Yes, but can she yodel? This may be a future prerequisite at model castings, as fashion-show directors flip through comp cards. Not too long ago, Coco Rocha's signature runway flourish – a spritely Irish-dancing hop/jig – was a novel "special skill." Now, fashion month's more memorable presentations might include delivering a rousing monologue, singing tenor or twisting into sinewy contortions.
In Auckland, New Zealand Fashion Week opened recently with a performance by artists from Cirque du Soleil's Totem show. Hood by Air's fall/winter 2014 presentation in New York included intense voguing and synchronized stomping. Not to be outdone, Moncler enlisted Switzerland's a cappella Pendulum Choir for Winter Symphony, a so-called hydraulic opera at the Hammerstein Ballroom near Broadway; its burly choristers harmonized on a stage fitted with springy stilts, all while wearing custom down blazers and pieces from the brand's Grenoble range of performance outerwear.
Such inventive alternative presentations used to be the domain of the impecunious designer looking to differentiate on a budget, often with a little help from their creative friends. Years ago, for example, Calgary fashion designer Paul Hardy staged a solemn, funereal presentation at a Toronto evangelical church, with famed soprano pal Measha Brueggergosman singing spirituals as models in his fall collection glided past pews (and an empty casket).
In the past, sisters Jodie Snyder Morel and Danielle Snyder of costume jewellery line Dannijo have collaborated with photographer and filmmaker Lyle Owerko (he has shot music videos for American Hi-Fi) on portraits of their collections. They staged their latest presentation at the Hosfelt Gallery as an interactive exhibit with their collection's shoes, handbags and jewellery on display.
It's no longer enough for the major designers and their teams to create and live-stream their extravagant new looks, grandiose sets (such as Chanel's fall-winter mass-market superstore) or surprise stunt casting. Now social media demands alternative visual storytelling, with clothes and theatrics that flesh out the season's narrative, lest consumers tune out the zombie repetition runway shots on Twitter and Instagram, a glut of fashionably dressed walking dead.
The tighter the budget, the more creative the presentation approach, since the cost of mounting even the most basic traditional runway show in one of the big four cities of biannual fashion month can be prohibitive (according to a tally by Fashionista, a bare-minimum production at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York costs $200,000). And that's not expressing much beyond decent styling and a good playlist.
Even with silk-lined deep pockets and over-the-top sets, there are theatrical limitations to the runway presentation mode.
In the early 20th century, Paul Poiret staged headline-grabbing fashion happenings with society women instead of models wearing his latest designs. "Instead of spending enormous sums on advertising, the dress designer preferred to gather together a few hundred distinguished guests and provide them with an experience they would never forget," journalist François Baudot writes in his biography of the French fashion pioneer, referring to the grand Raoul-Dufy-decorated Thousand and Second Night party Poiret threw to launch his 1911 collection. "Today, we call this kind of strategizing public relations."
Like Poiret, the New York-based label Opening Ceremony often lives up to its theatrical name. Last season, the brand's multi-sensory and artistic experience had chocolate dripping from the walls of a presentation space; this month, models will tread the boards alongside actors on a stage instead of a runway. The Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Spike Jonze, who has previously collaborated with the brand on collections inspired by the costume design in his films like Her and Where the Wild Things Are, is writing a one-act play with Jonah Hill.
Dramatic presentation is even trickling into the online retail experience. These days, static digital vignettes aren't enough: Hudson's Bay and Elle Canada, for instance, have paired up to create #shopyourmood, a series of "shoppable videos" (i.e., short commercials featuring models pantomiming themes, which consumers can click on if they want to purchase the items).
It gives new meaning to the idea of model-slash-actress.
Editor's note: Jodie Snyder Morel and Danielle Snyder were incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this story.