Promotion In The Merchandising Environment Cover Image

Promotion In The Merchandising Environment


3rd Edition

Kristen K. Swanson and Judith C. Everett

Fairchild Books Library

Table of contents

Fashion Shows and Special Events

Book chapter

DOI: 10.5040/
Pages: 330–361

“This collection is dedicated to the women who inspire me and to the showgirl in all of us.”

—Mark Jacobs (Chernikoff & Krentcil, 2013, ¶1)

The innovative brand Opening Ceremony created a week-long, multifaceted special event for New York Fashion Week. Owners Carol Lim and Humberto Leon created a mega pop-up shopping venue at the SuperPier at Hudson River Park. The venue featured several fashion retail stores built inside refitted shipping containers, specialty food truck vendors selling the hottest food trends, and various collaborations, including DKNY Exclusively for Opening Ceremony. The first-ever Opening Ceremony Fashion Week fashion show was presented to approximately 1,000 invited guests (Fig. 13.0). The show, which was held in a warehouse, opened with about twenty luxury cars driving in a “Fast and Furious” style into the gritty venue. Models emerged from the cars and walked around the venue, to the amazement of the audience. Fashion critic Eric Wilson reported, “It was, frankly, a fashion moment” (2013, ¶6).

This chapter looks at the role of fashion shows and special events as promotion mix activities in the fashion industry. We discuss the various categories of fashion shows and the range of people involved in producing them. Next our focus moves to planning a fashion show and differentiating all of the elements necessary to rehearse, conduct, and evaluate fashion shows. In addition to fashion shows, there are many types of institutional and merchandise-oriented special events used in the fashion industry. We introduce several types of these events and the personnel involved in producing them.

The Role of Fashion Shows and Special Events

If you have never participated in the coordination of a fashion show or special event, you should—they are among the most rewarding (and possibly the most nerve-racking) promotion strategies you can play a part in! As we introduced in Chapter 1, a fashion show is a type of event where the latest fashion, fabric, and color trends in apparel and accessories are presented to an audience using live models. We also defined a special event as a one-time occurrence with planned activities, focused on a specific purpose—to bring attention to a fashion brand, retailer, or organization, or to influence the sale of merchandise. Thus, a fashion show is a type of special event that is unique to the fashion industry.

Fashion Shows

Of all the promotion mix activities, fashion shows are the most thrilling for many people. A fashion show is theatrical—it gives its audience an exciting sense of being something exclusive. An effective show generates a sense of being in on the latest news and hottest trends of the fashion world. Additionally, it reinforces the fashion leadership of the designer, brand, school, organization, or retailer producing the show. The excitement of a fashion show is apparent at all market levels, from the haute couture and ready-to-wear shows in Paris (Fig. 13.1) to the trade shows in major international markets to consumer and charity shows produced in local communities.

Although fashion shows are produced for a variety of reasons, the primary reason is to sell merchandise. The fashion show helps to make an authoritative visual statement about garments and accessories, as well as hair and makeup, thus encouraging a potential customer to buy what has been shown. New lines of merchandise, product assortments, special offerings, in-store themes, or sales promotions may be introduced at fashion shows. Firms may also present fashion shows to attract new customers, build traffic, and encourage loyalty from existing customers. This fashion promotion tool enhances a store or brand image and fashion authority, and it communicates goodwill to the population.

Another reason for presenting fashion shows is to share information. Changes in fashion trends, silhouettes, fabrics, or color can be communicated to employees or customers at a fashion show.

Digital fashion shows—live or recorded moving visual images of fashion shows viewed on a smartphone, tablet, or other type of streaming device—give customers and employees information on new and exciting trends for the upcoming season, stimulating enthusiasm and contributing to suggestive selling. More trade and consumer fashion shows are sharing the digital platform with the public. For example, Digital Fashion Week Singapore features cool, current, and fashion-forward lifestyle brands to consumers who are fashion innovators. Some trade shows are not just held for retailers anymore. Online fashion shows can be just as exclusive as traditional runway shows, beginning at a scheduled time and requiring an e-invitation to watch the show. Digital fashion shows are widely available through such resources as YouTube.

Fashion shows can play an important role in a firm’s overall integrated marketing communications strategy. For example, a fashion show may be developed with the public relations team as an image-building exercise. As part of the team, the advertising unit suggests the theme for the show as a tie-in to the latest ad campaign. Social media and email messages inform targeted customers about the show, while the visual merchandising unit creates a comprehensive store image and fashion show stage design based on the fashions selected for the show. Because fashion shows have the power to influence designers, retailers, buyers, the media, and the public, they are a very important element of fashion promotion.

Figure 13.1. Issey Miyake’s ready-to-wear fashion show.

Issey Miyake’s ready-to-wear fashion show.

Market-Level Fashion Shows

Fashion shows are produced by fashion brands, designers, and retailers. The most consequential reason for staging a fashion show is to sell merchandise to the target audience, either trade professionals involved in the fashion business or general consumers.

Trade Shows

The term trade refers to any activity aimed at the distribution of fashion and related products within the industry, from primary (textile firms) to secondary (apparel manufacturers or fashion brands) to tertiary (retailers). Trade groups, such as SPINEXPO/ Shanghai or CPD Dusseldorf, create and manage various fashion events and trade shows, which present merchandise to an audience of retail buyers, fashion forecasters, and media representatives. Journalists are invited to trade shows to encourage publicity for the fashions being presented in trade or consumer publications and in promotional materials created by forecasting services. Essentially, New York Fashion Week is a trade show. The boxed text illustrates how the fashion week trade shows in New York have evolved over time.

Advanstar (2014), an event and marketing services business, presents trade-oriented fashion shows and serves business professionals and consumers in the fashion, licensing, life sciences, and power sports industries. MAGIC is a well-known fashion trade show produced by Advanstar. MAGIC market weeks, held each February and August in Las Vegas, are wide-ranging global marketplaces for apparel, footwear, and accessories.

