Falling Over for Fashion

Remember live fashion shows? When things went wrong, such as models falling over? In pandemic lockdown, we take a trip down memory lane.

There isn’t much in fashion as awkward as when a model takes a tumble on the runway. It shouldn’t happen, you say  – after all, it’s their job to walk down the runway. But it’s a surprisingly regular occurrence. 

And sadly, in the last year, as shows have moved online – and occasionally not even used models – the runway fall is becoming a distant memory – a forgotten relic of a bygone era.

Plenty of people in fashion admit they rather enjoy it. A special kind of schadenfreude that draws us when a leggy beauty in Prada hits the deck. Like a car crash – even though we want to look away, we just keep watching. 

There’s an intoxicating combination of magic at play during a fashion show. The anticipation of something new; the booming cacophony of music and chatter; the high-octane pace; the intake of breath as the lights go down and the first model steps onto the runway beneath the bright lights. And when a model falls amidst all the glamour, for a split second she opens a portal to reality.

“Everyone knew there was no way back once she’d started falling…”

The most iconic fall of all time was the tumble of Ms Naomi Campbell, who stacked it in a pair of vertiginous Vivienne Westwood platforms in 1993. “It was a complete up-ending, a spectacular collapse,” says Roger Tredre, Course Leader of MA Fashion Communication at Central Saint Martins, who was sitting front row at the A/W 93 show. “Everyone knew there was no way back. There was no way once she’d started falling that this was going to end up as being anything other than a cataclysmic moment.”

Tredre highlighted the fall in his show notes, recognising that the 23-year-old supermodel had entirely stolen the occasion. “I turned to the editor of British Vogue at the time, Alex Shulman, and said, ‘That’s all we’re going to be writing about for tomorrow’s paper’. And we all knew that that was going to be the image,” he says. Campbell – who was dressed in a blue velvet jacket with a pink striped kilt and white rubber stockings – fell to rapturous applause, burying her face in her hands momentarily before recovering with a wide, beaming grin. “She handled it well – she laughed and smiled and saw the amusing side of it,” says Tredre. “And it was perfectly positioned for the photographers.”

Campbell’s good humour is part of what made that stumble such a memorable moment in fashion history – she went on to wear the shoes in October that year while attending a gala for Westwood. The nine-inch platforms were later bought and put on display by the Victoria & Albert Museum, alongside the famous photo of the model that made front pages the morning after the show. 

More recently, Campbell spoke about the moment with Westwood for British Vogue, saying, “Afterwards, designers asked me if I would fall for them.” 

Fashion’s inherent ability to take itself far too seriously only adds to the drama of a fall. A fall breaks down the fourth wall and kind of connects with the audience. Kanye West’s infamous Yeezy Season 4 show in 2016 saw models left standing in soaring heat, causing many of them to sit down or collapse altogether. No one could walk in the shoes. The clear plastic boots proved too much for one model, who made headlines for her walk

The performativity of West’s shows – and of fashion shows in general – can leave attendees bemused, unsure if the stunts are planned or not. At that Yeezy show, everyone was thinking ‘do we jump on and save this poor woman or just let it play out?’ Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, eventually came to the rescue, jumping onto the runway and helping her walk off. 

 It’s difficult not to be beguiled by the beauty of fashion, but catwalk mishaps provide a talking point for everyone, whether they consider themselves a fashion fan or not. The internet is awash with video compilations of runway fails. With millions of views, these videos cover everything from a pregnant Coco Rocha jumping in Christian Siriano’s pool to a tabby cat joining the procession of models during a Dior show in Morocco. Unfortunately not available on video is a legendary moment at a Paul Costelloe show in the 1980s at London Fashion Week when two greyhounds hired to add sophistication to the catwalk decided to mount each other before the fashion pack. Sexy it was not. 

Prada S/S 2009

One epic falling moment must be credited to Miuccia Prada who, despite not falling herself, orchestrated one of the most captivating, shambolic shows of all time. Attendees at Prada S/S 2009 watched with gritted teeth as she sent models stumbling down the runway in six-inch wooden platforms. “One or two girls fell while several staggered in killer heels, cantilevered by a prayer. It was sad. And mesmerising,” says fashion journalist MC Hill. 

Models were in tears and having panic attacks backstage during the show, anxious about a likely collapse. Reporters were so distracted by their panic that the collection itself took a back seat in all the show coverage. “In typical Prada fashion, these stumbling models reflected the truth behind a catwalk’s ideal: it’s always perfect after the fall,” Hill says. . 

At the epicentre of fashion show drama, after the initial shockwaves subside, comes a moment of relief, of realisation that the world has not collapsed. Shows are wonderful and they’re a fantasy, but they’re also kind of ridiculous. We’re all lifted out of our sheltered fashion land when a model falls on the runway – tumbling back into the real world.

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