Clockwise from top left: The Palais Garnier is one of the world’s most famous opera houses. Model at Chloé. The Chanel show under the glass domes of the Grand Palais featured variations on a tweed theme
Paris, as it has for hundreds of seasons, brought all the fashion weeks to a close. But this time, with the looming contagion of Covid-19 hanging literally and metaphorically in the air, it begged many questions: How should we face our oncoming challenges? Do we hunker down in safety and protection? Do we seek comfort in the traditions of the past? Or do we bravely venture into a future unknown? The season’s collections presented many different perspectives to ponder.
BACK TO SIMPLICITY
At Chanel, late designer Karl Lagerfeld’s fantastical rocket ships and recreated beaches, complete with sand and lapping water, broke the internet, but Virginie Viard’s vision for the House harked back to the simple elegance of Coco Chanel herself. From a mirrored floor that ran end to end in the Grand Palais rose meandering tiers of seating in the brand’s iconic hues of black and white. Freedom and liberation were exuded in the easy, clean and modern separates done up in tweed and pearls, mixed with sporty equestrian elements such as fold-down riding boots and hats.
At Chloé, Natacha Ramsay-Levi also returned to the House’s roots of workwear. Flanked by giant totem sculptures by Marion Verboom, models glided down the runway in slouchy tailoring in a spectrum of earthy tones, spliced with denim and cinched with belts. Paintings by artist Rita Ackermann were incorporated as graphic prints on dresses, and a knitted shawl insouciantly draped over one arm added a splash of colour to Gigi Hadid’s camel coat. Boots and buckled brogues gave a tough modern edge to feminine silk maxi dresses.
Valentino, too, celebrated the uniform. Pierpaolo Piccioli’s emphasis on black and pared-down shapes allowed the individual to shine through. His usual billowing fabrics gave way to clean tailoring in double-breasted blazers and coats, and dress silhouettes that skimmed the body. The diversity in the model casting emphasised by Piccioli had further deepened, with the inclusion of men walking the runway.
Clockwise from top left: Restaurant Les Noces de Jeannette, an institution in Paris, is named after the opera comique by Victor Massé. Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore editor-in-chief Kenneth Goh and fashion influencer Savina Chai get ready to capture the looks at the Thom Browne show. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip phone. The rejuvenated Chaumet flagship boutique. Sweater dressing at Hermès. Kenneth Goh strikes a pose in front of the Fontaine Molière. Exaggerated shoulders at Balenciaga. Bag tags from Moynat. The Haussmann-style architecture at Palais Royale that defines Paris
At CELINE, Hedi Slimane’s brand of waif-like rock star glamour had well and truly taken root. Girls and boys with fluffy bangs and dark sunglasses, bringing to mind 1960s and ’70s rock stars, sauntered out in velvet trousers and three-piece suits that cool kids could have picked up from their local vintage stores. As it turned out, this harking back to ’70s Céline, which ruffled the feathers of “Philophiles” (the devotees of former creative director Phoebe Philo), is even more Celine than “Old Céline”.
DEFEND AND ATTACK
In a brand-new decade that got o to a shaky start, clothing as protection is a welcome prospect. At Alexander McQueen, references to blankets and shawls as well as reinvented tailor’s quilts were intimately inspired by the symbolisms of protection and safety in Welsh folklore. The colour red, thought to possess the power to heal and safeguard the wearer, pervaded, interspersed with fierce black and feminine pink. Sarah Burton’s power tailoring showed warrior spirit, but also vulnerable beauty, exemplified in soft drapes cinched with leather harnesses. Models resembled heroines in fairy tales, with red streaks running through their hair like tribal markings.
As a wintry Paris promised sunshine and rain in quick succession, we sheltered at Kenzo, thawing like plants inside an inflated clear plastic greenhouse. For Felipe Oliveira Baptista’s first outing for the brand, the theme of nomadism fittingly recalled Kenzo Takada’s own journey from Japan to Paris. Reversible coats and lightweight dresses with camo prints, accessorised with flapped caps, protected the models from the wet and rainy elements outside.
Clockwise from left: Walking on water at Balenciaga. High and pointy shoulders were a recurring detail at Balenciaga. Givenchy’s set design and lighting were inspired by nouvelle vague cinema. The illuminated Pyramid at the Louvre Museum, where Louis Vuitton held its show. Giambattista Valli celebrated femininity with ruffles and gilded veils. The austere palette at Valentino was sparked with red accessories. Balenciaga’s post-apocalyptic set resembled a stadium partially submerged in water.
The theme of protection that ran through the collections also extended to words. “CONSENT” was one of the many giant neon slogans created by feminist artist Claire Fontaine, which hung over the Dior show. Maria Grazia Chiuri built on Fontaine’s message of female empowerment with a collection that paid homage to periods that defined women’s emancipation, from post-war workwear to ’70s female liberation. This was workwear with a tomboy flavour, with wool blazers and puff vests over relaxed trousers and mini skirts, topped off with skinny ties.
A FUTURE PAST
When unsure of our times, we look to the past and future in search of certainty. A dark vision of the future presided at Balenciaga in the form of a digital sky with simulated raging res and tempests reflected in the water that flooded a sports stadium. The first rows were submerged, as a dramatic observation on climate change. The collection took us through whiplashing juxtapositions of black cocoon coats exuding monkish austerity (referencing Demna Gvasalia’s Orthodox upbringing in Georgia) and sensual sculptural tailoring that channelled Cristobal’s Balenciaga, and sporting gear such as football jerseys sporting the brand as the team logo.
At Louis Vuitton, which never fails to capture the zeitgeist of the moment, Nicolas Ghesquière presented history as the spectator. The backdrop to the show was populated by a 200-strong choir, each dressed in costumes designed by Milena Canonero that represented every era in history. On the runway, past, present and future were taken out of their temporal and geographical contexts. Embroidered matador jackets were paired with leather biker pants, and tweed vests topped off flight suits. This exploration of history fragmenting through the lens of our present is now the last glimpse of what this year’s Met Exhibition theme, “About Time: Fashion and Duration”, might have looked like. The Met Gala that Ghesquière was to co-chair has been postponed due to the outbreak.
Clockwise from top left: The Saint Laurent collection sported high gloss, electric reds and voluminous feathers. CELINE’s collection exuded the coolness of ’60s rock bands. At Louis Vuitton, a choir dressed in historical costumes provided the backdrop for the show as models paraded out in looks ranging from leather biker pants to matador jackets. The Eiffel Tower lit up at night. Hermès paid homage to its equestrian history. Loewe experimented with new silhouettes and new ways to work with craft. The CELINE show was held at Place Vauban, in front of the Les Invalides dome.
At Marine Serre, the lens was turned another way. Serre presented a future civilisation scavenged from the vestiges of our chaotic world, devoid of context. No culture and yet every culture was recognisable within the collection— from Mongolian fur hats and Scottish intarsia knitwear to futuristic arm warmers in leather, complete with slots for your phone and ID card. This idea that a future society might find the nuances of our political, cultural and ideological divides meaningless is testament to the state of flux right now.
The shows brought us to every corner of Paris and immersed us in many sartorial worlds. Perhaps this was the very last Paris Fashion Week as we know it—the global pandemic has put paid to the upcoming couture week in July. Will we even see another fashion week or has the pandemic dismissed these global events to history? We can’t be sure, but what we do know is that the indomitable spirit of fashion will never die. And that is the belief that holds us, the world’s designers and the global fantasies in check for the next runway outing.
All photos in this story were taken on the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip.
BY JIAWA LIU, CAITLIN BLACK. ARTWORK: JINJIIBADAM GANKHUU, JIAWA LIU