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Bella Hadid Michael Kors
Bella Hadid at Michael Kors, moments before her stumble

When Bella went down, why did people’s phones go up?

A runway mishap like the fall Bella Hadid suffered this week is unfortunate – so what drives people to document it?

When model Candice Swanepoel and a number of others took spills at Givenchy’s SS16 runway show last year, W Magazine’s editor, Stefano Tonchi, was quick to offer a helping hand. At last week’s Yeezy Season 4 show, Bruce Pask, men's fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, became the hero of the day after escorting a model, who was very visibly struggling with her shoes, down the runway. Yet, at the Michael Kors show on Monday, when “it” model Bella Hadid wiped out, the industry sat by and watched, iPhones raised.

Hadid, who has swiftly risen to fame thanks to what many attribute to her preexisting Instagram popularity, calmly laughed off the tumble and got back up on her five-inch heels to finish the walk. Still, it’s difficult not to reflect on the loud “Ohhhh” that erupted from some of the crowd – largely from the pit of professional photographers, it seems – or the uniform lack of helpfulness from the front row, some of whom appeared shocked; most of whom seemed much more intent on snapping the moment from behind their phones. Still yet, what about the countless articles dedicated simply to her falling (which is not a completely unheard of event, especially considering that the runways can be slippery, and the shoes sky-high and ill-fitting)?

The whole thing feels a bit reminiscent of Versace’s AW16 runway show this past February, during which Hadid’s sister Gigi had a runway mishap of her own. During her walk in the show in Milan, Gigi’s dress exposed her breast for almost the entirety of her time on the runway. While she addressed the wardrobe malfunction in a tweet after the fact (“Wardrobe malfunction happen on the runway every day of FW & are .... unfortunate, lol, but let's talk instead about the new VERSACE CHOKERS”), this instance, too, spawned a huge array of articles and maybe even more Instagram videos.

It is hardly a secret at this point that any previous notions of what runway shows should entail have given way to an emphasis on entertainment for show-goers (and those watching by way of live streams or following along on social media) that more closely mirrors our modern day mode of consumption. Rather than debut of a collection for press and buyers, the fashion show is a three-sixty media event, often featuring performers, celebrity guests, and surprises – in other words, hundreds of opportunities for social media activation. When catwalks are designed to facilitate spectacles, raising your phone to capture a moment or event feels instinctive, second nature. 

With this, the codes of normal behaviour have seemingly gone out of the window to some extent. In lieu of clapping at the end of a show, for instance, the vast majority of guests are glued to their phones to capture last minute photos of the garments and design designer during his/her bow or videos of the final walk. Attendees putting down their photos to clap for the designers who have worked to produce the collection is so last season. Often, the last model is still on the catwalk when people are out of their seats and darting from the venue.

Behaviour like this that would likely be considered downright rude in almost any other social situation apparently also applies to nip-slips and catwalk wipe-outs, especially when this special breed of Insta-famous models is in play. The Kendalls, Gigis, and Bellas of the industry are the models that drive website traffic and Instagram impressions; they are the height of the social media spectacle that surrounds fashion, and with this in mind, when they are on the runway, all bets are off.

Our clickbait culture dictates a weird ownership over the bodies and lives of celebrities, particularly female ones – paparazzi cameras are there to document what they wear to the gym, when they get their hearts broken, and yes, when they have a runway mishap. And we click through the pictures as they spring up on gossip websites, digital voyeurs with little conscience and more than a dose of schadenfreude. After all, isn’t that the reason all those phones went up as Bella went down?

So, if these girls fall on the runway or experience a wardrobe malfunction, the natural reaction of show-goers (and people, in general), it seems, is to take advantage of that. The question is: would you act any differently if you were there? The truth may be more uncomfortable than you think.