At trade shows such as MAGIC, fashion shows may be presented several times daily throughout the duration of the show. This repetition accommodates the many buyers who comprise the audience and whom the manufacturer wants to influence. Figure 13.2 illustrates a trade show booth at the MAGIC show. After fashion shows are presented, buyers take a closer look at the merchandise and place orders with salespeople at the fashion brand’s booth.

Figure 13.2. MAGIC trade show held in Las Vegas.

MAGIC trade show held in Las Vegas.

Consumer Shows

As the name implies, consumer shows are fashion shows directed toward consumers. These are the regular and future patrons of the store, brand, or charitable organization. These shows are typically sponsored by retailers to introduce their customers to the latest fashions, or they may be sponsored by a charity or school organization as entertainment or for fund-raising. Consumer shows may feature storewide, departmental, designer, private label, or brand merchandise. Manufacturers may produce the show cooperatively, or if their merchandise is being shown exclusively by a retail store, they may provide all the garments and accessories for the show.

A charity show is generally produced by retailers, fashion brands, or fund-raising organizations to raise money and awareness for national or local charitable causes. The retailer or fashion brand may be headlined as a cosponsor or assist behind the scenes by loaning merchandise for the fashion show. In addition to selling merchandise, the retailer is promoting goodwill and building a strong community image. Celebrities, designers, and models often lend their support to these charitable events.

The Heart Truth Red Dress Collection (Fig. 13.3) is a campaign involving various fashion events held to raise awareness that heart disease is a major health concern for women. Top fashion designers including Badgley Mischka, Reem Acra, Christian Louboutin, and Oscar de la Renta have provided red dresses for these events. Celebrity models, from Laura Bush to Heidi Klum, are among the famous people from entertainment, fashion, media, politics, and athletics to lend their support to this cause.

Figure 13.3. Celebrity models Kristin Chenoweth and Jordin Sparks at the Heart Truth Red Dress Collection fashion show.

Celebrity models Kristin Chenoweth and Jordin Sparks at the Heart Truth Red Dress Collection fashion show.

Fashion Show Categories

Fashion shows are defined by their presentation method, which includes four categories: production, formal runway, informal, and multimedia. Show types are not specific to market levels and may be used at trade or consumer levels.

Production Show

The production show, also called a dramatized or spectacular show, is the most dramatic or theatrically produced type of show (Everett & Swanson, 2013). Production shows feature theatrical backdrops and scenery, lighting effects, live or specially produced music, and dancing or specialized choreography to create a highly energized event. High-end fashion-forward merchandise, including couture, evening wear, bridal, or designer ready-to-wear collections, are usually the highlights of production shows. Production shows require a great deal of organization and preparation. Shows may be coordinated by a team that starts planning for the show as much as a year in advance of the event.

Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Marc Jacobs, and Victoria’s Secret have all turned high-fashion shows into spectacles. These are the must-see fashion shows held for the most influential fashion consumers and editors in the world. For example, Karl Lagerfeld sent models wearing Chanel ready-to-wear onto a runway that was merchandised as a megastore—un grand magasin—under the sign of the double C logo (Fig. 13.4). Merchandise displayed on the “store” fixtures ranged from fresh vegetables to a chain saw with a real Chanel chain in the hardware department. At the end of the show, the crowd went wild, thinking they could shop for everything in the fantasy store from fresh vegetables to doormats printed Mademoiselle Privé.

Figure 13.4. Karl Lagerfeld at the Chanel ready-to-wear fashion show.

Karl Lagerfeld at the Chanel ready-to-wear fashion show.

Formal Runway Show

The show type most readers are likely to visualize when thinking about fashion shows is the formal runway show. The formal runway show is a conventional presentation of fashion, similar to a parade, in which merchandise is presented in consecutive order. Ready-to-wear designers and apparel manufacturers use this traditional method almost exclusively to present lines each season.

Formal runway shows may last from ten minutes to an hour and feature models that parade down the runway individually or in groups. It is very common to have all models come out onto the runway at the conclusion of the show to present a fashion finale and to acknowledge the designer when he or she is present.

A formal runway show is frequently planned around a merchandise theme and held at a special location, such as an auditorium, hotel, restaurant, or on a retail sales floor. Staging, lighting, models, and music are all theatrical elements of the runway show. Merchandise is generally seasonal, specialty, or ready-to-wear merchandise. A runway show may be directed toward the general public or a specialty market, such as petites, plus sizes, brides, or career professionals.

The ready-to-wear trade fashion shows that are held twice each year are frequently presented as formal runway shows. During these events, models wear the latest fashion-forward garments created by fashion designers. Models strut the catwalks one at a time to show the direction that fashion is moving. Celebrities, members of the media, and the designer’s private customers sit in the audience, while photographers and videographers document the newest styles and the people sitting in the front row.

Informal Fashion Show

Informal fashion shows present merchandise on models in a casual environment. A model walks around a retail sales floor, manufacturer’s showroom, or other venue showing the merchandise and answering questions about the product. Models may distribute coupons or handouts to the audience as a teaser, hoping the audience will buy merchandise from the retailer after the presentation. Trunk shows and mannequin modeling are additional types of informal fashion shows.

Trunk shows feature garments from a single manufacturer or designer and are presented as informal fashion shows in retail stores. A manufacturer or designer ships the complete line to the retail store in “trunks” or sales representative’s cases. A brand sales representative or designer accompanies the fashions and, during an in-store event, answers questions about the products and takes orders from guests.

Trunk shows are advantageous to the retailer because the complete line can be presented to customers without inventory risk to the retailer. Customers are able to purchase items that are not in the local retailer’s inventory. Trunk shows also allow the retailer and the manufacturer or designer to gather immediate feedback about the merchandise. By listening to customers, designers and manufacturers can incorporate customers’ desires into next season’s line.

