in the back. These hour-long shows were usually quiet, with nothing other than the host’s voice calling out names of the designers and the swooshing sound of the lavish fabric.

Revolutionization of Traditional Fashion Show Events

By the mid-1950s, hosting fashion events had become a way to join the liberal class of society. Many high-end departmental stores adopted the trend and started hosting runway fashion shows.

The massive adoption of fashion shows in Europe and America revolutionized the core focus of these events altogether. With the high demand for ready-to-wear dresses, the couture houses were losing business. The energetic, lavish, and partially natural fashion events held by Mary Quant and Andre Courreges took over couture houses’ discreet and solemn fashion exhibitions.

These shows catered more to the young population, indulging in mass-consumerism instead of focusing on exclusive clients or media houses. These practices set the stage for the modern fashion catwalk events that have received enormous economic investments over the years.

By the end of the 20th century, the trend of fashion catwalk shows picked up tremendously, especially in France. The frenzy reached the extent that in 1984, Thierry Mugler staged his fashion show in the Zenith stadium in Paris in front of 6,000 thousand people. Later in 1998, Yves Saint Laurent exhibited their couture collection in front of a fully packed stadium after the World Cup Final that had around 1 billion television spectators.

FAQs: The History of Fashion Catwalk

1. Who invented the fashion Catwalk?

The idea of a fashion catwalk was first coined by an English designer, Charles Fredrick Worth. He established a couture house as “House of Worth” that hired live models instead of mannequins to exhibit fashion apparel for the first time.

2. Why is it called a “catwalk”?

The term catwalk describes how models walk on the runway during a fashion show. Their walk style is vastly similar to how cats walk on narrow walkaways.

3. When did runway catwalk fashion begin?

Although the concept of runway catwalk fashion first appeared in the 1860s, the first catwalk shows were staged in the early 1900s. Whereas the modern form of catwalk originally started in the 1960s.

Future of Fashion Catwalk

Modern-day fashion sense is on a fast-paced track towards revolutionization. With the onset of coronavirus, lockdowns, massive technology advancements, social distancing, many fashion experts believe that fashion presentation will change drastically in the future.

Most importantly, the new fashion designers in the industry are actively engaged in exploring fashion as a part of our material culture. Regardless of that, with the constantly changing society, changing the way people perceive and wear fashion will fundamentally change. The fashion brands and designers that become a part of the change will continue to lead the world of fashion in the future as well.