Vintage News | When Fashion Shows Were Fun

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Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell & Linda Evangelista for Anna Sui, 1994.

Naomi Campbell wore backless chaps. Have I got your attention?

The year was 1992 and the occasion was the showing of Anna Sui’s third collection, and thanks largely to Ms. Sui’s longtime friendship with the photographer Steven Meisel, all of the lissome supermodels who famously wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day were working the runway for peanuts.

What were the clothes like? I honestly have no recollection.

What I do recall is a room as packed as a mosh pit with fashion editors and photographers and downtown personalities and drag queens and hangers-on and anyone who had managed to cadge a ticket, all dressed to the nines (or whatever their idea of that was), and all generating an intense and almost feverish energy that rose and crested each time one of the supermodels hit the runway: first Linda, then Tyra, then Shalom Harlow and, finally and definitively, Naomi.

Was there an ovation? Was there an eruption as that peerless creature came sashaying down the runway — with a strut no other model has ever approximated, a queenly confidence bordering on arrogance, a sexuality she radiated like a force field — and, striking a pose in her chaps, pivoted on one foot to reveal her naked bottom? Of course there was. It was mayhem.

“People went nuts,” as Ms. Sui said recently. “It was so much fun.”

Fashion was so much fun then. Fashion is still fun, of course, but in an entirely different way and not merely because many of us, including Ms. Sui and Ms. Campbell, were young at the time.

The world of fashion — so corporatized now, the subject itself globally dispersed as a form of wordless entertainment — was fairly small in the ’90s. It was tribal. There were tyrants and divas and outsize personalities, as there still are, but also mentors and connectors and facilitators motivated as much by the joy of discovering talent and creating beauty as by that menace of the corporate age: personal brand-building.

“The industry was more innocent then,” said Kelly Cutrone, a seasoned fashion publicist and fashion show producer. Things were haphazard sometimes and antic and, often enough, plain nuts.

“I remember doing a show at Gotham Hall,” for a group of designers who are best left unnamed, she said. “And when it came time for them to take their bow, one of the kids backstage called me in the production booth and said: ‘Kelly, the designers are beating each other up. They’re rolling around on the floor.’ ”

Ms. Cutrone never did manage to break up the designer skirmish, but she saved the day by sending out a pink-tinted pit bull to take a bow.

“We were so lucky,” the designer Todd Oldham said. He was referring to a time in the ’90s when attending a fashion show became something people were suddenly as excited to do as in an earlier era they might have been at seeing the Stones in concert.

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