Mannequin modeling is a form of informal modeling in which the model acts as a live mannequin in a store window or on a display platform. Live models strike poses similar to a stationary display form. These models must pose in stiffened positions and possess great discipline and composure to remain perfectly still as the audience inevitably tries to make the models laugh or move.

Multimedia Fashion Show

The fashion industry has always been at the forefront of innovation. New technologies have been easily adopted into various types of fashion presentations. Multimedia fashion shows include any combination of live or recorded runway action with digitally produced still images, text, animation, video, audio, or other interactive content forms. A spectacular production show, a formal runway show, or a trade show can be presented as a multimedia show.

Fashion Show Personnel

The key person in any fashion show production is the fashion show director. In a retail organization, fashion show production is generally the responsibility of the fashion or public relations director. This individual produces the show or delegates a member of the fashion or public relations office to oversee the production. At the brand level, many designers and manufacturers hire a fashion show production agency.

Leadership qualities of a fashion show director include extensive fashion knowledge, enthusiasm, patience, and good communication skills. The director is ultimately responsible for making sure the show runs smoothly, continually reviewing the progress of the show, meeting deadlines, and staying within the budget.

In most situations, a fashion director has the opportunity to assign staff. An ideal staff will consist of a model coordinator, merchandise coordinator and/or stylist, stage manager, promotion coordinator, and budget coordinator. The model coordinator is responsible for casting, training, and coordinating all activities that involve the models. A merchandise coordinator is responsible for collecting and styling merchandise, fitting the merchandise to the models, preparing the merchandise behind the scenes, and returning the merchandise after the show. In some cases, the merchandise coordinator will select the merchandise to be used; in other situations, the fashion director, a stylist, or a manufacturer representative will select the merchandise to be presented in the show. A stage manager oversees the stage and runway, organizes equipment, and supervises people providing behind-the-scenes services, such as sound and lighting technicians, dressers, and hair and makeup stylists. The promotion coordinator is responsible for all promotion of an event. This person may work in cooperation with an advertising agency or a public relations firm. Last, but not least, the budget coordinator is responsible for keeping track of all the income (revenues) and costs (expenses). Figure 13.5 shows an organizational chart for a fashion show.

Many trade shows as well as large consumer or charity fashion shows are produced by fashion show production or public relations agencies. These agencies are led by a fashion show producer who is hired to bring all of the fashion show elements together, translating the designer’s vision into a three-dimensional live show. The producer is involved with casting the models, overseeing the design and construction of the set, and directing the technicians in charge of lighting and music. The staff producing the show report to the fashion show producer.

Figure 13.5. Fashion show organizational chart.

Fashion show organizational chart.

Today, the stylist is one of the most important members of a fashion show staff. It is the responsibility of the stylist to provide creative input to the designer and the show producer, and to present the clothes flawlessly. The stylist interprets the clothes into appropriate groups and sequential order to put the collection in the best light. The stylist uses creativity to select props and accessories to make an exciting presentation that stands out.

Fashion Show Planning

Planning fashion shows involves organizing and working out every detail to avoid unexpected problems. Planning details include determining the audience; selecting the theme, venue, and merchandise; selecting and fitting models; scheduling the show; and taking care of all of the security issues.

Audience Selection

Every fashion show or special event needs an audience (Fig. 13.6), either in person or through digital access. It is necessary to select the right audience if the event is to be successful. The audience and merchandise must be properly targeted. A fashion show audience may be guaranteed or created. A guaranteed audience is established before the show is planned, and is made up of individuals who will attend regardless of the fashions shown. A created audience is established after the show is planned as a result of public relations and advertising. A digital fashion show can reach an audience of the brand’s regular customers or find new customers if the digital show is widely available on Facebook or YouTube.

Figure 13.6. Every fashion show needs an audience.

Every fashion show needs an audience.

The size of the audience should be considered and a location selected that will allow all members of the audience to view the show comfortably. Demographic and psychographic characteristics of an audience should be considered during the planning stages. A missed detail about the audience can change the atmosphere of the show and decrease the opportunity for sales.

Theme Development

Fashion shows should have a theme—a catchphrase—and a creative title, which will tell the audience the nature of the event. The fashion designer may use his or her creative inspiration as the theme of the show. Otherwise, the theme may be selected around a targeted audience or a specific merchandise category. Theme ideas may come from holidays or seasons, current art or music trends, geographical locations, merchandise categories, or characteristics of the audience. Theme ideas are almost endless.

The theme should be imaginative for both the fashion show staff and the audience viewing it. It should be selected early in the process to allow other details to be coordinated with it. Merchandise design or selection will be determined by the theme. Creative fashion show themes have included Rock the Runway; Möbius—Twisting the Evolution of Fashion; Runway to Wonderland; and Lights, Camera, Fashion! Brainstorming among the show staff can lead to some exciting fashion show themes.

Venue Selection

At the retail level, fashion shows are often held in-store or out-of-store at civic locations, auditoriums, restaurants, or hotels. The advantage of an in-store fashion show is obvious: it allows customers to immediately purchase the items they have just seen, fulfilling the promotional objective to sell merchandise. If, on the other hand, the promotional objective is to create goodwill within the community, an out-of-store location may be desirable for charity or spectacular events with a large audience.

The international fashion shows are held in centrally planned locations, as well as at specialized areas including museums and designer showrooms. The most famous international fashion weeks are held in the four fashion capitals of the world: Paris, New York, Milan, and London. The Fédération française de la couture, du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode(the French Federation of Fashion and of Ready-to-Wear Couturiers and Fashion Designers) is the governing body for French fashion. It is responsible for setting the dates and location of the French fashion weeks held at the Carrousel du Louvre and surrounding locations in Paris. New York Fashion Week shows have taken place at Bryant Park, Lincoln Center, and other locations around the city. Milan Fashion Week is owned by Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana(the National Chamber for Italian Fashion). Many of the Italian shows are held at studios or showrooms in Milan; others are held in historic outdoor landmarks such as the Piazza Duomo, the courtyard of the Castello Sforzesco, and the Arco della Pace. The British Fashion Council organizes the London Fashion Week shows, which take place at Somerset House.

