To celebrate the beginning of fashion month and the work of the forgotten set designers, here’s a definitive list of the top 7 catwalk sets.

Icebergs, carousels and steam trains. All catwalk sets, all hard to forget. But set design is one of the most overlooked facet of fashion shows. It’s hard to argue that the brilliance of McQueen came solely from design when his theatrical staging was equally applauded. Same goes for Karl Lagerfeld in recent years.

The best sets are the ones with a message. They don’t need to be the jazziest or most expensive. Just looking at a great stage, whether through your own eyes or via a screen, can leave you with a sense of emotion along with some food for thought.

Chanel AW14

Karl Lagerfeld, a man known for his tabloid-worthy spectacles and no-nonsense attitude, has singlehandedly proven that fashion is more than just about clothes. Who will ever forget the AW14 supermarket featuring shelves and shelves of double C branded goods, cheekily advertised at a higher price rather than the usual BOGOF? A cracking take on consumer culture, yes, but an even better stance on society’s greed. And boy, were those fashion editors greedy. Come the end of the show, people tried – and failed – to steal doormats, chainsaws and even cotton buds. Kaiser Karl strikes again.

Alexander McQueen AW09

Choosing just one McQueen show is always a tough one. But The Horn of Plenty was an obvious decision, if only for the charredpile of ‘crap’ in the middle. This heap of what seemed like rubbish turned out to be remnants of McQueen’s past, thrown in with old tyres and kitchen sinks. Bringing new meaning to the saying ‘beauty is pain’was the shards of glass-strewn catwalk. As with all of his shows, this one had several possible meanings: a creative mind frustrated by commerciality, an economy unable to move forward, a fashion industry toying with the future while yearning for the bygone. Whatever you believe, this set’s impact cannot be denied.

Christian Dior Couture SS98

Sometimes, the venue is the magic key. John Galliano’s SS98 couture collection for Dior whisked guests/show-goers off to Paris’ Opera Garnier for a model’s worst nightmare: stairs. Lots and lots of them. In fact, the entire show was set on petal-strewn stairs, negating the need for a 50-foot long runway. Production designer Michael Howells collaborated with Galliano on a true ‘five senses environment’, infusing the entire opera house with the smell of oranges. Pair that with each of Galliano’s model characters and you’ve got a real Dior moment will forever be known as the ‘Opera Collection

Louis Vuitton SS14

Back to black for Louis Vuitton as Marc Jacobs bid farewell to the house he’d known for 16 years. Some of his most famous sets were re-created, all shrouded in the colour of mourning. Theelevators, escalators, hotel corridor and a creepy-looking carousel sat atop a dark shag carpet, mirrored by the all-black collection. A set, however, can never be examined alone. For this show wasn’t a funeral but a celebration of Marc’s ‘showgirls’, altering the meaning of black for Marc fans everywhere.

Chanel Couture SS12

Public space travel may still cease to exist but at least attendees at Chanel’s SS12 couture show reached intergalactic heights. Laid out like a somewhat luxurious spacecraft (forgetting the 250 economy-style seats), the aptly-named runway was topped by a glass dome complete with a realistic view of the starry sky. Finale time saw the stars transform into the Earth as the spaceship prepared to land. Houston, Karl will never have a problem.

Marc Jacobs AW12

Marc Jacobs’ seeming obsession with the art of the show was also best seen/displayed in his own label’s AW12 collection. ‘Marie Antoinette’s version of ruins’ was how artist/sculptor Rachel Feinstein, the creator of the crumbling castle setting, described it. Made entirely out of paper, the historic design resembled 18th century France – though the collection couldn’t have been further away. As for the catwalk? A twisted path through the derelict fortress, complete with a fountain on its last legs, just waiting to topple on some unsuspecting model. No one said Marc didn’t have a sense of humour.

Kenzo AW08

Kenzo’s ex-creative director, Antonio Marras, dreamed up one of the most underrated shows of all time. A set that causes wonderment as soon as you walk in is always a good one. AW08 saw a huge floral orb as its centrepiece; thousands of red poppy petals just hanging in limbo. Were they hiding something? Or simply mere decoration? The last few seconds provided the answer. In a finale that would rival Alexander McQueen, the lights went down and the petal globe dropped to the floor, leaving model Olga Sherer in the middle. Now that’s how to close a show.

Words: Lauren Sharkey


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