Did Paris Fashion Week succeed at digital fashion shows? – Screen Shot
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Did Paris Fashion Week succeed at digital fashion shows?

In my previous piece, I looked back on the latest Paris Fashion Week and ponded over whether it had been a success or not. I started by analysing its few physical shows and finished my review with the promise that I would then turn to the many digital presentations that took over the city—so here I am.

As travel bans along with sanitary measures and restrictions kept on being reinforced, Paris seemed quite empty this season. The capital had been labelled a “red zone” before the beginning of PFW, meaning most of the international press, industry professionals, buyers, celebrities and taste-makers avoided travelling there as they would then have had to face isolation once back home.

Even if some fashion houses decided to proceed with physical presentations, due to the lack of audience and the drastic sanitary protocol, most brands, established or upcoming, opted for digital activations instead to present their collections.

From digital fashion shows, short movies and films to interactive platforms and gaming, here is a round-up of the best digital presentations of Paris Fashion Week.

Digital fashion shows

Most houses that didn’t proceed with a physical show simply recorded and broadcasted their shows online. Models walked down the runway one by one as if nothing had changed for smaller designers like Rokh, to better-known houses like Miu Miu, Giambattista Valli and Rick Owens, among others.

Of course, this wouldn’t have been Fashion Week if everyone had done the same thing, right? Some brands like Balenciaga decided to reinterpret what digital shows were thought of as. The brand’s SS21 collection was presented through a music video for a cover by BFRND of Corey Hart 80’s hit ‘Sunglasses at Night’.

In this 9 minutes long live stream, the models, wearing shades at night, were walking through Paris as if the city was their catwalk. Passing through avenue George V and the Tuileries garden in a frenetic walk in perfect symbiosis with the upbeat music, this was one of Demna Gvasalia’s most ‘optimistic’ collections to date, diverging slightly from his signature apocalyptic aesthetic.

The walk along with its colours and music was an ode to Paris, to life, one that implied that sunglasses could allow you to believe in a brighter future. The short video felt like an allegory of where the fashion industry is now heading—into the unknown, which is terrifying but could also lead to new beginnings.

Short films

Other fashion houses presented digital activations that demanded higher forms of productions, from short films to interactive storylines.

LVMH Prize 2019 winner Thebe Magugu presented his SS21 collection through the short movie titled Counter Intelligence, which was directed by Kristin-Lee Moolmanm and styled by Ibrahim Kamara. Inspired by the book Betrayal: The Secret Lives of Apartheid Spies by Jonathan Ancer, the South African designer conducted interviews with ex female spies who worked for and against the regime during apartheid to create the script of this film.

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My SS21 collection, titled COUNTER INTELLIGENCE, is based off a series of interviews I conducted with confessed, tried and detained female ex-spies, who worked either for the Apartheid government or defected to the other side, essentially becoming double-agents in the process. Its always fascinated me, how one can become a spy and commit high-treason. Speaking to some of these women, as well as author Jonathan Ancer, gave me some valuable insight into the psychology. Mr. Ancer’s book titled “BETRAYAL: The Secret Lives of Apartheid Spies” was the starting point of the collection and I highly suggest you all read it. Its been interesting translating some of these stories into the collection. One of the spies I spoke to, Olivia Anne-Marie Forsyth, provided me with her scanned fingerprints, which now enjoy a polka-dot effect on LOOK 4 - there are many details like this that pepper the collection that I invite you to please look through. Please watch the collection’s film, by the same name, shot by close collaborators photographer @kristinleemoolman and stylist @ibkamara . I would like to thank everyone involved in this project. Your valued input and contribution is deeply appreciated. Executive Producer @jodie_ennik Models: @bethany.dewaal @francageneva @mariacatherinecorrea @thereal.annah @juliannaveenis @iam_sio @litty_misfit Stylist Assistant: @amyzamaa Berets in collaboration with @therealcrystalbirch and @kirsten___goss Leatherwork in collaboration with @friuli_concepts Photographer Assistant: @tatendachidora 2nd Assistant: Lerato Ntiso Art Director / Set Designer: @chloe_andrea_the_creator Hair Artist: @missmoloto Hair Artist: @saadique Make Up Artist: @annicemakeup Make Up Artist: @alsbellsmua Lampost Luminaires: Lebogang Tlhako Lampost Luminaires: Thalente Khomo Lampost Luminaires: Lili Bo Ming Graphic Design + Titles: @commission.studio Special Thanks to : @keyesartmile + @sunshinecoza + Jonathan Ancer + Mare Hof @lampostsa @lampost.production

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Fellow LVHM Prize winner, French-Belgian designer Marine Serre showed her own collection via AMOR FATI, a 13 minutes sci-fi film directed by Sacha Barbin and Ryan Daubi. The visual masterpiece, starring Iranian-Dutch singer Sevdaliza and artist Juliet Merie, is an illustration of the designer’s recognisable silhouette and ‘apocalyptic fashion’ aesthetic with protagonists dressed in her now-infamous half crescent moon pattern.