Scheduling and Timing the Show

Determining the day, date, and time of the fashion show and confirming the length of the performance are timing elements necessary in show planning. Fashion show directors must plan shows so that they will not conflict with other events in the store or the community. Such conflicts will diminish the size of the intended audience. Fashion shows are scheduled by the event coordinator or sponsoring organization.

The ideal length of a consumer-oriented fashion show is no more than thirty to forty-five minutes. In comparison, many international fashion week shows are only about ten minutes long.

Once the fashion show location, theme, date, and time have been established, this information is posted on a fashion show calendar. The fashion director and staff can then use the fashion show calendar to plan, delegate, and follow through with elements of the show production.

Security Issues

The security of the merchandise, equipment, audience, and special guests is a concern when producing a fashion show. Merchandise must be protected from damage, theft, or vandalism. In rare instances, merchandise with an extremely high cost might need the added protection of hired security guards.

To protect everyone involved, every transfer of merchandise and equipment should be recorded through written agreements signed by show personnel and the leasing agent. Show staff must ensure the safety of the audience and the participants to protect the retailer or sponsoring organization from legal damages resulting from accidents. Celebrities may need hired security personnel to protect them during the show and transport them to and from the fashion show. Protection of people and materials should be reviewed as the show is finalized.

Fashion Show Elements

A fashion show is made up of many elements that together make an exciting event that tells the audience what to wear, when to wear it, and how to accessorize it. Elements of a fashion show include merchandise, models, stage design, and sound.


Merchandise selection is the designation of apparel, shoes, and accessories for presentation in a fashion show. The fashion show director will discuss with the designer, retail department heads, management teams, or manufacturer representatives the appropriate merchandise to be presented in the show. Merchandise should make a clear fashion statement about current trends to stimulate sales after the show. The merchandise must be appropriate to the demographic and psychographic features of the audience, including age, gender, income, and lifestyle, and be priced accordingly.

Figure 13.7. An Ideal Chart

An Ideal Chart

Ideal charts are tools a fashion director may use to plan merchandise selection. An ideal chart lists all categories of merchandise that will be represented in a fashion show. Within each category, the important trends or looks are listed to ensure they will not be missed when selecting merchandise. The ideal chart may also list the number of garments to be included within each merchandise category. Figure 13.7 is an example of an ideal chart from the fashion show Lights, Camera, Fashion!

Once the merchandise is selected, it is pulled together in the design studio or from the retail sales floor and kept in reserve for the show. If possible, extra merchandise should be pulled to avoid last-minute searches for appropriate merchandise when the selected item does not fit the model or has been sold out before the show. Basic seasonal items should be pulled first; newer looks and trends should be left for decision closer to the show.

After the merchandise is pulled, it should be grouped or coordinated into specific categories that make a series of fashion statements. The merchandise categories should flow from one statement to another, creating excitement for the audience. The first and last categories should make the strongest statements. After completing the merchandise grouping, a lineup should be created. The lineup is a listing, in order of appearance, of models and the outfits they will be wearing. The lineup will be used for many different purposes throughout the show, such as planning dressing area organization and scripting the show.


Models are individuals, hired or volunteer, who wear the merchandise and accessories during the show (Fig. 13.8). Models must be able to present merchandise effectively in a believable manner. While models should be attractive, the beauty of the model should not detract from the clothing. The show type, targeted audience, and merchandise will determine the model type featured in the show. Typical female model types include petite, junior, misses, or plus sizes. Male models should be appropriate to the audience and merchandise. Child models often add fun—and challenges—for fashion show producers. Gender and age (or perceived age) of the models should be considered in relation to the target audience.

Figure 13.8. Fashion show models are chosen according to how well they will show off a particular line of fashion merchandise.

Fashion show models are chosen according to how well they will show off a particular line of fashion merchandise.

Amateur or professional models may be used. Amateur models are not professionally trained and are selected from such resources as a retail store’s customers and employees, members of the sponsoring organization, or students. Professional models are trained in modeling techniques and are hired through modeling agencies. Figure 13.9 is an example of a model voucher that serves as a contract between the model agency and the client.

Television reality shows, including America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway, have created a lot of interest in fashion modeling as a career. In addition to these shows making modeling a high-profile career, well-known models are often the subjects of profiles on other television shows or online.

Attributes of an excellent model include confidence and poise in walking, timing, turning, and posing for the audience and the camera. A model must move with a smooth, light pace. Body weight should be forward on a straight but not stiff frame. Arms should be loose but not swinging away from the body. The speed and pace of a model’s walk can prolong or shorten the show as dictated by the merchandise lineup or the body language of the audience.

Models are responsible for attending fittings and rehearsals. Garments should be ready for the models when they arrive for fittings, and the models should quickly assist show personnel in making necessary merchandise substitutions if necessary. At the rehearsal, models practice the runway walk and learn the route they will take as they enter and exit the stage. Ideally, the stage and backstage will be adjacent, but in some venues this may not be possible. Models should take note of stairs, doors, and other obstacles that may interfere with their moving to and from the stage. Each model should be fully informed about the outfits and accessories she will be wearing and the order in which the garments will be worn. An individual model lineup form (Fig. 13.10) is a list of garments in the order to be worn by each model. It should be placed with the model’s garments in the dressing room.

Figure 13.9. Sample model voucher.

Sample model voucher.

The fashion office should create a file or record on models used for fashion shows. Information should include name and contact information, sizing information, and personal attributes of the model. Each model should be evaluated on his or her performance after each show to assist the fashion director or model coordinator in selection of future models.

Figure 13.10. Individual model lineup.

Individual model lineup.

Stage Design

The physical layout of the facilities includes the stage, runway, backdrops, dressing area, lighting, and props. The stage is the background where models enter and exit. The runway is an extension of the stage or a freestanding unit that projects into the audience. When planning a runway show, the stage manager should consider the time required for models to enter and exit the runway; the walking route and traffic flow on the runway; and the height, size, and shape of the runway as it relates to the room and audience visibility. Good lighting and seating should be considered when designing a set to ensure a positive experience for everyone involved in the show.

