Almost one year to the day, Paris Fashion Week, aka PFW, ended the month-long, four-city tour on which retailers, press, influencers, celebrities, and VIP clients track what’s to come six months later on the store floor. As it wrapped in March of 2020, many retailers especially had either canceled the trip altogether as the Coronavirus pandemic loomed or shortened it.
One year later, the industry has adapted to an entirely new way of doing things, usually a task that takes a decade to achieve. The pandemic was what was needed to digitize the wholesale buying process and expand press coverage fully. But is this a good thing?
The buying aspect streamlined in the technical part of the process – just look at the year Joor and NuOrder, two buying platforms have had. But now, one resort, two Haute Couture, two men’s, and Spring 2021 collections slash seasons having presented its new collections digitally, spare a handful of live shows during the September shows. The question remains, what has fashion gained or lost because of it?
First, it’s undeniable that a digital audience is more extensive. It can reach more eyes. Even though many shows were already live-streaming for the audience not in attendance, going fully digital is different.
What is lost is the energy and excitement of the live shows full of the industry, aided by the limited-capacity physical attendance. Staging huge spectacles for a limited sector for people tends to cause a buzz, similar to a sold-out concert or sporting event. This undeniable pulse is what has been missing.
Another issue with a digital show, at least for many, is trying to stay engaged and focused. The challenge designers face today is not only creating an interesting collection but also an equally interesting video to keep your audience glued to the screen. In some cases, the film distracted seeing a new collection with more to focus on than clothes.
It appears designer collection films are here to stay. How many will return to the expensive and often logistically complicated live shows in tandem? Will fewer brands feel the pressure to show live? Will it be tied to a specific marketing goal? And exceptional collection concept or anniversary? Just how much the fashion circus will return remains to be seen. For now, here is what you need to know about the women’s Fall 2021 collections
1. Fashion Predicts the Roaring Twenties: This idea is being bandied about in many industries, including fashion. But designers have a way to visualize social trends better than most. Dries Van Noten took the idea more literally with a dance troupe displaying the sequined flapper-inspired looks with a seductive sway.
Lanvin’s Bruno Sialelli, the legendary’s houses third women’s designer since Alber Elbaz left in 2016. His guys and girls prepped to party at the Shangri-La luxury hotel in Paris, rife with Lanvin shopping bags with the whole scene set to Gwen Stefani’s “If I Were a Rich Girl” ditty, perhaps engaging the Tik Tok generation who has the song on repeat.
Virginie Viard at Chanel recreated the infamous Rue Cambon staircase staging in a dark, dank nightclub proposing mini-skirts, slinky dresses and Seventies-style overall and fur-lined coats and jackets for a night of ‘getting down.
Matthew Williams, Givenchy’s new creative director who made his debut amid the pandemic, has yet to stage a live show. But in keeping with his sexy nightcrawler aesthetic, his Givenchy men and women – some nipple-baring- stormed a large arena under massive klieg lights marching to a techno beat. Sensible ‘Armadillo’ shoes – a McQueen throwback – were made for dancing the night away.
2. Mind-travel inspired amazing locations: When audience logistics don’t play into the planning, the sky is the limit for locations. Of course, budget is another issue. Brands went to death-defying lengths to film at some unique places that a physical show would not allow.
Dior’s Maria Grazie Chiuri scored the biggest location coup, the Château de Versailles. The quintessential French monument was a 180-degree turn from the oft-criticized Italian-centric locales and concepts the designer presented. After all, Dior is a French label. This collection, “Disturbing Beauty,” played out on the grounds of the castle at night with a series of nymph-like dancers setting the tone. As they danced dangerously close to a wall of thorns in the hall of mirrors, nearly poking themselves perhaps a reflection of the suffering, if not a mental illness, as a result of the current global health crisis. Or maybe to note the dichotomy of the childlike perversion yet practical austerity of the clothes that followed.
Thom Browne is never a show to disappoint. His charming film of World-Cup winning and Olympic gold medallist skier Lindsay Vonn taking the Alpine route after heli-skiing down a Utah swishing past model imposed into the movie displaying the looks. But Thom wasn’t alone in his ski slash mountain fantasy. Miuccia Prada took to the slopes for her Miu Miu collection, suggesting warm, cozy and quirky can live at peace with one another.
But a fantastic location requires travel, and for this bunch used to traveling the globe several times a year for fashion weeks and brand events, getting grounded was a rude awakening. Olivier Rousteing and Christian Louboutin rejiggered the concept of glamour aviation with their airplane-themed shows.
Like Karl Lagerfeld before, the former had his models disembark from a plane only his walked the Air France crafts’ wing in their parachute nylon aviator chic commando gear. Those looks were peppered with super-patriotic navy, red and white, catchy as striped ensembles recalling pilot uniforms.
The latter, who shot in the recently revamped TWA terminal at JFK, featured girl boss pilots in stilettos. Both designers took advantage of interactive technology to allow real-life feedback while viewing the collections. Smart move.
3. House reinventions return to core DNA: This season marked new designers at two storied French houses, Chloe and Courrèges. It would appear that both took the chance to reset and restore each brand to its core DNA.
