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A Nautical Fashionista’s Paradise

Exploring Underwater fashion shows

Not many of us can imagine diving off a rocky cliff into the sea while wearing a long-tailed flowy evening gown. Or practicing archery underwater in the latest fashion outfit. Yet this is not a fantasy. For a few models this was just another fashion show but with a twist. Everything is underwater.

With the rise of public consciousness regarding fashion and its connection with the ocean’s environment, let’s look back at one of fashion’s first relationships with the ocean – the underwater fashion shows.

The Iconic Nautical Debut

In 1947, the brilliant mind of Sam Shere came beautifully to life in his amazing black and white underwater fashion shoot for LIFE magazine. This quirky photo shoot included a range of models engaging in a variety of domestic chores and sports activities underwater in a marine park in Florida.

One of the most unusual photos from the archives depict two women playing ping pong while a shark swims past. Some of the models are not wearing any masks or have oxygen tanks on them, leading us to be bewildered by their lung capacity.

Archive footage from the event shows some of the models walking into the water and along the floor of the marine park in a runway inspired shot while striking amazing poses in the latest fashion attire of that time.

Storytelling in an underwater fashion show

Skipping ahead by a few decades, Russian fashion designer, Jana Nedzvetskaya, directs and designs two breath-taking underwater fashion shows, each depicting their own unique story as their theme in marriage of fashion and art.

In her first underwater fashion show, Harmagedon: Psalm 36:29, the models walk along the runway before gracefully diving into the pool. The show continues underwater where it seems like the dresses themselves come to life in the weightlessness of the water and the lightweight fabric. It’s ethereal. It seems very much like a moving piece of art showing a tribe of mermaids.

Riding on the success of her first underwater project, Nedzvetskaya decided to launch another underwater fashion show – this time bigger and more intricate than the last one. The Alphabet of ben Sirach: Lilith is a flamboyant masterpiece.

Models, inspired by the Story of Lilith, wear vibrant coloured dresses with layers of lightweight fabrics of various lengths, and dive off rocky cliffs into the depths of the Black Sea. The dresses are made of layers of colourful mesh with unique embroidered top pieces. It is truly one of the most intelligent, complex, and fascinating fashion shows that I have ever seen.

Balenciaga with a message

What sets the Balenciaga fashion show apart, from the three previous underwater fashion shows, is that rather than have the models underwater, Balenciaga’s Creative Director (Denma Gvasalia) decided to flood both the runway and the first three rows of seats. The decision for this submerged runway was to draw attention to both climate change and the environmental impacts of the fashion industry.

With 1.4 quadrillion chemically laced microfibres polluting our oceans, the fashion and textile industry has had to confront the environmental impacts that they have made. The industry is thought to be responsible for almost 35% of all microfibre pollution yet fashion brands and houses, like Balenciaga, have been slow to act in response to the overwhelming criticism.

During the show in the Paris fashion week, Balenciaga models sloshed along the runaway, splashing the water that reflected their images below. The Fall 2020 collection featured all-black cold-weather outfits of trench coats, shoulder pads, waterproof wellies and red-carpet worthy gowns. A LED screen replaced the ceiling for the night, displaying natural disaster scenes, like red glowing lava, to further draw attention to climate change.

The Takeaway

There have been other underwater fashion shows since Shere’s iconic shoot in 1947 such as Korean designer’s, Park Sul-Nyeo, who presented his traditional Korean dress collection in an aquarium, and Christopher Prenat’s dress for an underwater show in Tahiti.

Before Balenciaga’s show, nearly all of the underwater fashion shows were a means to garner attention for the fashion designers themselves and their brands. This is not to criticise previous underwater fashion shows – a couple of years ago, many people did not know about the connection between the fashion industry and pollution.

But, now is the time for fashion brands and houses to take advantage of unique publicity to spread information about fashion and its environmental impacts such as ocean pollution.


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