As Miu Miu and Louis Vuitton brought to an end the shows in Paris, along with another colourful month-long fashion parade through the world’s style capitals, audiences were still reeling from the bewitching beauty of Valentino’s tribal themed show, where leather-pleated armour, Masai jewellery details, Zulu warrior garb and feathered flourishes had people on their feet and grinning in amazement.

Some of us in the French capital had winced at first, as a stream of white models came out, hair plaited in cornrows, wearing exquisite garb inspired by “the imperfect beauty … of wild tribal Africa” – cultural appropriation in fashion has, after all, become controversial. But soon it became clear that this was not about ham-fisted imitation but rather epic artistry – seamless, inspired and emotive. It was one of the season’s finest moments.

There was an effort to shake things up for the spring-summer 2016 shows, most obviously with the use of new venues – New York Fashion Week moved Downtown from the Lincoln Centre and the London events took place in the centre of Soho.

See also: The four biggest trends to take from Paris Fashion Week

New York Fashion Week scored something of a coup when Givenchy decided to relocate this season’s show away from Paris. It was a significant statement, even more so given the show was held on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The French brand’s guest list was more impressive than that of many awards show, with Julia Roberts, Steven Tyler and daughter Liv, Nicki Minaj, Debbie Harry, Emma Roberts, Kimye and designers Tory Burch and Michael Kors in attendance. Performance art came courtesy of Marina Abramovic, a friend of Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, but who was even paying attention with all those celebrities around?

The most spectacular entrance of the season was, unsurprisingly perhaps, seen in Paris, where a resplendent Rihanna appeared in pale pink at Christian Dior, making the most of her eye-catching campaign video for the label.

See also: London Fashion Week spring-summer 2016: patriotism with a twist

London continued to be about the young guns, with remarkable collections from Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou and Simone Rocha. Gareth Pugh even made a return after a seven-year stint in Paris. The oldies also had some fun, though; Vivienne Westwood staged a demonstration against climate change and austerity ahead of her show while 75-year-old Zandra Rhodes made a pink- and hand-drawn-print-heavy comeback after nine years. Giles Deacon’s show featured old-school supermodels such as Karen Elson, Erin O’Connor and Eva Herzigova.

If you haven’t received the memo, Milan is officially cool again, thanks to the renaissance of Gucci. Almost every editor in the front row wore a piece from Alessandro Michele’s debut collection and the store in the city was stripped bare, like a supermarket in the crosshairs of a typhoon. Prada’s stellar collection of classic skirt suits marked a return to maximalism and even Jil Sander and Giorgio Armani got in on the act.

See also: New York Fashion Week: top trends for spring-summer 2016

Milan is shaking off its reputation as the conservative one in the set of four fashion cities, with a host of lively, fresh collections from establishment brands as well as newcomers such as Stella Jean.

Now that everyone is live-streaming their shows, brands and designers have had to become far more inventive when it comes to harnessing the power of social media. New York has always been ahead of the digital curve so it came as no surprise when emerging designer Zoe Jordan held her show solely online and Misha Nonoo debuted her entire collection on Instagram – giving everyone a front-row seat. Burberry (another digital leader in fashion) was not to be outdone and previewed its looks on Snapchat ahead of its catwalk show. And everyone was talking about Twitter’s live-streaming Periscope app.

See also: Milan shows its mojo is back with a parade of individuality

One of the big messages this season is that fashion is no longer exclusive and elitist. Fighting democracy in fashion seems futile in the digital age, and some brands have obviously decided to just embrace the new paradigm.

 

Givenchy invited 800 members of the public, including fashion students, to its runway show. Marc Jacobs’ models walked the red carpet outside the show venue first as the public snapped away with their smartphone cameras. In Paris, newcomer Jacquemus gave away tickets to his highly anticipated debut show, which featured a horse. And Tom Ford dumped the idea of a runway show altogether, releasing instead a music video featuring models and Lady Gaga dancing around in his latest collection to Studio 54 classic I Want Your Love.

One thing we can all agree on is that traditional seasonal trends are dead. Macro and micro trends may abound but designers are increasingly choosing to show well-merchandised collections that most women can pick and choose from, whether they are looking for florals or the perfect white dress.

That said, many designers are on the same page of fashion evolution, looking for individuality in a world of digital reposts. Sex still sells, the runways seemed to scream, as lingerie, sheers and negligee slips emerged as the strongest common theme, as seen at Balenciaga, Givenchy, Miu Miu, Alexander McQueen and Dior.

With catwalk shows online, for all to see, fashion houses appeared to be trying to give the editors present an “experience” rather than treating them merely to a show. British shoe designer Sophia Webster had mermaids lounging on washing machines and Jeremy Scott, at Moschino, recreated in Milan a carwash, complete with a highway and construction signs featuring cheesy slogans like “Dangerous couture ahead” and “Clothed for repairs”.

Kenzo’s set-up had an army of models atop moving blocks that passed through minimal archways – it was one of the most fun, commercial collections in Paris, along with Stella McCartney’s orgy of bright pleating and beautiful cuts.

Chanel’s themed shows seem to have become accidentally topical – this time it was a Chanel Airlines concept just as Air France staff embarked on another strike. There were Chanel-themed airport trolleys, a departures board featuring the locations of its Cruise and Metier des Arts shows around the world as flight destinations and models wheeling luggage along the runways.

Almost last but by no means least, Louis Vuitton embraced a younger generation, with a subversive collection of dark and digital references showing off Nicolas Ghesquiere’s alchemic talent.