Give yourself an isolation education with these legendary runway shows

From Comme des Garçons’ Lumps and Bumps to Tom Ford’s sex-oozing AW95 Gucci presentation – these are the runway shows that changed everything

From the wildly imaginative visual narratives that fill magazine pages and flourish across social media, to the physical act of getting all dressed up (especially when the fabrics are luxurious and the silhouettes transportative), fashion has long been a reliable vehicle for escapism – offering, as the late Bill Cunningham once suggested, “the armour to survive the reality of everyday life”.

Though questions surrounding just how ethical it is to continue staging endlessly lavish productions in far flung destinations as the world (sometimes literally) burns, the fashion show thrives thanks to its position as the ultimate escape into fantasy. 

Ask anyone who’s stepped into Molly Goddard’s world at one of the designer’s beautifully crafted and highly personal showspaces, or rewind to summer 2019 when images of Jacquemusfuchsia carpet-lined lavender field first began trickling onto the timeline (before engulfing it completely): for all those shows that, let’s be honest, could have been a lookbook, there are those that genuinely stir up something far greater.

Beyond even that, though, are the ones that have impacted culture, redefined the fashion landscape, and even changed the way we get dressed. Now more than ever, with much of the world in self-isolation, it’s likely not just us in need of a little escapism. With that in mind, here, we’ve selected some of the most iconic runway shows, all of which provided the blueprint for contemporary designers and continue to inspire across the industry and beyond today.

While we might not be able to leave the house, let alone think about what the June and September fashion seasons might bring, we can take a step back and observe the moments that have proven transformative for the industry – and boost our knowledge of its history to boot.


“I could have sent anything down that runway,” Tom Ford told Cathy Horyn in 2015, “I had a moment where nobody was looking at anything I did.” While it might seem unfathomable now that Ford, the man who gave us pubic hair in a high fashion ad campaign, followed it up with a successful stint at Yves Saint Laurent, and subsequently directed two Hollywood films, was being ignored in the 90s, it wasn’t until he sent his monumental AW95 Gucci collection down the runway that he finally got his breakout moment.

Shown under a literal spotlight, the collection of silk, navel-grazing shirts and plush velvet trousers was modelled by names like Kate Moss and Jason Lewis: dripping in glamour and oozing sex. With Moss’s pivotal look worn by Madonna to the MTV Video Music Awards later that year – further pushing Ford’s vision into the mainstream consciousness – the previously near-bankrupt brand’s sales increased 90 per cent. 


Nearly every McQueen collection set a new agenda for fashion, but the designer’s 2001 show, entitled Voss, was on a whole other level. Taking place in a space that resembled an asylum with a mirrored box from which a naked, moth-strewn figure (Michelle Olley) emerged at its climax, few (if any) other fashion shows have come close to leaving the same impression. “It was like being in a Kubrick movie,” Olley told Dazed in 2015. 

While knowledge and understanding around mental health has shifted since Voss, and even since McQueen’s abrupt passing in 2010, designers have continued to reference it in their work, with varying levels of sensitivity: last year at Gucci, for example. Alessandro Michele was called out by a model for sending straitjackets down the runway. Elsewhere, in another context, young labels like Art School employ movement directors to encourage their models to disrupt the industry-standard strut – in much the same way as McQueen did when it came to his own shows.


“Nothing in fashion has had more emotional impact on me than Margiela’s third show.” A bold statement, and bolder still coming from Raf Simons, whose own shows have often left fans with similar feelings. Held in a school playground in Paris’s 20th arrondissement, Margiela’s 1989 show is the stuff of fashion legend for many reasons, most notably the free-for-all seating and public-facing set-up; kids from the school even designed the show invites and sat in to watch it unfold. 

While the industry has for the most part avoided leaning into making shows public affairs, there have been several instances of this, both consciously and otherwise. During London Fashion Week in 2014, Topshop took over the Tate’s Turbine Hall, allowing visitors to enjoy shows from Meadham Kirchhoff and Simone Rocha. More recently Richard Quinn invited kids from his old school to sit FROW at his SS19 show, and Martine Rose (who’s previously shown in indoor markets and at local climbing walls) held her AW20 show at her daughter’s primary school.


Officially titled ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’, Rei Kawakubo’s SS97 offering (largely referred to as the ‘Lumps and Bumps’ collection), was significant to the point of surpassing the fashion industry. Arriving at a time when others were flaunting sex and figure-hugging shapes reigned supreme, at Comme, Kawakubo offered a different response. “I didn’t expect them to be easy garments to be worn everyday,” she would later note in the book UNLIMITED: COMME des GARÇONS

Worn by Merce Cunningham’s dance company for the 1997 piece, Scenario – and making one of the standout Instagram shots at the Met’s 2017 exhibition – the collection’s influence can still be felt today. At Molly Goddard, the designer’s signature massive dresses mirror qualities of Kawakubo’s, while for his AW17 show, Charles Jeffrey worked with Gary Card on a series of warped sculptural figures that similarly play into the Comme vision. 