Gabriella Hearst did this to a T for her outing for Chloe. Recalling the vibes of Chloe’s 70s patchwork heavy leather hey-day (don’t forget the femininity of the white eyelet either!) mixed with the artisanal knitwear that Hearst has also made a name for herself. Of course, that and her sustainable methods, a direction she appears to be guiding the house in for the first time.
Classic Chloe defined via the film had models exit the infamous Brasserie Lipp where Gaby Aghion spent her days and nights, often creating her new It girl, and spilled onto Saint Germain des Pres down the Rue Bonaparte. Imbued into this spirit were glimpses of Hearst’s first brand Candela that drew from the Uruguayan gaucho lifestyle, evident in a “Puffito,” the most genius layered puffer and poncho get-up.
At Courrèges, the first outing by Nicolas Di Felice, recalled the young André Courrèges take on the Swinging Sixties’ youth culture. Di Felice repurposed those ideas with modern twists. He may single-handedly make the mini-skirt a must-have for Gen Z. He showed his collection at Gare des Mines in Aubervilliers on the outskirts of Paris, a party dance spot and hub of the Parisian counterculture. Add Courrèges to the Roaring Twenties party too.
4. Flagrant Fantasy vs. Cocoon Culture: In this case, it appears the Cocoon, aka comfort/cozy dressing, wins the match. Not to say contenders such as Schiaparelli’s Daniel Roseberry didn’t give fantasy a try. He continues with house codes that play upon the surrealism in that giant gold ears, eyes, torse and breast molds are de rigueur in his vision for the brand. His Schiaparelli seems to be working best, significantly boosted by Lady Gaga’s recent appearance in his gown at President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Nicholas Ghesqiuere also tinkered with a bit of an eclectic fantasy look but mixed with cocooning. To wit, frilly skirts and Tulip-shoulder bulb-style jackets. But even more in the fantasy vein of his show in the Louvre’s Denon wing among Greek and Marble sculptures, the designer collaborated with the amusing Fornasetti face patterns that don candles and plates other things.
But the homey-feels and, let’s face it, extra-pound hiding cocoon looks were everywhere. Knitwear is emerging as a huge trend and bridges the gap between sweats and a polished tailored look. It signals people are ready to dress in real clothes again but not prepared to give up comfort. Even though Rick Owen may not be many peoples’ idea of real clothes, his sweeping puffer coat slash capes allow the wearer to feel still wrapped warmly in bed while going about one’s day.
Hermes designer Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski suggested a cocoon of familiar restraint and delivered another rich, sophisticated collection of sinewy body-ready knits, scrumptious leathers, signature silky dresses, separates and even tailored denim. Their 25-minute video crossed three time zones – New York, Paris, and Shanghai – on multiple sets bedecked in the brands’ orange hues.
Ditto for Joseph Altuzzarra expressed a feeling of melancholy in his collection video though the clothes were highpoints suggesting knitwear dressing’s sensual side.
JW Anderson of Loewe offered his idea of cocoon dressing with a playful collection that he somewhat unpredictably set to a literary theme with a self-published house newspaper with text from author Danielle Steele oddly enough. In the video showing the collection, the designer offered insight. “I love the idea of working with clothing right now when things are so restrictive because you can have this idea of a fantasy that can become a reality.” Points for bridging those too.
Lucie and Luke Meier of Jil Sander offered comfort and restraints in their lush double-face cashmere and body con knits, austerely sparse save for the most carefully chosen details, subtle pleating, stitch pieces, and a sole print thrown in. The looks were topped off with statement necklaces, signaling a return of the bold neckpieces.
5. Any physical component was a good thing. As resigned to a digital format that one was required to be, there are unforeseen realities to showing in this manner. First, it’s easy to tune them out if they don’t hold your attention. This act is almost impossible to do so sitting in person at a live show. Or not tune in at all as the schedule is often moot; you can watch a digital show anytime you want!
Not everyone is convinced of the need or expense either, as Kering brands, including Saint Laurent Celine and Balenciaga, all skipped digital PFW this season. One of the only live-audience live runway shows was staged by Coperni, putting the up-and-coming brand in the spotlight for creating the excitement of a live experience witnessed safely by guests from private cars.
A tactic that brands have employed is to send elaborate invitations to select industry guests. One as a way to retain a sense of special treatment of being part of a non-exclusive digital show, but more so, encourage active engagement with the show and weed out the noise from other shows on the calendar.
Fendi has sent pasta bags. Louis Vuitton men’s sent a glider kit for the January show. This season Marine Serre created a book chronicling her house signature motifs and intimate views of humanity prevalent in the pandemic, i.e., couples and families at home together. Chloé sent a box of fabric swatches to get a tactile sense of the clothes to be shown. Loewe, always prone to a printed matter takeaway, sent a box with the house newspaper and letter opener.
Closing out the week on Thursday, March 11, Alexandre Mattiussi sent a mirrored maze toy – the kind with the rolling metal ball – in the shape of his company logo. His film pulled back the curtain on the backstage and what goes on backstage at a show for his classic, luxe sportswear collection,