V&A Dundee

Puppet on a string: Fashion shows in covid

Discover how fashion shows have uniquely adapted due to COVID-19 restrictions. Kirsty explores the creative and challenging design process behind Moschino's latest show.

Written by: Kirsty Hassard

Just like other forms of culture during the time of COVID-19, fashion shows have had to adapt. No longer could these shows be experienced by hundreds of people sitting in one room, crammed onto benches. Fashion designers and their creative teams have quickly adjusted to a period of social distancing and restrictions on travel.

A particularly creative example of this is Jeremy Scott’s Spring Summer 2021 collection for Moschino. Shown as part of Milan Fashion Week in September 2020, it was called No Strings Attached and used doll-like puppets (designed by the Jim Henson Company Creature Shop, no less) in the place of both the models and the audience. Scott’s show was a celebration of haute couture. In his own words, haute couture “is such a human, emotional, tactile thing: time, dedication and the connection to design history”.

Watch the incredible fashion show below.

A behind the scenes look at the fashion show.

Replicating the experience of attending a fashion show was a challenge when staging No Strings Attached. Figuring out how to translate the spectacle, music and scenery to a miniature format and on a screen was integral to the design. The puppets were first made as life-size versions to ensure correct proportions. Violins were played in the background and the staging recreated a nineteenth century Parisian salon. All of this lends the show a magical quality.

A minature runway for puppets, you can see the stage production.
A puppet wearing a dress, walking down a runway.
A puppet wearing a dress, walking down a runway.
A puppet wearing a dress, walking down a runway.
A puppet wearing a dress, walking down a runway.
A puppet wearing a dress, walking down a runway.
A puppet walking down a runway.
A puppet wearing a dress, walking down a runway.
A puppet wearing a dress, walking down a runway.
Three puppets wearing dresses, in the background you can see a wall showing outfits.
  • Images courtesy of Moschino

  • Images courtesy of Moschino

  • Images courtesy of Moschino

  • Images courtesy of Moschino

  • Images courtesy of Moschino

  • Images courtesy of Moschino

  • Images courtesy of Moschino

  • Images courtesy of Moschino

  • Images courtesy of Moschino

  • Images courtesy of Moschino

Dolls being used to communicate fashion isn’t a new idea. It has a history dating back at least to the sixteenth century as a precursor to illustrated fashion magazines. Fashion dolls were sent across Europe to showcase the latest fashions in a tactile way that could not be achieved with a letter or drawing. They were considered so important that during the War of the Spanish Succession, when trade was banned between Britain and France, the dolls were still allowed to pass, receiving diplomatic immunity.

They have also been used more recently. In the aftermath of the Second World War, sixty Parisian, couturiers including Cristobal Balenciaga, Jeanne Lanvin and Pierre Balmain, volunteered scrap fabric to create miniature clothes in new fashions for the exhibition Theatre de la Mode. This resulted in 237 doll-sized figures in fifteen sets touring Europe from 1945 to 1946 to show new fashions to clients unable to travel and to raise money for war survivors. The dolls were 70 centimetres tall and were expertly accessorised by a team of milliners, hairstylists and jewellers. Just like Jeremy Scott’s show for Moschino, Theatre de la Mode was a clever way to share new fashions when it was not possible to stage formal fashion shows as we know them.