About a year ago, with her collection presentation Marée Noire, which addressed the urgency of climate change, her recurrent use of masks as facial garments in her past collections, Serre’s vision seems almost prophetic, as her work perfectly echoes today’s world. Amor Fati, which is a Latin locution that was popularised by the German philosopher Nietzsche in the 19th century, literally translates to “accept your destiny.”

In the current global context, this title has undoubtedly been purposefully chosen, as if Serre is saying that to a certain extent, we all should accept chaos as a new part of our reality.

Participative storytelling

These strange times allowed other brands to experiment with digital experiences axed around interactivity and participative storytelling in order to find new ways of interacting with their audience while still including them in the creative process.

Roger Vivier presented its SS21 collection via 6 interactive movies featured on the online platform Hotel Vivier Cinematheque, all directed by the house’s creative director Gherardo Felloni and starring iconic French actress Isabelle Huppert.

Just like Black Mirror’s 2018 interactive episode ‘Bandersnatch’, viewers can choose different options and guide the evolution of Huppert’s character, which inevitably would lead to a variety of endings. The shoes and accessories of the SS21 collection were placed in the 6 movies that each represented a cinematographic genre: thriller, fantasy, animation, crime, comedy and horror. Felloni explained that the aim of this presentation was to pay homage to cinema, which has been a great source of inspiration for his work but also to create an online experience where the audience could engage differently with the product.

Christian Louboutin presented both men’s and women’s SS21 styles via the Korean gaming phone app ZEPETO, making it the only brand of the season using a gaming platform to showcase its collection. The game, which is relatively unknown in Europe, is very popular in South East Asia and has approximately 1 billion users worldwide.

People were invited to download the app on their smartphone, create their own avatar which could wear the new SS21 collection and then dive into one of the three different ‘Loubi Worlds’—the terrasse, the store and the disco, which featured a performance from American singer King Princess and a DJ set from Zimmer. Louboutin’s idea was to create an event ‘open to all’ which allowed people to virtually live in the designer’s shoes.

Loewe’s presentation was unusual yet beautiful, merging craftsmanship and participative storytelling with a digital footprint. Guests were sent a Loewe toolbox that included a pair of scissors, a paintbrush, a wallpaper roll designed by the artist Anthea Hamilton along with real life-sized posters of the collection. This activation called ‘Show-on-the-Wall’ was accompanied by a simple video explaining and presenting the new collection.

Creative director Jonathan Anderson invited his guests to use the tools provided to create their own artworks at home to, here again, include them in the creative process. Anderson explained that he wanted to “force the viewer to be creative and to interact.”

Today’s realities pushed fashion houses to outgrow themselves creatively which led them to deliver these powerful digital experiences. Additionally, due to the current international social-economic and political climate, the fashion industry took it upon itself to subtlety address these topics. This Paris Fashion Week clearly highlighted the agility of younger designers—who sometimes creatively lead established houses—to adapt to unprecedented situations and use digital innovations to showcase their work but also their ability to open up and cater to larger and more diverse audiences, slowly but surely breaking the barrier of elitism in the fashion industry.

What you missed from a Paris Fashion Week like no other

In the context of a global pandemic as well as socio-economic and political uprisings and movements around the world, fashion week seems like the last of our concerns. Regardless, like every year and every season, the fashion world put its spotlight on the city of lights from the 28 September until the 6 October as fashion houses presented their womenswear ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2021 collections.

This year’s edition was radically different: due to the sanitary requirements and the travel restrictions linked to COVID-19, only a dozen brands decided to proceed with a physical show or presentation. Most of them chose to either retrieve themselves from the fashion calendar completely or present digitally instead.

As some houses successfully resonated with 2020 (at large) with such grace and relevance, some presentations and brand initiatives seemed out of touch. Here’s what you missed from this last Paris Fashion Week.

An uneasy feeling of disconnection

The few big houses that were still left in this season’s calendar seemed (very) disconnected, from Chanel’s Hollywood-inspired extravaganza at the Grand Palais, to Isabel Marant’s dance performance, beautiful collections or not, shows felt inappropriate in today’s context.

However, a few brands such as Dior made a little more effort to resonate with the current social environment. The fashion house invited the artist Lucia Marcucci, known for her feminist collages to emulate stained-glass windows as a backdrop for the runway with visuals inspired by today’s global circumstances. Louis Vuitton also aimed to be slightly more ‘inclusive’ by creating a visually impactful superlative live streaming experience that could be enjoyed by ‘everyone’ online.

Paris as a muse

This Fashion Week highlighted the creativity of small and independent houses and younger designers who adapted to the pandemic-related restrictions and made an effort to engage in meaningful conversations that resonate with today’s realities. Brands abandoned the idea of creating costly, unsustainable set productions.

