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In pictures: Pandemic intrudes, inspires at Paris Fashion Week

A model wears a creation for the Kenzo Spring/Summer 2021 fashion collection, Wednesday, September 30, 2020, during Paris Fashion Week.
A model wears a creation for the Kenzo Spring/Summer 2021 fashion collection, Wednesday, September 30, 2020, during Paris Fashion Week. © Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP
Text by: Tracy MCNICOLL
7 min

A remarkable Paris Fashion Week wraps up Tuesday to conclude a nine-day calendar of Spring/Summer 2021 shows both physical and digital amid the coronavirus pandemic. The public health emergency was both an imposition and a inspiration during the event, held as Paris happened to tip into maximum alert while Covid-19 cases climb in France. With the fashion world gathered in the French capital, the virus also claimed one of its own icons, Kenzo Takada.

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Fashion houses are hesitantly returning to the runway after several months on the sidelines amid the global public health crisis. In Paris during this Fashion Week, brands used a mix of socially distanced physical shows, pared-down in-person presentations, and fully digital shows streamed online with videos promoting their collections.

Guests wearing face masks attend the Spring/Summer 2021 ready-to-wear collection show by designer Virginie Viard for fashion house Chanel in Paris on October 6, 2020.
Guests wearing face masks attend the Spring/Summer 2021 ready-to-wear collection show by designer Virginie Viard for fashion house Chanel in Paris on October 6, 2020. © Benoit Tessier, REUTERS

At the Dior show, presented at an indoor venue inside the Tuileries Gardens, invitees had their temperatures checked and wore protective face masks. The guest list was shortened to 300, about a third of the number Dior would usually invite, and broadcast on TikTok for greater reach.

"I actually feel this new environment that we've created with more space and more respect for one another – I actually think that it's a much more pleasant way of viewing the shows and consuming art," "Game of Thrones" actress Maisie Williams said at the Dior show last week.

British actress Maisie Williams poses before Dior's Spring/Summer 2021 fashion collection show on September 29, 2020, in Paris.
British actress Maisie Williams poses before Dior's Spring/Summer 2021 fashion collection show on September 29, 2020, in Paris. © Francois Mori, AP

Williams also attended an extraordinary Saturday night show by French label AMI, which got creative with a playful use of social distancing when it hosted a catwalk display on a Seine River quayside that glistened under a thin rain. While models strutted on the riverbank, 140 guests looked on from a barge and passersby gathered on a nearby bridge to survey the scene. Screens onboard the boat allowed discerning invitees a closer look at the collection by designer Alexandre Mattiussi. It was the first major womenswear collection for a brand that first made its mark in menswear.

Alongside long black dresses and beige suit ensembles, Mattiussi injected ruffled pastel dresses with Pierrot-style collars. "We need to celebrate a little bit, when you have this kind of crisis, it's very easy to fall into a kind of depression," the designer told Reuters before the show, saying he was eager to return to the catwalk despite the pandemic. "I feel like there is a challenge and responsibility to look up and look at the light and maybe to participate in this kind of 'beginning again"."

A model presents a creation for AMI by Alexandre Mattiussi during the women's Spring/Summer 2021 collection fashion shows in Paris on October 3, 2020.
A model presents a creation for AMI by Alexandre Mattiussi during the women's Spring/Summer 2021 collection fashion shows in Paris on October 3, 2020. © Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt, AFP

Pandemic lockdowns worked their way into some of the clothing showcased during this Fashion Week, with houses like Dior and Balenciaga proposing elements based on cozy indoor chic that harkened to posh pyjama parties.

At Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri reinterpreted the Christian Dior-designed Paletot jacket, a sort of dressing gown or housecoat. Updated for these times, her iteration is loose to the body, in soft fabrics or rustic ones like linen or maille. "People today want to protect themselves, an aspect that we didn't take into account before. We have a lifestyle that is a lot more private and our relationship with clothes will be a lot more personal and intimate," she told AFP.

Models wear creations for Dior's Spring-Summer 2021 fashion collection on September 29, 2020, during Paris fashion week.
Models wear creations for Dior's Spring-Summer 2021 fashion collection on September 29, 2020, during Paris fashion week. © Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

The bee-themed collection the Kenzo fashion house unveiled last week outdoors in a garden in Paris's 5th arrondissement (district) was in its way, too, a clin d'oeil to this cultural moment. Revisiting the beekeeper's wide-brimmed hat and netted veil was conceived in "echo to the fragility and distance imposed and necessary today".

Only days after Kenzo presented its collection in Paris, the label's iconic Franco-Japanese founder died in hospital in nearby Neuilly-sur-Seine. Kenzo Takada died Sunday after contracting Covid-19 at the age of 81. Although Takada had retired in 1999 from the brand he created in 1970, he remained a emblematic personality and a venerated figure in Paris high fashion.

"His amazing energy, kindness, talent and smile were contagious," Kenzo artistic director Felipe Oliveira Baptista said after the artist legend's death. "His kindred spirit will live forever."

A model wears a creation for the Kenzo Spring-Summer 2021 fashion collection on September 30, 2020, during Paris fashion week.
A model wears a creation for the Kenzo Spring-Summer 2021 fashion collection on September 30, 2020, during Paris fashion week. © Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

Schiaparelli was one of the brands to present its collection virtually in Paris, with American creative designer Daniel Roseberry shown sketching it and filming models on the streets of Paris in the video presentation.

The Texas-born Roseberry was handed the torch in April 2019 at Schiaparelli, the fashion house founded by the Italian-born Elsa Schiaparelli nearly a century ago. Presenting the collection in a novel format, coronavirus oblige, Roseberry sounded far from downbeat, discerning in this period an opportunity for soul-searching in a fast-paced industry. "I desperately want things to change," Roseberry told Reuters. "Everybody knows how fashion was operating before, the wastefulness, the pace, the values... This is our chance to recentre and ask the tough questions. I am really excited about when I could return to a real show, but I try to enjoy this moment."

At Balmain, the Spring/Summer 2021 presentation was part "real show" and, cleverly, part virtual happening. With travel to Paris presenting a unique challenge this autumn, the brand, led by Instagram luminary Olivier Rousteing, sought nevertheless to celebrate the house's 75th anniversary in style with a mix of real and pixellated guests at Paris's Jardin des Plantes. Anna Wintour, Cara Delevingne and Cindy Crawford were among the notables who lent their images via video to the proceedings. The clips were projected on screens sat on seats facing the true-to-life invitees and gave the impression the virtual VIPs were reacting to the show unveiling itself before them.

Proof that this pandemic hasn't stifled creativity in the fashion world, au contraire.

(With AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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