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What you missed from a Paris Fashion Week like no other

By Winta Ghebre

Oct 12, 2020

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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.