The model dressing area is where models change outfits. It is behind the scenes yet close to the runway. The dressing area should be large enough to accommodate clothing racks, tables, chairs, full-length mirrors, and hair and makeup stations as well as all of the models and support personnel required for the show. Merchandise should be spaced on racks to prevent wrinkling and allow easy access by the dressers, the individuals who help the models change in the dressing area. Racks should be organized so that each model has her own dressing space. Models grouped together in the merchandise lineup should be separated in the dressing area to minimize traffic flow problems. The dressing room should have a clearly defined entrance and exit, preferably through different doors to prevent collisions.

Backdrops create atmosphere, emphasizing fashion trends or reinforcing the designer or brand’s image through use of a logo. The extent of backgrounds or scenery depends on the type of show, budget, and personal style of the show producer. Stage backgrounds can range from simple to exotic.

As with backdrops, props can be used to highlight the featured merchandise. Props may be stationary items such as a parked car, furniture, or a gazebo. Mobile props, such as a suitcase or tennis racket, may also be carried by the model to emphasize a lifestyle characteristic influenced by the fashions. In Figure 13.11, a model uses a fan to accentuate the mystery of the dress she is wearing.

Figure 13.11. Props accentuate fashions.

Props accentuate fashions.


Sound for the show consists of spoken words (verbiage) and music. These sound components combine to help all of the visual elements come alive.


Historically, commentary—the oral delivery of information used to identify trends of the season—was used to inform and entertain the audience and help interpret clear fashion statements to help sell the merchandise. Today’s fashion shows are more likely to use music (discussed later in this chapter). Fashion particularly lends itself to visual excitement rather than audio explanation of details.

Some production shows use a script, treating the show as a theatrical performance. An announcer, or master of ceremonies, takes the role of an actor who is performing a scripted narration to introduce the show, welcome guests, transition between scenes, close the show, and thank the audience for attending. The script is the printed version of a show’s narration; it includes the words to be spoken and important technical directions. The script is used as a tool to set the pace of the show. Models, announcers, and cue personnel (starters) have copies of the script and use it to signal entrances, called cues, to send models onto the runway.


Fashion shows rely heavily on music to set the mood of the show and appeal to the emotions of the audience. The right music can prepare an audience to enjoy the show more than any other fashion show element. Music may be recorded or live, instrumental or vocal. Each music genre—blues, contemporary, rock, classical, jazz, hip-hop, electronic—can influence the audience, causing people to leave the show excited to buy merchandise. However, the music must be selected to fit the appropriate target market. Sound professionals should research preferences and be able to match music with the selected audience.

Music is used to set the atmosphere for the audience and set the pace for models. Upbeat, dance-oriented music will cause models to walk at a more rapid pace and may require more outfits to fill the time properly. The music should match the theme and the merchandise, starting with a strong selection to capture the attention of the audience. Just as the merchandise is presented in a flowing, natural progression, so should the music. During the middle segments, music should not overpower the merchandise but should keep the audience interested. A finishing selection should be strong, with a driving momentum that leaves the audience remembering the show after the finale.

The sound designer is responsible for researching and selecting the appropriate music, obtaining permissions to use copyrighted music, mixing the music, and preparing the sound system at the fashion show venue. This is the audio portion of the fashion show.

Steps in Presenting the Fashion Show

In addition to discussing show elements and their preparation, it is important to consider how the fashion show comes together. These final steps in presenting the show include the rehearsal, behind-the-scenes preparations on show day, and evaluation following the show. Fashion show evaluation is discussed in the Checklist for Fashion Show and Special Event Evaluation at the end of this chapter.


The rehearsal is a practice performance, held in private, in preparation for a public performance. The rehearsal is an opportunity for the show director to solve any problems prior to performing the show for the audience. The rehearsal may be a simple run-through, a dress rehearsal, or a full dress rehearsal. A run-through is a rehearsal of the show sequences and involves showing models the choreography. A dress rehearsal consists of a walk-through with complete garment changes. A full dress rehearsal is held to check all theatrical aspects of the show, including timing, music, garment changes, and other technical aspects. The type of show and level of expertise of the participants will dictate the type of rehearsal needed. Dressers, starters, and all other show personnel should be involved with the dress rehearsal to understand the sequence of the show and assist with show timing during the actual performance.

Day of the Show

After hours, days, or months of planning, the show is ready to be presented. However, before the models arrive, behind-the-scenes details need to be prepared. A complete sound and lighting check should take place to ensure that audio and visual levels are correct for the audience, models, and announcer. The dressing room needs to be prepared. Lineup sheets should be posted at strategic locations, and everyone should know the proper entrances, flow of traffic, and exits. Merchandise should be organized on racks by model, in the order the garments will be worn—ready for them to put on. Tags are hidden, alterations are finished, and garments are steamed or pressed.

Programs and/or promotional samples should be placed on audience seats, and hosts should be completely familiar with the seating arrangement for reserved seating. First impressions by the audience will influence the show’s success or failure. All of the preparation will pay off when every element works in concert to present the right fashion to the right audience with all elements correctly executed.

As with any live performance, it is important to start the show on time. People grow increasingly impatient when they feel their time is being wasted.

Communication between the fashion show director, announcers, technicians, and other show personnel will influence the smooth running of the show. Show producers should also be aware of the audience’s reactions and respond as necessary to make the audience comfortable. Most shows finish with a finale, bringing all models on stage together and acknowledging the designer. When the show is finished, stage strike (dismantling the set) and cleanup should occur with all participants fulfilling their assigned responsibilities.

At the beginning of this chapter, we learned that fashion shows are a type of special event that is exclusively used by the fashion industry. We now look at other types of special events.

