Yes, it's usually the opening outfit — and model — that gets the fanfare, but the next one out can make a strong statement, too.
Zac Posen opened his fashion show last month with Naomi Campbell in a floral, feminine daytime dress. Of course that made a huge splash. It was a hard act to follow, but Isabeli Fontana, who came out in a bold red number, certainly kept the crowd's attention.
It's often that runway runner-up — the one the audience sees after their cellphones go back in their bags and they've uncrossed their legs, and after the photographers get the lighting and distance just right — that lingers in one's consciousness.
"The second look is the moment where everyone becomes concentrated and focused. That's where the focus of the show starts," says Posen. "The first look is transitional, and as the first image, it has an impact, but it's the second look that I'd call 'the focus look.'"
Nanette Lepore says she sees the opener as the title page, but the second look is the first chapter to each collection. It has to draw in the stylists, retailers and editors right away — and be followed by a strong third outfit to fully hook them.
"I wish every look could be important, but for the first three looks, we want to have high impact. They set the tone," Lepore says.
Marchesa's Georgina Chapman and Yigal Azrouel both pick up on that storytelling theme.
Azrouel says he uses the first look as the eye-catching cover art, but it's not always fully reflective of everything else that's still to come. It's from the second look that he'll build a message of consistency, he explains. "It's the second look where you realize what you are going to go through."
"You try to put the collection as a story, and you have to consider where the look fits with the narrative," says Chapman, who had Jessica Stam in the second slot following Fontana from backstage this past season.
Changes, though, are the norm, right up until the catwalk lights come up. "I do have the sketches in a certain order, but you don't have the lineup set in stone until you have every finished garment," Chapman says. "I keep an open mind until the end."
More often it's the outfit, not the model, that stirs a last-minute switch, says Lepore.
"I tend to clump things together by a colour story in the beginning, but you might see that you have too much of your favouritecolour, or you've used too many of your favourite prints," she explains.
She might not notice until fittings are done, so it's easier to change the order of the models than their clothing.
Lepore says she tries to match the right model to the outfit that's her best colour, shape and vibe.
"You have to follow some flow and sequence. You don't want to do a swimsuit and jump right into ballgowns, no matter how good the model looks or who she is," she says.
Still, it's the opener and the finale, especially for show-stopping red carpet gowns on runways such as Marchesa or Oscar de la Renta, that are the most prestigious, says Roman Young, director of image and development at Wilhelmina Models. The second model would be more like the best supporting actress at the Academy Awards.
"The second look can be quite important. You can miss the first look, especially if it's an a-typical runway and people don't know exactly where to look," says Young, pointing to the winding or rounded runways favoured by Prada, Alexander Wang and Joseph Altuzarra. The photos of the second model are often better, too, he notes.
Models are concerned about their placement in the lineup, Young says.
"In the casting process we're pushing for those opening three slots or the closing slots," he says. "... With my friends who are designers, when they are making their choices, I'll get the call the night before — usually really late. They'll say, 'I have a gift for you. Your girl is opening the show.' Or, they'll say, 'I have a surprise for you, and your girl is in the second position or in the top three.' They know that's important to us."
It could be moments before a show starts that the order will be juggled again.
"Sometimes you see the designer starting to shuffle because, for example, they decide 'whimsy' should be the opening look, and the girl who thought she was going to open is moved to No. 4," Young says.
"You don't quite have girls kicking each other down the stairs or clawing at each other when that happens, but it can be heartbreaking."