Although fire was discovered by man 400,000 years ago, the fashion industry did not adopt it until the last century. Elsa Schiaparelli was requested to dance by fashion designer Coco Chanel at a gala event at the start of the Second World War. After a few waltz steps and perhaps a few unwelcome jokes, Chanel shoved the Italian designer into a burning candelabra, setting fire to her priceless tree-shaped dress, which was promptly put out by other guests using soda water. The fashion industry is full of fire-related anecdotes, though they are less humorous. Recently, a number of designers have drawn inspiration from flames for their works, such as British designer Robert Wun, who depicted a Schiaparelli-like incident in the form of a purposefully burned wedding dress for his first couture collection, “Fashion Accidents.” Here is a list of all the instances where fire has been the main character, from “fiery graphics” to catwalk fires:
Between 2016 and 2020, “flame-y” graphics were really popular in fashion. The dazzling headdress Philip Treacy created for Sarah Jessica Parker for the 2015 Met Gala may have served as the trend’s catalyst. Or, more likely, it was the ‘e-boy’ fashion trend of the time that persuaded hordes of youngsters to overnight adopt Thrasher sweaters. The 90s “flame” motif was first seen on the runway in 2016 by Paco Rabanne on black leather tops, in 2017 by Balmain on fringed skirts in yellow and red, and, more humorously, by Moschino on T-shirts with a bewildered Spongebob. Despite being generally known for its clean lines, Prada has also experimented with this graphic on numerous occasions. Miuccia Prada made the decision to reapply colored flames to her wedge heels for Fall Winter 2018 after originally doing so to her sandals for Spring Summer 2012. However, Vetements continues to be the indisputable face of the trend, having made this Hot Wheels-inspired aesthetic the recurring theme of a number of collections, from the boots from Fall Winter 2020 to the dresses from the most recent Spring Summer 2022.
Circus performers like fire eaters, lion tamers, tightrope walkers, and contortionists teach us that sometimes in order to impress people, you need to instill a little bit of terror in them. In recent years, fashion designers have followed suit by setting their catwalks on fire for their shows. The Fall Winter 2007 men’s collection by John Galliano was paraded down a corridor lit by flaming torches to invoke awe and dread. It was inspired by a picture collection by Irving Penn depicting Peruvian tribes. Similar to Galliano, Rick Owens has also used fire to heighten the tension at his shows. In 2012, he lit two thin lines of fire to serve as a backdrop for his catwalk, and in 2019, he lit a bonfire in the middle of the runway. To pay homage to the collections that Yves saint Laurent created for the Maison in the 1960s while making numerous trips to Morocco, Maria Grazia Chiuri revived the same concept in the 2020 Dior resort show by parading the models and their blue and grey-tinged ensembles in a sizable, flaming Marrakech square.
Alexander McQueen, king of flames
Only one fashion designer in history has successfully used fire as a cunning form of provocation, and that designer is none other than Alexander McQueen, an English genius known for his jaw-dropping runway performances and rebellious spirit that even led an outmoded fashion house like Givenchy to challenge the status quo. Thanks to a fortunate coincidence, flames made their debut at his design displays in 1997. The ominous atmosphere that McQueen created by stacking some cars on the catwalk for the presentation of “It’s a Jungle Out There,” his tenth collection and the first since he was named the artistic director of Givenchy, was heightened by a sudden fire that was started when some spectators who had attempted to scale the barricades to enter the show accidentally dropped some heaters, which were also part of the set, on the cars. Nevertheless, Lee McQueen instructed his models to continue the presentation, and they did so, successfully finishing one of history’s most iconic fashion shows.
For the launch of “Joan,” the apparel line honoring Joan of Arc, the designer purposely used flames in the Gatliff Road warehouse the next year. The dress and coat padding, as well as the models’ contact lenses and the fabric cocoon from which they emerged, were all dyed red by the designer, who was praised as a creative prodigy. Due to this work, red was adopted as the company’s global trademark. A model wearing a dress made completely of red beads to cover her face was imprisoned in a circle of fire, and Diana Ross’s voice could be heard singing aloud, “You’re going to make it, you’re going to make it,” as the exhilarating performance came to a close.