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Sedaris and Stamberg Deconstruct a Fashion Show

High fashion sweeps across the runway at a Paris fashion show in 2005.
Susan Stamberg, NPR
High fashion sweeps across the runway at a Paris fashion show in 2005.

While it may still be winter in most neighborhoods, clothing for spring and summer has already started arriving at the stores. The ideas for some of these clothes were first seen last fall -- at the ready-to-wear fashion shows.

Susan Stamberg attended two Paris runway shows with historian Joan DeJean and essayist David Sedaris.

Valentino's spring-summer ready-to-wear collection was familiar to DeJean, due not to the clothes, but to the promotional style. Showing clothes to buyers and fashion writers is an idea that goes back to Versailles and the court of Louis XIV.

The rising newspaper industry began covering fashion in 1678, and the successful marketing of a fashionable "Winter 1678" was the start of a cultural shift towards seasonal outfits and rapid changes in fashion sense. The fashion industry and the press have been co-dependent ever since. The "Queens" of today's fashion media -- editors of Vogue and Harpers Bazaar, for example -- get front row seats at the runway shows, ensuring that what they like will continue to entice and dress the masses.

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Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for NPR.