How Paris Fashion Week has weathered online revolution so far and lured more fashion designers to put on shows
The City of Light remains the epicentre and spiritual heart of design, as Paris Fashion Week brought in top labels from around the world, some moving their shows from Milan and New York, and others showing for the first time
Paris can feel like a museum. Beautiful and endlessly fascinating, but still more firmly entrenched in the past than the present. However, the city is still the epicentre of haute couture. This is no small thing, because the industry feels much less geographically concentrated since the online revolution.
Paris has fought tooth and nail against this gradual slide away from the traditional fashion week – and it looks like it has succeeded.
From Saint Laurent’s epic show set against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower, to Chanel’s that included constructing a waterfall and cliffs inside the Grand Palais, to Louis Vuitton’s latest catwalk show in the bowels of the Louvre Museum – the biggest luxury brands, which happen to be mostly French, prove that Paris knows how to put on a show.
Even make-up giant L’Oreal got in on the act this season, featuring an array of celebrities (including Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren) walking down the middle of the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
This year, the pull of the city has lured many of the world’s top designers who don’t live in the French capital (including New Yorkers Thom Browne and Altuzarra) to Paris’ cobbled streets, atmospheric ateliers and grand showrooms. Chinese designers Yang Li, Masha Ma and most recently Uma Wang show there regularly. Wang moved last season from showing in Milan to Parisgain more exposure.
“I’m showing at Paris Fashion Week, as the feel of the collection corresponds naturally with the atmosphere and the clients that are there,” says Ma, who moved her show from the British capital a few years ago. Ma’s collection took inspiration from Wong Kar-wai’s film 2046 for her show at the Palais de Tokyo, with striped, edgy suiting paired with sporty outwear and killer, thigh-high vinyl boots.
Wang, whose romantic aesthetic and long languid silhouettes have found plenty of fans in China and Europe, decided to show in Paris after she met Michéle Montagne, her new head of PR.
“The Paris scene is very important for the visibility it offers a brand: all the big buyers and press are here and it’s easier for them to follow the Uma Wang story,” she says.
The recent shift towards Paris has meant that New York was a quieter affair than usual this season, with Proenza Schouler, Monique Lhuillier and Rodarte all forgoing ready-to-wear to focus on showing at Paris’s Haute Couture week in January 2018 for the first time, “We are so excited – the whole thing of the history of Paris and couture, the work of artisans,” says Jack McCollough, co-founder of Proenza Schouler.
American avant-garde designer Rick Owens is ahead of the curve, moving to Paris in 2003, where his artful, conceptual fashion and famously “out-there” shows have found a home in the French capital. This season, his theatrics at the Palais de Tokyo included a fountain, that sprayed the audience (who were provided with waterproof ponchos) who were elated to see his subversive (if not very wearable) volumes and draping.
TThe digital revolution has meant that brand identity has become progressively more fluid, aligning with multiple cities in the quest for more followers and wider publicity. Unchanging Paris creates a much-needed sense of permanence in a rapidly evolving industry.
“We push a lot for Chanel at Paris, because we believe Paris, more than ever, needs to be the capital, centre – whatever you call it – for fashion activities,” Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion, told Business of Fashion. “Not that there is no space for others; there is.”
Despite China and the US dominating fashion’s commercial stakes, Paris continues to be the epicentre of design, and creative directors who are eager to make something truly authentic are drawn to the city where the emphasis remains on beauty. When asked “which was your favourite?” fashion editors and buyers touring the circuit of New York, London, Milan and Paris; the most common reply will be, “obviously Paris”.
A revived interest in haute couture has played an important role in crafting this image, and it is largely thanks to the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode for attracting younger, less traditional brands.
And, finally, in a politically turbulent year we cannot ignore the impact of societal changes on the industry. Fashion is liberal-leaning and internationally focused, and Trump and Brexit have left a number of designers reeling, and the hopeful optimism championed by France’s Emmanuel Macron stands in stark contrast.
“Our new president is a breath of fresh air and optimism,” said Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès, in an interview with British Vogue.
And while it remains to be seen whether Macron will introduce the employment reform France so desperately needs, Paris is still riding high, at least in terms of fashion. After all the terrorist attacks of the past three years, the city appears to have got its mojo back – part retaliation against terrorism, and part relief that the tide of nationalism has been temporarily halted.
This has in turn brought back a feeling of economic optimism. In fact, a report released this summer by Bain & Co forecasts growth of 7 per cent to 9 per cent in luxury sales in Europe, compared to a drop of 2 per cent in the US due to its strong dollar and major political uncertainty.
“New York is where I started the brand, and where the company will be based; the American fashion community has been and continues to be such great supporters and champions for the industry,” says Joseph Altuzarra, a popular young American designer who premiered at Paris Fashion Week this season with his show at the Lycée Janson de Sailly.
“But on the flip side, I have a very personal connection with Paris,” he adds (his father lives in the city and he was born there), “showing at Paris Fashion Week has always been a dream of mine ... it’s been a pleasure working with the Fédération; they have been so welcoming and supportive.”
Altuzarra’s spring-summer 2018 collection showed off his masterful command of textures, and a powerful, defined palette. His woman? Urbane, cool and sensual (see those revealing mesh skirts and kinky boots) – she’s confident, opinionated and international, and not quite typically Parisian – but this might be just what we’re all looking for in Paris.