Special Events

Fashion companies and charitable organizations use special events as promotional tools to increase awareness of products or services, enhance brand or company image, or raise funds. Fashion brands and retailers put considerable time, effort, and money into creating special events that will entice consumers to purchase their products or services as well as create positive impressions of their products or services.

Special events lend themselves to created public relations. Situations that, alone, may not be considered newsworthy can be made newsworthy by the attention of the special event. For instance, local media may not find product launches to be newsworthy. But if a celebrity is in town to promote the product launch, the appearance of a famous person would be considered newsworthy and be given coverage in local media. Store openings, anniversary celebrations, product launches, community action kickoffs, long-established charity events, and special-interest group activities can become special events with a planned promotion as part of the IMC promotion mix.

The strategic use of short-term events, such as Opening Ceremony’s New York Fashion Week event, or long-running events, such as the Heart Health fashion events, can build links that connect a product or brand to an event of public interest. In turn, these links can help a firm to establish rapport between customers and its products or services.

Event Ideas

The variety of special events a firm may choose to produce is limitless. Creativity abounds in special event planning, and almost any circumstance a firm finds itself in can be turned into a successful event. Just a few of the numerous types of special events are listed in Figure 13.12.

Figure 13.12. Special event ideas.

Special event ideas.

Event Objectives

Special events are planned to fulfill one or more specified business objectives:

  • Enhance the positive image of the company to the general public, its customers, and its employees. Because fashion retailers, manufacturers, and designers are so heavily dependent on public acceptance, they are among the most aggressive and constant users of special events.

  • Sell large quantities of products or services in a short time period while promoting future sales. This is a popular technique used during winter holidays. During this high-traffic shopping season, prewrapped items are displayed on tables throughout the store as gift reminders for customers.

  • Reach specifically targeted market segments. Differentiation is the name of the game. Special events can be used to differentiate a firm from its competition, or differentiate specific target consumers. Men’s shopping nights, for example, are popular events hosted by retailers before Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

  • Exhibit good corporate citizenship, giving back to the community from which a retailer’s customers come. Malls, retailers, and supermarkets are especially dependent on consumers; they must be particularly watchful of their impact on a community and exhibit good corporate citizenship. They may do so by coordinating special events that will promote a better quality of life for their customers and employees.

  • Enhance relations with preferential and potential customers. Every firm has special customers, or VIPs, that it wishes to impress. Private events may be held for these people to show them how important they are to the firm. Invitation-only events to grand openings, galas, or private showings by designers reflect the preferential status of its A-list audience. When a retailer such as J. Crew or Old Navy opens a branch store in a new town, customers who like the store on Facebook can be invited to a private preview party before the store opens to the public.

  • Contribute to the community’s economic development. Giving back to the community can be accomplished when a local retailer hosts a special event that attracts certain groups. Top names in fashion hosted a fund-raiser for the Meatpacking District Improvement Association, a nonprofit dedicated to improving that New York neighborhood (Koblin, 2014). During the event, called “Open Market,” designers and fashion leaders in the neighborhood, including Diane von Furstenberg, Andrew Rosen, Olivier Theyskens, Tory Burch, Marcus Wainwright, David Neville, Mazdack Rassi, and André Balazs, set up sample-sale booths, as well as food and drinks from area restaurants, to benefit the MDIA.

  • Promote a charitable cause. Increasingly, special events are being used to promote charitable causes. Firms ask their customers, employees, and senior management to get involved and take action in response to a concern or a crisis. Causes that have gained particular support from the fashion industry include AIDS, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer, because these diseases have disproportionately affected the industry.

Once a firm has established the objectives for a special event, the next step is to determine what type of event to host.

Special Event Categories

Special events occur at all levels of the fashion industry. Manufacturers use events to create interest in buyers to select their line for distribution in retail stores. Retailers use events to encourage consumers to shop at their locations. Figure 13.13 illustrates an event that promotes both a retailer and school.

Special events may be classified into two types: institutional events or merchandise-driven events. Institutional events bring attention to the company. Merchandise events are planned to sell merchandise. These classifications are not mutually exclusive. Many special events may be developed as a combination of selling merchandise and bringing recognition to the designer or retailer. In one instance, a store opening may be used to strengthen the image of the firm, in another instance, to sell merchandise.

Figure 13.13. Patrick Cox and Jenna Lyons attended the J. Crew retail store in London to launch their partnership with Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.

Patrick Cox and Jenna Lyons attended the J. Crew retail store in London to launch their partnership with Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.

Institutional Events

Institutional events enhance the image of the company by exhibiting good corporate citizenship, embellishing customer relations, contributing to the community’s economic development, or promoting a charitable cause.

One company that promotes a variety of institutional events is Macy’s (2014). In addition to sponsoring New York City’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for more than 90 years and presenting the city’s Fourth of July fireworks for more than 35 years, Macy’s has been involved with other events that combine fashion and compassion. These events demonstrate Macy’s commitment to patriotic and community-oriented institutional celebrations.

Other examples of institutional events include museum exhibits, in-store exhibits, and anniversary celebrations.

Museum Exhibits

A fashion museum exhibit is a presentation of clothing and accessories with artistic items in an interpretive setting at a museum. The opening of a fashion exhibit as a special event at a museum creates excitement and institutional recognition for a designer, retailer, or publisher beyond the walls of the institution. Costume exhibits are among the most popular art museum events, drawing people who otherwise would not be exposed to such displays. Clothing is displayed on mannequins arranged in attractive vignettes with narrative provided on signage and museum programs. Retrospective books and artifacts may be sold as part of the event to generate sales and create an ambiance for the showing.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibits have featured works with such themes as Charles James: Beyond Fashion, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, and The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014). Each spring the newest exhibit opens with a fund-raising gala ball, under the guidance of museum trustee Anna Wintour, editor in chief of American Vogue. The gala ball, known as the “Party of the Year,” attracts celebrities from the worlds of fashion, society, art, media, and entertainment. This event is one of the most visible and successful charity events in the fashion industry. Other institutions, including the Victoria and Albert in London, the Museum at FIT, The Fashion Museum at Kent State University, and the Phoenix Art Museum, also feature innovative fashion museum exhibitions.

