On October 8 the Geneva University of Art and Design hosted its annual DEFILE HEAD fashion show and lucky me managed to get a front row seat to witness all the fashion action live and from up close. At the impressive Espace Hippomène, a former factory turned events hall, 15 bachelor’s collections and 3 master’s collections were presented in a spectacular one-hour fashion show under the artistic direction of Chinese-Canadian designer Ying Gao.
As I entered the enormous hall and made my way to seat C01 – the Espace Hippomène seats up to 3 500 people – I took a moment to appreciate the contemporary industrial atmosphere of the venue. As I took my seat as one of the last people – apparently being fashionable late isn’t actually a thing in the fashion world – the hall was buzzing with tension. While the audience was anxiously awaiting the start of the show students backstage were undoubtedly biting their nails and holding their breath, hoping to impress friends and family with their creations. But appraisal from mom and dad wasn’t the only thing that the students were after. There was also money to be won. Forget ribbons, cups and medals. At HEAD hard work is rewarded with cold hard cash. 5000 CHF and 10 000 CHF to be exact, awarded by an independent jury of fashion experts led by Chinese-born and Paris-raised haute couture designer Yiqing Yin.
At 6 PM sharp the lights went out – gotta love Swiss timeliness – and as the immense hall went dark the crowd fell silent and all eyes turned to the start of the runway. In the next 60 minutes me and the rest of the audience would be taken on 18 different fashion journeys going from one extreme into another. From futuristic knitwear, samurai-themed garments and Lady Gaga-esque footwear to monochrome silhouettes, see-through dresses and tailored menswear, the DEFILE HEAD had it all. Through their creations each designer showed us their vision and bared a piece of their personality and soul to the public. And yet despite being so distinctly different all 18 collections seemed to flow seamlessly into one another and became perfectly one in their uniqueness.
Hair and make-up formed a red line throughout the show and were kept very clean and simple: a straight ponytail low in the neck with fresh skin and red lips for the girls, boyband hair or clean buzz cuts for the boys. MAC Senior Make-up Artist Maite Tuset explains: ‘’We created a look that would reflect the spirit of the event: youth, freshness, and naturalness… Something real and credible, without any artifice. Inspired by the freshness and innocence of youth I went for a vibrant touch of lip color and an almost bare, clean and bright face. My goal was to portray happiness and the feeling of eternal youth.’’
As I looked in awe at some of the silhouettes coming down the runway – how does one come up with the idea of pairing a powder pink bomber jacket with white bikini bottoms and socks in sandals? – I wondered if perhaps some of the students were trying to push the line of creativity a bit, just to see how much the public would be willing to take. When does something go from being fashion-forward to just being plain ridiculous? Is a designer who puts a big muscular male model in a pink flower apron simply being fun and quirky or is he or she just being silly? Is designing veil with a cigarette mouth hole wonderfully eccentric and daring or just absurd? Fact is that the students at HEAD are not afraid to push extremes and are eager to explore uncharted fashion territory. Sending two female models down the runway on mopeds for the grand finale was a fantastic example of how Switzerland’s future fashion elite is ready to think outside the box.
But fashion bravery is not the only thing that the design students at HEAD possess. Many of them also possess great skill and creative talent. I was truly blown away by some of the designs that came down the runway: Jackets tailored with such precision and eye for detail that I could barely believe I was looking at a student’s work. Gowns so spectacular that they could have come straight from the Paris runways. Designs so intricate that it must have taken weeks or even months to get every stitch and fold right. One thing is for sure: there is some serious fashion potential at HEAD and I am sure that in a few years’ time some of the names that were now just briefly shown on screen above the runway will be conquering Paris, London, New York and Milan.
Melissa Van Roosbroeck is a style and fashion writer.