To mention a few, the duo behind Coperni, Arnaud Vaillant and Sébastien Meyer, presented their SS21 collection on the second day of Paris Fashion Week on the top of the Montparnasse Tower, Paris’s tallest skyscraper, which offered a spectacular view to their guests. The collection emphasised technological innovation and the use of smart garments that protect our bodies: the technical jersey fabric used in Coperni’s new collection is antibacterial, moisturising and offers UV protection.

The brand AMI decided to present its women and men’s SS21 collection during Women’s Fashion Week in ‘real life’ on a beautiful Saturday evening. “This season, more than ever, it is important for us to come back to our roots and bring everyone together,” said founder and creative director Alexandre Mattiussi, adding that “Paris is AMI’s hometown and an essential part of its DNA. For Spring/Summer 2021, I really wanted to highlight it, its beauty, its energy, its elegance.”

AMI’s fashion show took place outdoors on the Quai Henri IV by the Seine river. The models walked down the runway with minimal lighting and Paris by night as a backdrop. The collection was faithful to the brand’s aesthetic, featuring black, navy and neutral colours along with the brand’s signature well-tailored pieces with a ‘twist’. The show was perfectly uplifted by the extraordinary street casting executed by Ibrahim Tarouhit, which was an ode to Paris and France’s diversity. The show featured new faces and unprofessional models that were scouted specifically for this occasion from all ages but also included emerging French musicians and artists such as Ichon, Lala &ce and Le Diouck, putting forward the next generation of creatives.

Political but optimistic

A multitude of other houses decided to use Paris as their source of inspiration but instead reiterated and prioritised the socio-political discourse of their shows, tackling issues such as the industry’s lack of representation and sustainability.

Koché, for example, presented its SS21 collection in Les Buttes Chaumont, one of Paris’ largest parks located in the 20th district. With the brand already being notorious for its sustainable and socially-conscious narrative, Christelle Kocher insisted on doing a physical show as “an act of resistance,” particularity in this park and in this neighbourhood where she lives, not because of its recent gentrification but because of its socio-economic heterogeneity. This initiative delivered a strong message: that we should all be able to enjoy mother nature equally and therefore we should preserve it collectively, indirectly addressing the question of environmental racism, urbanism and territorial disparity.

XULY.Bët decided to present its SS21 collection at L’aiguillage, an old train station rehabilitated by the brand’s founder and creative director Lamine Badian Kouyaté located in Ivry-Sur-Seine, in the outskirts of Paris. The theme of the collection, which was made out of upcycled pieces and fabric from the brand itself was centred around unity and positivism. This idea further reverberated through the show with Angela Davis’ quote, who opened the show stating that 2020 is not worse than other years, but that “we open our eyes to society’s dysfunctions” and because of this, “everything will change.”

Personality and family being at the core of Kouyaté’s work, the casting of the show, which included friends of the house, an ex-Miss France, French rapper Kalash and foil fencer Ysaora Thibus, was a tribute to the brand’s essence.

Austrian-Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize, who joined Paris Fashion Week last season, presented his SS21 collection featuring his cult signature stripes and bold colours at the Palais de Tokyo. Parisian artist Maty Biayenda was also invited to live-paint a gigantic canvas alongside the 3-hour presentation. Ize’s work and Biayenda’s painting were both a celebration of blackness intended as a message of cheery defiance against opponents of LGBTQIA+ rights in Nigeria, where homosexuality is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Some houses, like Balmain, decided to have a subtler yet powerful socio-political stand. The brand’s SS21 collection, which featured both women’s and men’s styles, was presented in the Jardins des Plantes. The ‘phygital’ event mixed a physical audience with virtual guests. Usher was digitally present as well as Jennifer Lopez, Cindy Crawford and Anna Wintour to mention a few who watched the show from the comfort of their homes while their faces were projected on big screens across the physically attending guests.

Olivier Rousteing presented one of his best collections to date by bringing back Balmain’s monogram.  Shoulder pads and neon coloured ensembles were the panache and liveliness needed to exhilarate such a gloomy fashion week. The show opened with an old interview of Pierre Balmain speaking in English, talking about “l’élégance à la Française” and then The Weeknd’s hit ‘Blinded by the lights’ was blasted while the models were walking down the runway. With the dynamism of his collection and his optimism, merging pop culture, French savoir-faire, heritage and the beautifully eclectic casting, Rousteing powerfully illustrated what is (and should be) French élégance today: inclusive and a representation of the diverse society we live in.

This year, Paris Fashion Week emphasised like no other in the past the growing dissonance within the industry. Not only did it highlight a new generation of young designers and professionals ready to rework their companies’ ethos and business models to build a better future but, contrastingly, it also shed light on a more ‘old-fashioned’ part of the industry that, despite the effort it put into this season, is not completely ready to do the same introspective work.

Love it or hate it, at least this Fashion Week was refreshing. It felt like a step towards the start of building a more inclusive, sustainable and socially-conscious fashion industry. But this concerned the few physical shows we were lucky enough to attend. What about the brands that decided to go for digital presentations instead? I’ll have a look at this very shortly.