Anniversary Celebrations

Anniversary celebrations are special events used by companies to bring attention to their heritage and longevity in the community. Using a company’s past as a promotion tool in the present can bring attention and business to the company by illustrating the one thing that sets the company apart from every other company—its history. History can be used to bring renewed attention to heritage brand names by capitalizing on their record of reliability. Consumers are also likely to be drawn to history and legacy. Using a nostalgic theme for an anniversary event lets the audience look both backward and forward. Heritage brands, such as Brooks Brothers, Coach, Frye Boots, Woolrich, and Levis, frequently use anniversary celebrations to promote the longevity of their products.

Figure 13.14. Heritage brands, such as French lingerie brand Maison Lejaby, frequently use anniversary celebrations to promote the longevity of their products.

Heritage brands, such as French lingerie brand Maison Lejaby, frequently use anniversary celebrations to promote the longevity of their products.

Maison Lejaby, the French heritage lingerie brand, celebrated its 130th anniversary with a spectacular fashion show and event at the Lido in Paris (Blackman, 2014). The event was attended by customers, buyers, media representatives, and celebrities. Key looks came from historical eras including Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and the World War II pinup girls. Many showpieces, including a Swarovski-encrusted tutu (Fig. 13.14), were created especially for this event.

Merchandise Events

Merchandise events are planned to influence the sale of goods. The goals they fulfill include selling large quantities of products in a short time period, reaching specifically targeted market segments, enhancing customer relations, and promoting a charitable cause.

Retailers sponsor activities to attract customers into their stores or to their websites in order to generate sales. The activities range from large storewide promotions to small endeavors such as product demonstrations. Special events are an especially important device during off-peak selling seasons. For example, home and boat shows held at shopping malls are scheduled to bring people in during slower selling months. Store anniversary sales are not necessarily celebrated on the actual day of incorporation, but rather during a period in which sales need a boost.

Cosmetic companies use events such as complimentary makeovers, facials, or beauty seminars to coincide with gift-with-purchase and purchase-with-purchase sales promotion events to increase traffic and move merchandise. Neiman Marcus has taken cosmetic promotion to a new level with its Beauty Event, which promotes a range of well-known beauty brands. A specially designed seasonal bag is created for the retailer with samples from various vendors, such as Bobbi Brown, Kiehls, Prada, and Laura Mercier. A customer who makes a minimum purchase will receive the bag and its contents. Many cosmetic vendors coordinate their gift-with-purchase promotions during this event, making it a huge incentive for customers to buy during this merchandise event.

Special events can also increase traffic to dispense merchandise rapidly during peak periods. For example, university bookstores always set up extra checkout lines during the first week of classes to accommodate higher numbers of customers during a rush period. A tote bag or other premium might be offered as an incentive to purchase books at the campus brick-and-mortar location rather than online.

Store Openings

Special events are always planned for a store or boutique opening. Store openings are celebrations that introduce customers to a new merchant. The merchant may have the store stocked and ready for sales, or show the space where a future store will be located. Special sales, refreshments, and product demonstrations encourage consumers to shop in the new environment.

Some large retail chains plan several store openings at once across the country and have special store savings at every location. Special events include refreshments, activities for children, and extraordinary merchandise displays.

Celebrity Appearances

The celebrity appearance, featuring a well-known individual from inside or outside the fashion industry to promote a new product or designer line, is a common special event. Figure 13.15 shows model Kate Moss promoting her latest collection for Topshop.

Figure 13.15. Kate Moss attracted a large audience at Topshop’s Oxford Circus store window as she unveiled her collection for the retailer.

Kate Moss attracted a large audience at Topshop’s Oxford Circus store window as she unveiled her collection for the retailer.

Cosmetic lines often celebrate new fragrances with the designer or celebrity appearing at the product launch. Shopping centers may invite celebrities or designers for one-day guest appearances to sign autographs and have lunch with a special winner to increase traffic for the mall.

Product Launches

Product launches are special events planned to set in motion the promotion and sale of new products. The special event to kick off a new product is the climax of many months of preparation and planning, from the product’s inception to its release to the consumer. The goal of a product launch is to make sure every promotion element has a cohesive sustained message that enhances the brand equity of the product.

Vendor or Category Weeks

Vendor or category weeks are special events that feature a merchandise brand or category. The event may be store specific, such as C9 Get Fit week at Target, or the event may be sponsored by a producer and involve several competing retailers, such as Clinique Gift-with-Purchase Week held at several major department stores.

Product Demonstrations

Product demonstrations, which illustrate how consumers can use merchandise, are simple yet effective special events orchestrated to promote new or improved products. Demonstrations are common in accessory and cosmetic departments and in warehouse retailing, where most product demonstrations require minimal space, perhaps only a table or counter. Warehouse retailers often have product representatives set up at stations within the store. Food samples, cleaning solutions, and beauty products are often demonstrated in front of an audience for their reaction. Demonstrations of new products cause favorable product evaluation and create increased sales.

Special Events Personnel

People involved in special events range from seasoned professional special event planners and fashion brand executives to volunteers, who are members of charitable organizations or store advisory boards interested in supporting a particular cause or fashion brand. If the event is a small gathering of twenty-five to thirty-five people for an accessory launch at a specialty store, the entire event may be coordinated by one person. But if the event is as large as the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Awards, it requires a significant staff to handle all of the show planning and execution. Although event functions may be given different titles depending on the situation, the essential tasks of producing an event include administrative, personnel, operations, and marketing.

