Fashion has been shaken up for several years now. While the industry is reflecting on sustainability and racism, among other things, the pandemic has made everything even more complex. The traditional fashion week survives, but it has also been transformed. At first glance, the calendars seem lighter, with fewer catwalk shows. Meanwhile, the number of presentations, sometimes with models, sometimes with just clothes on mannequins or on a rack, has increased significantly.
Many medium-sized and small brands continued to opt for video. It is safer and cheaper, and, while many buyers and journalists are not travelling at all, films offer a better solution. But for those of us who often follow the roaming fashion circus from location to location, it can prove a challenge to run from showroom to catwalk all day and while scanning YouTube in between.
In both Milan and Paris, many shows were rather intimate, with smaller halls often holding a select company. At Kenzo, for example, the front row was packed with celebrities, with not many journalists present as a whole. Meanwhile, at Missoni, reporters were ‘uninvited’ from the label’s showroom presentation at the last minute for “security reasons”.
However, a few events did present more publicly, particularly in Paris. Instagram opened a pop-up space where everyone could take selfies in a decor designed by an influencer. The event took place at 35-37, the new Dover Street Market location in the Marais, where sustainable shoe label Viron and men’s brand Phipps also installed pop-ups, the latter with its vintage line, Phipps Gold Label. Elsewhere in Paris, Sarah Andelman, of the now almost mythical concept store Colette, opened an ephemeral shop, Just A Space, offering books, art and food.
Goodbye and hello
There was a melancholic haze over the fashion weeks as many farewells were said.
Italian men’s designer Nino Cerruti, with whom Giorgio Armani once started his career, died, aged 91, a few weeks after the liquidation of the label that bore his name, with which he had ceased to be involved since the turn of the century.
The industry bid farewell to André Leon Talley, the American giant who, for years in his opulent tunics, graced the front rows of New York, Milan and Paris as a reporter-slash-icon of, among others, Vogue.
Most recently, cult designer Manfred Thierry Mugler died on Sunday in the last moments of fashion week.
And, in between, the fashion world also said goodbye to Virgil Abloh, the leading men’s designer of his generation, not just solely for his brilliant work as a designer but also because of the impact he had on the textile industry and the world beyond.
Louis Vuitton showed Abloh’s eighth and final collection for the label in a setting that referenced The Wizard of Oz, the Hollywood classic that had also inspired his debut for Vuitton, with a sky-blue house in the clouds.
It was more of a commemoration ceremony than a runway, with dancers, acrobats, musicians and a starring role for Abloh's team. At the end all the participants stood still, their eyes fixed on the sky, while the orchestra played on.
Those who were there (there were two shows, one for the press and one for friends and family) spoke of a deeply moving moment. The Vuitton showroom, where the event’s decor had been partially recreated, gave a more objective view of the collection. In typical Abloh fashion, it covered all directions, with desirable accessories and beautiful pieces dotted around floral prints and embroideries of classic paintings.
Will Nigo soon take over from Abloh?
Japanese style guru Nigo, 51, made his debut at Kenzo, succeeding Felipe Oliveira Baptista, who had relaunched the label at the start of the pandemic but ultimately was not a good fit.
Nigo, who started the Japanese streetwear labels A Bathing Ape and Human Made and has collaborated with everyone from Uniqlo to Louis Vuitton, was essentially a past-Abloh and, at the same time, a disciple of his: a streetwear legend who is as much a businessman as he is a creative genius. Incidentally, it was Nigo who once introduced Abloh to Michael Burke, head of Vuitton.
Ye - formerly just Kanye West - and his new mannequin Julia Fox sat front row at the show at Galerie Vivienne, the covered passage where Kenzo opened its boutique Jungle Jim in 1970. They wore matching denim (Fox in Schiaparelli, which opened couture week today). A little further down sat J Balvin, Pusha T, Pharrell Williams and Tyler The Creator, just a few of the high-profile front-rowers in attendance.
The clothes were exactly what you could expect from Nigo: playful, cheerful and commercial, with references to Paris (berets), Japan (kimonos and souvenir jackets) and the heritage of Kenzo (such as poppy prints).
The collection was good news for Kenzo, with ties back to the original concept of Humberto Leon and Carol Lim. Nigo, though a lot less progressive than his American predecessors, does have the entire hip hop crowd behind him. When compared to the LVMH group, Kenzo could take the role of Vuitton: a similar aesthetic for a similar audience of streetwear fans, but at cheaper prices. A win for all.
There were also other less spectacular debuts in Paris. Lukhanyo Mdingi, a South African finalist of the LVMH Prize, opened the men's week with a convincing presentation of brightly coloured knitwear.
