High Fashion’s Embrace of ‘Zoolander 2’ Is Puzzling Yet Heartening

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To close out Maison Valentino’s Fall/Winter 2015-16 runway show at Paris Fashion Week earlier today, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson reprised their Zoolander characters for a much tamer walk-off than the one depicted in the 2001 film. (For one, Billy Zane wasn’t in attendance, at least not that we know of.) You can see in video from the event that the crowd of couture insiders didn’t quite know what to make of Derek Zoolander and Hansel McDonald’s sudden appearance, but based on the iPhone frenzy it sparked, there was clearly some excitement in the air.

At first glance, it seems that high fashion’s embrace of Zoolander will extend to the comedy’s sequel (out February 12, 2016), which Stiller and Wilson announced today with help from the industry’s gatekeepers. Nearly every major fashion publication has the Zoolander 2 news up on its site now. Anna Wintour’s default face in photos is more akin to Blue Steel than a proper smile, but next to Derek and Hansel, the icy Vogue editrix can’t help but cracking a tidy grin.

Vogue‘s Instagram is cracking jokes about the Eiffel Tower looking so small, it might as well be intended for ants. Meanwhile, Stiller and Wilson pose alongside Tilda Lindstam, whom Vogue recently declared the funniest model on Instagram, and Ju Xiaowen, the face of Marc Jacobs. With this many really, really, ridiculously good-looking people goofing off in one place, let’s hope another freak gasoline-fight accident doesn’t break out.

Women’s Wear Daily interviewed Valentino creative directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli about the stunt, which Stiller and Wilson conceptualized. “We met them and there was a good relationship,” Chiuri noted. “We said, ‘Why not?’”

“We love fashion. We think that we have to have fun. I mean, that’s what fashion is for,” Piccioli said. “We work seriously, but we don’t take everything so seriously. It’s something different.”

As a mere observer of the fashion industry, I have to wonder how we got here. I’m not complaining, of course. I think it’s fair to say that high fashion has always had a bit of PR problem in the sense that it can seem off-puttingly pretentious, judgmental, and self serious to outsiders. To embrace Zoolander, fashion’s most mainstream satire to date, is a positive thing that I wouldn’t have necessarily expected from the industry’s highbrow visionaries.

Zoolander featured no shortage of era-appropriate supermodels and designers, ranging from Heidi Klum, Fabio, Claudia Schiffer, and Milla Jovovich to Donatella Versace, Tom Ford, and Tommy Hilfiger. Most of these big names showed up at the film’s award-show scene, the VH1 Fashion Awards, held annually from 1995 to 2002. This made sense considering Stiller’s Derek Zoolander character originated in skits aired at these VH1 specials, back in 1996 and 1997. But with the film produced by VH1, it perhaps felt a little like polite embrace from the most mainstream of fashion figures who frequented the network’s Fashion Awards.

This time, the fashion world has no real impetus to support Zoolander, outside of just wanting to. With the response seen just today, I have to think the new film — which is currently shooting in Europe — must have some incredible cameos in store. Will Mugatu finally come face to face with his rumored inspiration, Karl Lagerfeld? Could the Derelicte collection come to fruition now that Vivienne Westwood has offered up her own tasteless collection inspired by the homeless? If high fashion can embrace Kim Kardashian, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for America’s funniest dumb models.