Pandemic or not, Paris Fashion Week, which starts a 10-day season on Monday, March 1, can boast a schedule with 92 women’s ready-to-wear brands, almost a dozen newcomers and several important debuts, all of which testifies to the continued importance of the French capital as a magnet for designers.
And even if the fashion week is a virtual one, essentially online, it still features mega brands like Christian Dior, Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, which will unveil the final collection of the season on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 10. Currently, no public is allowed at any show in France, but the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode expects about 10 houses to stage closed-door live videos of their collections with models.
Since the pandemic began, the Fédération has radically updated its website, which covers the live runway shows on its calendar. This season it will debut a new exclusive worldwide partnership with Tik Tok, inviting users to create special looks for Paris Fashion Week and share them via a dedicated hashtag.
The Fédération will also add designer lookbooks to its platform, something that was not the case before, and link up with the V&A in London. The museum will provide videos and articles from its Fashion in Motion program for the Insider magazine section of the Fédération’s platform.
Underlining the increasingly fragmented nature of runway seasons in the big four fashion capitals – staged chronologically in New York, London, Milan and Paris – many brands are showing days or weeks after their official season ends.
Remarkably, the chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), designer Tom Ford unveils his own latest collection on the day before Paris opens, or 10 days after his original scheduled slot in the New York season.
While here in Paris, Sonia Rykiel will debut a new studio-designed collection off calendar, on the night of Sunday, February 28, as the brand emerges from bankruptcy. Dior, under the creative direction of fashion’s most noted feminist designer Maria Grazia Chiuri, has moved its show back until March 8 to coincide with International Women’s Day. And, in another surprise move, Vuitton has suddenly decided to postpone its own show by one day.
Asked about the Vuitton decision, Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, quipped: “We have extended the fashion week by one day!”
“I think we all realize that we have got to be flexible and inclusive,” added the Fédération’s executive president Pascal Morand in a joint phone call.
“Houses are not changing dates to be difficult. I understand in Tom Ford’s case, he discovered that, due to Covid, there was no one in his atelier. I think we need to take all these changes calmly,” commented Toledano.
The duo stated that 92 houses, including Fédération members and guests, means 10 more than in the most recent week in September, and more or less the same as in March 2020.
In a novel move, the Paris season officially kicks off with a joint masters graduate show from the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM), a major statement by the French establishment that it is determined to build a fashion college to rival those in London, New York or Antwerp.
“It’s our dream to have the most successful and best fashion school here in Paris. You might recall it was my first goal when I became president. Then Pascal took the initiative, and we have come a long way. Xavier (Romatet, IFM Dean) is doing a fantastic job and this is the first step of our dream becoming a reality,” stressed Toledano.
However, many highly regarded houses, like Comme des Garçons and Junya Watanabe of Japan and three houses within the Kering luxury group – Balenciaga, Saint Laurent and McQueen – are not showing, denuding Paris of some major impact.
“I tend to believe that each house in Kering has its own reasons. I don’t get the impression it is a corporate decision by Kering. It’s a difficult period for everyone and one has to respect that. And, don’t forget, Balenciaga is coming back to couture this summer,” noted Toledano.
The Fédération is also contributing financially to supporting young designers via its Paris showroom, Sphere. On top of this, they are backing show video productions, partly funded by DEFI, a French fashion industry fund. And L’Oréal is lending a helping hand too, supplying hair and makeup for certain independent designers free of charge. Made available to locals and international designers alike, young hopefuls like Benjamin Benmoyal, Kenneth Ize and South Africa’s Thebe Magugu have all benefitted from these support initiatives. The two Fédération executives acknowledged that no final decision has been taken on whether Paris will stage live runway shows this summer – late June for menswear and early July for couture.
“It will depend on the sanitary conditions this summer. And we will respect whatever decision the government approves. But, let’s be clear, all of the houses are dying to come back to physical shows. Lots of designers are very frustrated,” insisted Morand.
Paris also clearly keeps attracting younger designers, with 11 newcomers on the calendar this March, including Benjamin Benmoyal, Weinsanto, Cecilie Bahnsen, Rokh and Wataru Tominaga. Plus, the season boasts two major first appearances by new designers at Chloé and Courrèges – Gabriela Hearst and Nicolas Di Felice, respectively.
“For me it is very simple. When you are young and dream of fashion, Paris comes to mind. It’s still the magnate. When you are an ambitious young designer you want to compete with the best. Like for a professional soccer player. They want to play with the best Lewandowski, Messi and Salah. Same thing in fashion, in Paris,” laughed Toledano