Another prize winner, Bianca Saunders, recipient of the ANDAM prize, moved from London Fashion Week to Paris (as did Teppei Fujita of Japan's Sulvam, who set up his studio in a small office near Yohji Yamamoto's headquarters, where he was once an assistant).
From Belgians and Japanese
As usual, the Paris fashion calendar featured many Belgian and Japanese designers and labels, who still mainly opted for video presentations, creating a slight void in the schedule. Dries Van Noten filmed his presentation in a mansion in Saint-Germain-des-Prés (with couples kissing and 'Dream Baby, Dream' by Suicide on the soundtrack), Jan Jan Van Essche once again teamed up with director Ramy Moharam Fouad and Walter Van Beirendock showed his more aggressive side in a partnership with eyewear maker Komono.
The only Belgian with a live show was Glenn Martens, though it must be said, his label Y/Project is headquartered in Paris. He rented an immense goods depot on the far outskirts of the city and previewed his couture collection for Gaultier, which will be unveiled today and features hypnotic trompe l'oeil prints of naked bodies on suits, tops, pants and dresses.
Comme des Garçons and Junya Watanabe stayed in Tokyo. Watanabe's video, a tribute to Jay Kay of 90’s pop sensation Jamiroquai, was one of the highlights of the season. A few brave labels - Issey Miyake Homme Plissé and Facetasm - set up a presentation with the help of local teams, which was no easy task.
The young Taiwanese label Namesake also directed an event from a distance, using a film projection, basketball players and a performance by a jazz group in a basement - a successful introduction to a label that is already making a name for itself in the world of hypebeasts.
The boys and girls from Youths In Balaclava had come over from Singapore to meet buyers and journalists, a journey, they told their showroom, that had been gruelling.
The big boys
Occasionally it seemed as if everything was as before, not least with Dior, which erected an ephemeral building on Place de la Concorde and recreated the neighbouring Pont Alexandre III in it. The collection, however, did not need that exaggerated grandeur. Creative director of menswear Kim Jones was the first to not collaborate with an artist. Instead, he looked to the Christian Dior archives, from the 1940s and 1950s, which resulted in a sea of grey and a notable collaboration with Birkenstock. It was Kim Jones' best collection for Dior since his debut at the house but, at the same time, a bit of fantasy that could mirror the likes of Netflix’s Emily in Paris - an idealised image of French elegance.
Rick Owens, Loewe and young designer Louis Gabriel Nouchi were driven by sex appeal, from hardcore at Owens (one top read ‘urinal’) to something on the lighter side at Loewe’s show, where Jonathan Anderson exhibited a kitten-print tunic. Both designers played with light, Owens placing lamps on the heads of his masked gladiators and Anderson displaying suits decorated with LEDs. LGN, Nouchi's label, made waves with underwear and the launch of a line of swimsuits, briefs and bodysuits, showcased by a relatively inclusive casting of well-oiled men.
Additionally, there were big shows in Paris by Hermès and Ami, among others.
In Milan, Prada returned to the big show setting at the Fondazione Prada for the second time, following the label’s women’s show in September. It was the brand's first dedicated men's show since Raf Simons joined Miuccia Prada as a co-designer, casting a slew of famous actors, including Kyle MacLachlan and Jeff Goldblum. The wardrobe was fairly masculine and oversized, with tough, broad-shouldered leather coats, similar to ones Simons once showed at Jil Sander.
Dsquared also made a return, with founders Dean and Dan Caten making a speech before the show. At Dolce and Gabbana, almost the entire event revolved around a performance by pop star Machine Gun Kelly. Zegna and Philipp Plein presented in their respective showrooms, offering a contrast from the super productions we are so used to from both labels. Zegna organised a film projection for about 50 spectators, 40 of whom were Italian. After the film, CEO Gildo Zegna and artistic director Alessandro Sartori gave a press conference, which was promptly followed by a presentation with fourteen models. Sartori introduced his reinterpretation of the suit, a less formal version of the classic business uniform, which felt almost reminiscent of sitting in the conference room of a cheap hotel.
It was Lemaire, however, that made perhaps the most beautiful statement of Paris Fashion Week. Christophe Lemaire and Sarah-Linh Tran showed in the Ateliers Berthier, an old storeroom for theatre sets. On the wall hung an enormous photo of a cloudy landscape. When the show started, the photo was slowly rolled up towards the ceiling and the sun appeared, below it, a beach and the sea. It was as if a new day had begun. The world keeps turning and everything will be fine.