Monkeys in the zoo?

Flashing cameras fill the room. All eyes are focused on the jungle-like setting. Here we are, standing in between several plants. Like some monkeys in a zoo. An Asian man dressed in an Adidas jacket and with (seemingly) an entire jar of gel in his hair, takes photographs of some models with his polaroid camera. The designer, Xu Zhi, explains to a couple of ladies, who are dressed to the latest fashion trends, what kind of feeling must come forward out of the collection.

The collection is inspired by a painting. On the painting there is a woman from around the 19th century posing in a long dress. An elegant umbrella raises above her head. The details are not clear, it is an impressionist painting. This makes the painting interesting and mysterious. The woman is faced towards the spectator, but you still do not know what her face looks like. “This is the mood I want you to express”, said Xu Zhi before the presentation started.

I am starting to wonder if she knows that I am alive

Living product
A woman approaches me slowly. Her outfit looks like she just took something out of her closet without really looking in the mirror if it looks good. So, is this fashion?, is what I am thinking. She examines my blouse (on boob height) with squinty eyes. She does not say a word to me. In fact, she does not even look at me once. And I am still standing there, like a frozen mannequin. I am starting to wonder if she knows that I am alive.


A presentation like this takes about two or three hours. You are literally a living product. Of course, models basically are. But a presentation makes you even more like that. After a while I am starting to catch some bored looks from the other models. Time goes by slowly and the faces of the models are not looking any happier. When it starts to get less busy in the room we begin to chat now and then. “What is your name actually?”


Xu Zhi’s presentation took three hours. We, the models, were lucky they took advantage of a rotation system. The models could hereby vary between sitting and standing. There were eleven models. Every time a model went backstage another model returned into the rotation system. Like a natural cycle. Off stage, there was a quick change and there were a couple of minutes to eat and go to the toilet.


41% of the labels in London used presentations last year. This was only 21% in 2013

Model unkind
However, not all presentations are as well organised as Xu Zhi’s. For example, the one from Kanye West. Where models had to stand in the burning sun for a couple of hours, without any water or food. In general, most presentations are just model unfriendly. I understand it can be useful for designers: the designers are able to explain things about the collection to customers during the show, customers can have a close look at the clothes and even ask the models questions (for example: is the fabric comfortable?).

Therefore, it is not suprising that presentations were more often used at London Fashionweek last year. 41% of all labels used presentations instead of catwalkshows. This was in 2013 only 21%, according to the British Council Data. But dear designers, a catwalkshow takes about half an hour. A presentation can easily take three hours. So, please make sure the models can eat or drink something and get the opportunity to go to the toilet. In this way we will feel more treated like humans, and less like monkeys in a zoo.


Photos by Joe Harper

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