Post-pandemic experimentation at Paris Fashion Week

Paris (AFP) –

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Paris Fashion Week wraps up Tuesday after nine days of innovative experiments that showed how the industry is embracing technology and new approaches for a post-pandemic future.

While many fashion houses stuck to online presentations, the biggest names such as Dior, Balenciaga and Stella McCartney -- even Yves Saint Laurent, which had been first to quit live shows when the pandemic hit -- got back to the catwalk.

But new twists often reflected the lessons learned during lockdowns, and increasing environmental concerns.

- What is real? -

Among the most inventive runway shows in years came from Balenciaga, who fooled their own guests into becoming part of the spectacle.

Arriving via a red carpet, they were unaware that the official models were walking among them until a big screen relayed their entrance and highlighted which outfits were part of the show.

Yves Saint Laurent went for a traditional approach, returning to its favourite location in front of the Eiffel Tower
Yves Saint Laurent went for a traditional approach, returning to its favourite location in front of the Eiffel Tower Christophe ARCHAMBAULT AFP

The line between guest and model disappeared as it emerged that some of the celebrities had been on secret modelling duty, including racing driver Lewis Hamilton and actress Isabelle Huppert.

The New York Times called it a "knife-sharp belly laugh of an experiment on... our digital lives, where posing has become the norm (and) voyeurism is a constant."

- Immersive shows -

One advantage of pandemic-era online presentations is that they have given viewers time to really appreciate the clothes.

Dior's 1960s styles and sportwear influences reflected a radical post-pandemic shift for designer Maria Grazia Chiuri
Dior's 1960s styles and sportwear influences reflected a radical post-pandemic shift for designer Maria Grazia Chiuri Christophe ARCHAMBAULT AFP

Dior embraced that idea, using an elaborate gameshow-style rotating stage which allowed the models and their outfits to be seen from multiple angles.

Christian Louboutin, creator of the famous red-soled pumps, offered a fully immersive experience, plunging the audience into digital landscapes before presenting the shoes on podiums, jazzed up with digital effects, while dancers put them through their paces.

- Face-to-face -

Young French star Marine Serre, who has put on spectacular shows in the past, opted to stick with an online presentation this time.

But she also screened the film for several hundred guests at a special evening in Paris "to give it some warmth and appreciation," she said.

The clothes were on display to see and touch, while Serre herself was on hand to discuss directly with guests.

British veteran Paul Smith also took an intimate approach, inviting guests to his headquarters.

He offered commentary on each outfit, saying: "I think the way we've done it today is correct for the house. It's nice to have a one-to-one."

- Ethical concerns -

Though the fashion industry is often accused of empty posturing on the environment, some designers insist they are determined to really make a difference.

Stella McCartney displayed the first-ever bag made from "Mylo" mushroom leather.

It was part of a collection that went heavy on natural vibes, with even the music being inspired by fungi.

Hermes did not go for an ecological vibe, setting their show in an airport hangar outside Paris
Hermes did not go for an ecological vibe, setting their show in an airport hangar outside Paris Christophe ARCHAMBAULT AFP

Gabriella Hearst also highlighted her green credentials, saying 58 percent of her designs for Chloe were from low-impact materials.

And Dutch label Botter used recovered plastic waste from the sea for its aquatic-inspired collection.