Runway Madness

photos by Lucian Perkins

text by Robin Givhan

Published by Chronicle Books

120 pages, 1998


Buy it online






Demigoddesses at Work and Rest

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


It was a 1990s phenomenon. The coat hanger girls of earlier in the century -- chosen for their unlikeliness to compete with the clothes -- have this decade become mondo-mega-superstars in their own rights. Some of them demanding fees that make even professional athlete's incomes pale by comparison. This development has not been without a couple of sides. There are those to whom supermodel stardom is second to none. Others deride the advent of skinny girls as demigoddesses. Runway Madness is about none of that.

The book is neither celebration nor exposure of the fashion runways of New York. Rather, it is a showcase of some of the best of photographer Lucian Perkins' work: both on and off the runway. The photos cover a 10 year period of Perkins' fashion-based photographs, on the runway and behind-the-scenes at some of the most important American collections of the decade. We see designer Betsey Johnson coming out of one of her signature cartwheels at her spring 1997 collection. We see fashion editor Anna Wintour at a show: in sunglasses, of course. We see model Veronica Webb with curlers in her hair cutting up for some of her fellow clothes horses backstage at Todd Oldham in 1994. We see Shalom, Amber, Kate, Cindy, Naomi... all of these women who require only one name and never look like they're working very hard to look amazing. Except, in some of the photos, we see them working very hard indeed and there seems to be an awful lot of hurry-up-and-waiting and here Perkins has captured everything from ennui-filled moues to bored indifference and even some delighted anticipation.

Perkins' stellar photographs are complimented by too little of Robin Givhan's text. I hesitate to call her the author as the text -- while competent -- is sketchy. And the publisher has made it quite clear that this is Perkins' book. His name is on the cover and the spine, while Givhan's appears only in a secondary position in various locations throughout the work. And that's a shame: Perkins' photos could only have been enhanced by more of Givhan's knowledgeable narrative.

For more than a decade, Lucian Perkins has documented the absurdity of fashion as well as the drama. He shoots the action on the runway, but more than merely recording a model strutting along a catwalk, he captures the unguarded moment: the surprising juxtaposition, the beauty in subtle detail, the instant in which a model's pleasure is reflected in a shy smile.

The balance of the introductory text sounds equally publicity-department-generated. Where we get to see a bit more of Givhan's own style and insight are in the cutlines to the photos themselves. In the 50 or so words she's allotted with each photo, Givhan manages to sneak in not only textual illustration, but even some history and drama. For instance, for a backstage photo of a delighted Todd Oldham and some of his models from a 1990 show, Givhan tells us:

It takes a designer months to put a collection together. The actual presentation is over in about fifteen minutes. After the show, magazine editors converge on a designer's showroom to make preliminary decisions about which sample garments will be featured prominently in upcoming issues.

Each photo is given equally thorough treatment and Givhan has a great deal to teach us. Unfortunately, Runway Madness has been set up in traditional art-book style. The photos themselves are unblemished by the intrusion of potentially illuminating words. The book itself is scattered with quotes from famous fashion personalities, ("I don't even want to be a lady. I want to be a woman. Oftentimes in a fitting I say, 'Oh, just to be a woman for fifteen minutes!' The clothes are so beautiful. It's a fantasy. It's what inspires me." Designer Isaac Mizrahi. ) including various designers, models and fashion writers. Givhan's cutlines have been relegated to the back of the book, each with a thumbnail-size version of the photograph at the front of the book. That means that following the narrative makes for a lot of front and back flipping: and no one likes to work that hard just to follow the photographs.

Runway Madness is not the definitive work on the fashion industry. In fact, it doesn't even come close or -- in fact -- make a serious attempt. It is essentially a photography book and a wonderfully produced one that will also be of interest to those with curiosity about the fashion industry. | December 1998



Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of The Next Ex.