The pictures of Hussein Chalayan’s AW00 collection – when chairs turned out to be dresses, and a coffee table turned out to be a skirt – are so wildly innovative as to be committed to memory for anyone who’s registered them, but the video of the show is even more evocative, featuring an almost continuous round of whoops and cheers from the audience. 

Soundtracked more officially by the Bulgarka Junior Quartet, watching today it feels nothing like a fashion show but instead a demonstration for futuristic living: advice on a practical mode of dressing, if you will. Its legacy then, in part at least, is showcasing a new template for presenting fashion. In relation to form, something central to Chalayan’s practice, CSM graduate Fredrik Tjærandsen – who intrigued audiences with his ‘balloon dresses’ last year – is a notable successor in his shared rejection of the norm.


Black Palms, the name of both Raf Simons’s SS98 collection as well as an accompanying book (the kind that occasionally winds up on IDEA), was the Belgian designer’s sixth sartorial offering and the second to be presented with a catwalk show, but it remains for many his most important. 

Casting models via radio ads – an early initiation of streetcasting, a practice subsequently carried out by the collective menswear community and numerous womenswear designers – the show saw Simons’ reimagine the models in his own image. Two decades on the show’s atmosphere, the energy and the buzz – as well as the collection’s aesthetic points – continue to influence designers shaping today’s landscape.


Described by Tim Blanks as “Prada’s turning-of-the-tide ‘pretty/ugly collection”, Banal Eccentricity was a defining moment for Miuccia Prada. Arriving 18 years after she took over the family business, the SS96 show’s roots lay in a 70s-inspired palette of purples and browns, until then not regarded with much thought beyond ‘ugh’. 

Here, Prada partnered clumpy sandals with stiff frocks and printed pants, and subsequently invented an aesthetic that still feels modern in 2020, writing a house code which she’s continued to perfect throughout her career (while being ripped off by numerous others, both acknowledged and not). Likened by Alexander Fury to Dior’s ‘New Look’, the show – a simple affair in terms of theatrics – announced Prada as a major player within the then largely male-fronted business of fashion. 


As career finales go, Yves Saint Laurent’s was always going to be a Pretty Big Deal. Concluding a career spanning over 40 years, Saint Laurent’s final bow, which he took hand in hand with Catherine Deneuve and Laetitia Casta (a precursor for Kim Jones’ similarly momentous Louis Vuitton exit, which saw him flanked by Naomi and Kate) was watched by over 3,000 people: 2,000 invited guests who attended the show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and another thousand who gathered outside to witness history on a large screen. 

Featuring 100 looks and coming in at over an hour long, the show was a study in big hits, with cameos from several of the designer’s most iconic numbers including his Mondrian dresses from 1966 and 1968’s safari jacket. The retrospective ended with a procession of looks involving perhaps his greatest legacy garment, Le Smoking Jacket, with models literally lining up for their moment in front of the camera. 


For many, Gaultier’s celebrated cone bra only became truly iconic when it appeared on Madonna in metallic gold during her 1990 Blond Ambition tour, but the style first made an appearance six years earlier, produced in berry velvet at the designer’s AW84 show. The silhouette was daring, with the cones spiraling far from the body, as inspired by the undergarments his grandmother had worn, like those in the 1950’s: here emphasised and remodelled to startling effect.

While the silhouette has since come to define Gaultier’s brand, the designer would later claim that the risque shape was designed initially with his childhood bear in mind. Elsewhere in the show, models danced and played up to the audience, a nod to the fun mood that Gaultier hoped to inspire through his clothes. 


Broadcast at the time on French television, Mugler’s 1995 show has since been described as “The Woodstock of Fashion” by The New York Times, while the terms ‘unforgettable’, ‘cult’, and ‘iconic’ are also frequently used descriptors. One YouTube comment simply tells it like it is: “This is the most ridiculously glamorous thing I’ve ever seen in my entire jaded life.” 

A celebration to mark the label’s 20th anniversary, the show was an event of epic proportions, a pioneering display for the productions later put on by Victoria’s Secret and the charity fundraiser, Fashion Rocks. With cameos from Tippi Hedren and Julie Newmar, as well as an appearance from James Brown, it informed the now customary move for designers to feature celebrities and musical guests. Elsewhere of course, it was where Mugler debuted that dress Cardi B wore to the Grammy’s in 2019.