Updated: Nov 10, 2021

In our present-day digital era marked by the ubiquity of social media, fashion shows have become more accessible than ever. No longer limited to the high-profile invitees and guests who can afford to attend such exclusive events in person, fashion houses have had to adapt when unveiling their latest collections to the public. Capturing the attention of countless additional spectators viewing the events remotely behind a screen poses a significant challenge. The set designers tasked with creating fashion runways have thus emphasized the spectacle of striking theatrics and eccentric settings in their work. Bridging the gap between architecture and fashion, certain set designs have incorporated loose architectural references, while others have drawn directly from real-world architectural sites.

Savage x Fenty 2019 / Willo Perron

For the launch of her Savage x Fenty lingerie line in 2019, Rihanna tapped Los Angeles-based multi-disciplinary creative and long-time collaborator Willo Perron. Challenging the notion of a traditional fashion runway, Perron devised a stage with subtle North African and Mediterranean architectural elements such as rounded arches and ziggurat-like stairways, echoing the collection’s lookbook which was shot in Morocco. Highlighted by colorful and dynamic lighting effects, the overall bare structure takes on an ever-changing appearance throughout the show. Perron’s unconventional set design served as the setting for extravagant dance numbers in which models and performers of all sizes and ethnicities were represented—reflecting Rihanna’s mission to release a collection based on inclusivity and female empowerment.

Chanel Spring 2018 Haute Couture / villa eugénie

Chanel has repeatedly pushed the boundaries of fashion shows with their lavish and farfetched extravaganza of theatrical productions. Serving as the site for Chanel’s haute couture shows, the Grand Palais in Paris has seen a variety of jaw-dropping oddities under its vaulted glass roof—from a full-fledged supermarket with Chanel-branded goods, to a giant iceberg shipped from Sweden, and even a life-size space rocket which appeared to take off. However, the French fashion house opted for a more restrained and distinctly French concept in their Spring 2018 Haute Couture show. Aided by villa eugénie, a production company based in Brussels, Chanel recreated an environment reminiscent of the gardens at Versailles as a central fountain is surrounded by a latticed passageway adorned with ivy within the Grand Palais.

Prada Spring/Summer 2012 Men’s / OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture)

Since the early 2000s, the Italian fashion house Prada has worked closely with OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), the Dutch architectural firm responsible for designing a majority of Prada’s catwalks and flagship stores. The set designers at OMA adopted a minimalist approach for the unveiling of Prada’s Spring/Summer 2012 Menswear in Milan. Steering away from elaborate and extravagant designs, OMA’s runway consists of a large indoor field entirely covered with synthetic turf, alluding to the collection’s golf-inspired garments. Occupying the entirety of the space and organized according to a 1.5 x 1.5 meter grid, standardized blue foam blocks—typically used for carving small-scale architectural models—are repurposed into seats for the show’s 600 viewers.

Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter 2019 Women’s / La Mode en Images

For their Fall/Winter 2019 Womenswear, French powerhouse Louis Vuitton aimed to capture the essence of Beaubourg, the Parisian neighborhood frequented by a melting pot of the city’s boldest subcultures. With the help of the French production agency La Mode en Images, creative director Nicolas Ghesquière drew inspiration directly from the Centre Pompidou located in the heart of Beaubourg. Designed by architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, the piece of industrial high-tech architecture sparked a great deal of controversy when it first opened in 1977. Ghesquière mimicked the Centre Pompidou’s inside-out design, scaffold-like frame and exposed piping for the set of the Louis Vuitton show—recalling the collection’s bright colors, eye-catching motifs and experimental quality.

Louis Vuitton Cruise 2017 / Es Devlin

Louis Vuitton’s Cruise campaigns take their followers on a yearly exploration around the globe, with recent prestigious stops ranging from the French Riviera to Monte Carlo and Kyoto. Three months before the Olympics, Louis Vuitton took part in the international sporting craze and embarked on a journey to Rio de Janeiro for the unveiling of their sports-derived 2017 Cruise collection. Known for her ability to bring otherworldly ideas to life, British stage designer Es Devlin was invited to create the show’s catwalk. However, Devlin’s concept was quite straightforward this time around—simply borrowing the site of the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. The modernist building’s iconic flying saucer shape and winding red ramp propelled the Cruise campaign into the realm of space travel—as models descending from the spacecraft showcased Louis Vuitton’s take on futuristic sportswear.