Administration is handled by the top manager or event director and provides overall leadership at the event control center. Figure 13.16 shows an example of an event request form that the event director will use to put the event on the calendar. The personnel team finds the right person to do each job and either trains volunteers or finds appropriate outside suppliers and technicians to complete tasks. This function is also known as human resources. Operations personnel get the job done. These people ensure that the event, the venue, and the participants work together. Finally, the marketing team, also known as sales, public relations, or promotion, get people to the event through selling tickets, finding sponsors, contacting the media, or developing advertising or public relations campaigns.

Figure 13.16. Special event request form.

Special event request form.

Fashion Show and Special Event Diaries

One of the primary tools used for planning and evaluating fashion shows and special events is a fashion show or special event diary (Fig. 13.17). This document, in print or electronic form, chronicles all of the steps in planning, budgeting, and implementing the event and evaluates various elements of the program. A diary also defines the type of event, venue, date and time, theme and title, merchandise presented, audience attendance and reaction, personnel involved, and notes for improvement. Not only does this document help keep the current personnel informed and on track, it serves as a planning document for the next big show or event.

Fashion shows and special events in the fashion industry offer a wide range of opportunities to retailers, fashion brands, and consumers. From attending a fashion show featuring designs by college students to visiting the latest fashion exhibit at a regional, national, or international museum, fashion shows and special events are like the icing on the cake.

Figure 13.17. Fashion show and special event diary outline.

Fashion show and special event diary outline.


  • Fashion shows—presentations of apparel, accessories, and other products on live models to an audience—are produced by fashion brands, designers, and retailers to sell merchandise to the target audience, either trade professionals involved in the fashion business or general consumers.

  • Fashion shows are defined by their presentation method, which includes four categories: production, formal runway, informal, and multimedia.

  • Fashion show personnel includes a fashion director who supervises coordinators of models, merchandise, promotion, budget, and staging.

  • Fashion show planning details include audience selection, theme development, merchandise selection, model direction, venue selection, scheduling, timing, and security.

  • Steps in presenting a fashion show include having a rehearsal, preparing the venue before the event, striking the set, and evaluating.

  • A special event is a one-time occurrence with planned activities, focused on a specific purpose, to bring attention to a brand, manufacturer, retailer, or organization to influence the sale of merchandise.

  • Special events may be classified into two types: institutional events or merchandise-driven events.

  • People involved in special events range from seasoned professional special event planners and fashion brand executives to volunteers, who are members of charitable organizations or store advisory boards interested in supporting a particular cause or fashion brand.

  • One of the primary tools used for planning and evaluating fashion shows and special events is a fashion show or special event diary.

Key Terms

anniversary celebration
budget coordinator
category week
celebrity appearance
charity show
consumer show
created audience
cue dramatized show
dress rehearsal
dressing area
fashion show
fashion show diary
fashion show director
fashion show producer
formal runway show
full dress rehearsal
guaranteed audience
ideal chart
individual model lineup form
informal fashion show
institutional event
lineup mannequin modeling
merchandise coordinator
merchandise event
merchandise selection
model coordinator
museum exhibit
product demonstration
product launch
production show
promotion coordinator
sound designer
special event
special event diary
stage manager
store opening
stylist theme
trade show
trunk show
vendor week

Questions For Discussion

  1. What are the differences between fashion shows produced for the members of the trade and shows for general consumers?

  2. In what situations would one use a production show, a formal runway show, or a digital production?

  3. Discuss the primary responsibilities of a model coordinator, merchandise coordinator, promotion coordinator, budget coordinator, and stage manager in planning a fashion show.

  4. What should happen during the rehearsal, venue preparation for the show, during the show, and after the conclusion of the show?

  5. Compare and contrast live and digital fashion shows. What are some advantages and disadvantages of each?

  6. What are the primary and secondary reasons companies stage special events?

  7. What is the difference between an institutional and a merchandise special event?

  8. Who is responsible for special event planning and implementation?


  1. Break into teams of four to five people. Each team will take twenty-five minutes to brainstorm ideas for a fashion show theme. Discuss the positives and negatives of each idea. Each group will share its three top themes with the entire group.

  2. The red carpet interviews before awards shows such as the Oscars®, Golden Globes, or Grammys are said to be celebrity fashion shows. Reporters are more frequently excited by what was worn than by who won awards. After watching an award show, select your favorite and least liked outfits. Why did you choose them?

  3. Identify a city where there is a fashion week. Each member of the class should choose a different location. Find a website that has images from that city’s fashion week shows. Identify items that are unique to your selected location or items that are similar to those shown in other regions.

  4. Watch the most recent show from a particular designer or brand. Then find a show from the same designer or brand from at least five years ago on YouTube. In a one-page paper, discuss how the shows differ or remain the same.

  5. Break into teams of four to five people and brainstorm special event ideas that could support and raise money for your annual fashion show.

Assignment: Fashion Brand Promotion Campaign

Each agency may make promotion mix recommendations that complement the advertising campaign for the brand. In developing promotion mix strategies you should review the promotion plan and creative strategy developed previously.

Part 1: Develop a Special Event or Fashion Show Strategy

Each team should consider developing a special event or fashion show strategy to complement its advertising campaign. What is the objective of the special event, how will it be executed, and how will it be evaluated? As a team, write up the strategy in report form. If your agency team has determined that special events or fashion shows are not an appropriate promotion mix recommendation, your justification should also be written up in report form. You may also develop creative materials to complement your report.

Part 2: Formal Presentation

Be ready to make a formal presentation to the class. The presentation should be enthusiastic and convincing, showing overall coordination of the written report and the creative materials. If you recommended against developing a special event or fashion show strategy, the justification must be comprehensive.


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Find in Library Everett J. C., & Swanson K. K. (2013). Guide to producing a fashion show (3rd ed.). New York: Fairchild.

Koblin J. (2014, April 3). The fashion world as a good neighbor. New York Times. Retrieved from

Macy’s. (2014). Macy’s event marketing. Retrieved from

Metropolitan Museum of Art. (2014). The Costume Institute. Retrieved from

Wilson E. (2013, September 9). Opening Ceremony, Zac Posen and designing statements. New York Times. Retrieved from