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Did Paris Fashion Week succeed at digital fashion shows?

By Winta Ghebre

Oct 13, 2020

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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.