Fashion Dances To A New Groove

by Gordon Ng  /   October 26, 2020

From models swanning about elegantly – number tag in hand, mere inches from guests in packed-out stores and salons – in the ’50s to Christy, Naomi, Cindy and Linda strutting with their arms linked down the Versace runway to the tune of George Michael’s Freedom in 1991, the way one moves when wearing a garment has always been a significant, if underrated, part of fashion presentation. Now, a new league of choreography has risen, and creatives are increasingly elevating the task of bringing clothes to life into an art form.

There’s a new movement (pun notwithstanding) in fashion these days towards using the human body with greater intent and artistry.

Be it for runway presentations, videos or even still photography, what used to be referred to largely as fashion choreography – hit play on that Next Top Model rerun – is evolving, with the experts behind it now dubbed “movement directors” (and often with the word “creative” added to the title for good measure). Movement, as it were, is now a creative practice and discipline unto itself.

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At one end are endeavours as richly conceived and realised as Marc Jacobs’ collaboration with the American choreographer and dancer Karole Armitage for his Fall/Winter 2020 show.

Held in February at New York’s Park Avenue Armory, where Jacobs regularly holds his shows, the 15-minute-long spectacle saw Armitage and her company of dancers performing, as models (including one black bra top-and-pants-clad Miley Cyrus) took to the expansive stage.

The collection itself centred around the romance of a bygone New York City; the fashion inspired by the glory days of Upper East Side propriety. It was the Armitage choreography, however, that elevated things beyond a mere fashion show.

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As the dancers raced around on set, they created a hypnotising-if-manic sense of constant, hurried motion: stomping, running, falling, getting dragged by the armpits, and pausing abruptly mid-pose as if they were still lifes, among a host of other moves.

The models –their outfits simple and practical; an intentional departure from the campy flamboyance of Jacobs’ previous season – wove confidently through as the audience, seated in groups at cafe-style tables, watched on.


Marc Jacobs staged a frenzied, kinetic show with Karole Armitage and her company of dancers for his Fall/Winter 2020 presentation, its choreography reflecting a rousing sense of New York City’s boundless energy.

Amid that flurry was the magical sense of seeing a city’s energy come to life – the powerful sense of New York as both a larger-than-life ideal and its grittier reality. And the clothes had a purpose: These were the clothes that women in the city put on and lived their lives in.

And just like that, Jacobs’ put on one of the most powerful and effective shows in the last decade (and possibly in his career).

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That is one more extreme example of fashion’s growing interplay with movement. It makes sense, of course, that dancers are inclined to adopting the role of movement directors in fashion, being so intimately involved in the study of how bodies in motion communicate.

The London-based Pat Boguslawski – one of the industry’s most in-demand movement directors at the moment – was a dancer and model. While modelling for Alexander McQueen, he was singled out by the brand’s creative director Sarah Burton, who enlisted him to teach the other models how to move, and thus a career was born.

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These days, he works for a host of international fashion brands and publications. From directing Harry Styles to strike Pierrot-like poses in a three-piece suit or a seductive slouch while dressed in fishnets and loafers for an editorial, to bridging the athleticism and haute couture sensibilities of Onitsuka Tiger and Givenchy respectively for the campaign of their sneaker collaboration last year, the man helps to make the message of each image clearer with his choreography.


Maison Margiela, in its work with movement director Pat Boguslawski, is creating its own vocabulary of expression – an alternative glamour captured in a pose here for its haunting Artisanal Fall/Winter 2020 Couture collection.

He’s since become a frequent collaborator of Maison Margiela, and helped engineer house muse Leon Dame’s signature gawky walk, a style that made headlines when Dame – hunched over, neck strained forward – stomped out onto the brand’s Spring/Summer 2020 catwalk.

Instead of the standard slight-tilt-and-turn when he reached the end of the runway, he struck a contrived pose then stomped off. For the brand’s Artisanal collection, introduced via a short film directed by Nick Knight in July, Dame played up a deliriously glamorous persona, simultaneously awkward and self-indulgent, to add to creative director John Galliano’s imagined narrative.

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(Inspirations include the romantically doomed history of Gladys Deacon, once the Duchess of Marlborough who became a recluse in her later years, and the classicism of Vaslav Nijinsky in the ballet L’Apres-Midi D’un Faune.) Dame, for his part, reserves this particular style of movement for Margiela. When he models for other brands, he walks the runway perfectly normally.


The playful Fall/Winter ’20 show of Issey Miyake, which has movement as a key influence in its designs: Research into creating its famous pleated garments was sparked by commissions by American dancer William Forsythe for the Frankfurt Ballet in the early ’90s.

Issey Miyake is another brand that has regularly found expression in free, easy movement. Its Fall/Winter 2020 presentation was the sophomore outing of the brand’s creative director Satoshi Kondo and, like his debut, tapped into a kinetic energy that’s become synonymous with the label.

There were billowy, lightweight coats, for example, cut and worn so that they would slip off with a slight shrug of the shoulders, only to be belted effortlessly into jumpsuits – an intimate gesture made transformative.

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Two dancers dressed in hooded bodysuits made out of the brand’s famous pleated fabric sauntered across the runway, sporadically stretching out their arms to show off the way their clothes expand and shrink as the body moves.

The high point of the show, however, was its finale when the models re-emerged in groups, their sinuous, knitted outfits stitched together by the sleeves, collars or head scarves, creating a ’gram-worthy human link as they walked in unison.


The finale at Issey Miyake – where models walked out in knitted outfits stitched together by the sleeves, collars or head scarves.

By the end, every group had linked up to form one long line that zigzagged back through the show space; the jubilant sight – not unlike that of an innocent children’s game – signalling effectively (and wordlessly) a message of unity, togetherness and human proximity.

That show – held at the Lycee Carnot school in Paris – might not have been laden with balletic narrative or the communicative theatrics of method posing, but its message was amplified through intentional movement.

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The point is, fashion (and clothes, broadly) comes alive when worn – and the best expressions of that combine the artistry of garment design with multi-sensory storytelling.

Remember: Whether it’s obvious elements such as a bombastic set design or banging soundtrack, or subtleties like a minute gesture or way of walking, it’s the moving parts that tell a complete story.

This article first appeared in the Oct 2020 Animation Edition of FEMALE