Men's fashion week Paris returns at half capacity

The men’s fashion week in Paris ended on Sunday and was the first fashion week with an audience since September 2020. The official calendar of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode counted about seventy events, including about ten catwalk shows. Although a relatively small number, it was still higher than the number of shows in Milan, where only Etro, Dolce & Gabbana and Giorgio Armani showed ‘live’. Again most brands opted for videos, even a giant name like Louis Vuitton.

Quite a few Paris-based labels and designers received reporters and buyers face to face in their showrooms. Charaf Tajer of Casablanca spoke to FashionUnited for almost an hour about his new collection, inspired by Japan and design group Memphis. He had rented a building for the occasion: three floors crammed with clothes, bags, shoes and jewellery - and three makeshift photo studios. “We have six hundred items in the collection this season,” said Tajer, “a record.” Tajer, a Frenchman with Moroccan roots based in London, had actually planned a catwalk show. But that fell through eventually. “We’d rather wait until more people are coming to Paris again,” he said.

Casablanca did organise a cocktail in the garden of the Ritz, the luxury hotel on Place Vendôme, with celebrities attending such as Ella Emhoff, the stepdaughter of US Vice-President Kamala Harris, and Ashley Park, the actress from ‘Emily In Paris’ (the second season of the Netflix series was filmed on location and in the studios of La Plaine Saint-Denis in Paris recently).

Dilan Lurr from Namacheko came from Antwerp with his collection. He showed his clothes in a meeting room of the Oscar Niemeyer-designed headquarters of the French Communist Party, with whom he has a long-term contract.

But he also shot a film, in a church in the West Flemish village of Harelbeke. “I think in time I will come back to show,” he told FashionUnited in Paris. “In the meantime, I like this combination: here in the showroom I can meet people, maintain personal contacts, but there is also the video that can reach a much larger audience.”

Lurr has seen mostly journalists and editors in recent days. “I had two appointments with buyers this week, both from France,” he said. “The season before COVID-19 I had eighty sales appointments.” He added that business is good. The difference is that sales meetings with buyers are now almost entirely online.

Dior received 500 guests

This is to the advantage of both fashion brands and buyers: no need to travel to Milan or Paris, or invest in expensive showrooms. The disadvantage, for the buyers, is that they only get to see the clothes upon delivery, which can sometimes be disappointing. For fashion journalists, films are frustrating. The news value of a fashion week is largely off stage, in the people you meet, and in the experiences you share.

The turnout for fashion week this season was nothing like the pre-COVID-19 era. Asia, by far the most important market for luxury fashion, was underrepresented, and there were far fewer influencers and street style photographers than before. Because the borders with the United States reopened a small representation of American fashion professionals did attend the shows.

Dior was the only label to act as if everything was normal, with a catwalkshow and five hundred guests in a giant tent in front of the gilded dome of Les Invalides. The measures for social distancing, with an empty space between each seat, were largely ignored. Kim Jones, the artistic director of Dior’s men’s collections, has worked with a different distinguished artist every season since he joined the venerable French house. This time, he asked a musician: Travis Scott, who previously did collabs with McDonald’s, Nike, Playstation, Epic Games and Byredo, among others. High fashion is edging closer to entertainment every time.

Dior’s decor was amazing: a mix of Christian Dior’s garden with the desert of Texas, with giant roses and cacti. The collection was chic and slightly psychedelic, with snakeskin and the colours of a psychedelic sunset (plus a touch of fluorescent green here and there). The reference to Texas was obvious: Scott grew up there, and Dior visited the state during his legendary trip to the United States in 1947. Victoire de Castellane, who is responsible for haute joaillerie at Dior, created the first piece of jewellery for the label’s men’s collection: a cactus necklace with 2,219 diamonds, six emeralds and 34 pearls.

The Hermès show was the last important appointment of the week. The set-up was smaller than at Dior. About a hundred guests had been invited to the courtyard of the Mobilier National, the building where exceptional furniture of the French state is kept. The show began on time, in a near-tropical rain. Véronique Nichanian, the artistic director of the Hermès men’s collections, collaborated for the third time with theatre director Cyril Teste, and for the first time it took the form of a classic catwalk show, with the mineral architecture of Auguste Perret and a backdrop of giant screens. It was a memorable show, one of the most successful in Nichanian’s long career, soft but at the same time full of energy and optimism. As elsewhere in Paris (Vuitton, Dior, Burberry), the colour palette was dominated by sandy tones.

“The human connection with the audience during a fashion show is irreplaceable,” Nichanian said. “Seeing people wear the clothes is what gives them life.”

Dior and Hermès were the blockbusters of the week. But in addition, a number of younger French labels also grabbed their chance to shine in the spotlights.

The week was opened by back-to-back défilés by Cool TM, in an atmospheric empty mansion on place d’Iéna, and Bluemarble, in the courtyard of the national archives in the Marais. Both labels specialise in hybrids of streetwear and high fashion, in technicolour.

Louis-Gabriel Nouchi gave two shows in a row in a fountain between the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée National d’Art de Moderne de Paris: the first as artistic director of Joeone, a Chinese textile company that specialises in trousers and that Nouchi is trying to expand this market, and the second for his own brand, in which he slalomed between East and West, a bit like in Marguerite Duras’ L’Amant. Nouchi always bases his collection on a novel, but this time he did not get permission.

Officine Générale, by now a familiar name on the Parisian show calendar, showed in a city palace in the Marais. Pierre Maheo’s label shows the kind of elegant, comfortable men’s clothes that don’t really need a catwalk show.

The duo Lazoschmidl opened a pop up shop, and received the press with a one man show: a model who put on and took off clothes from the new collection in the boutique, looking deep into the eyes of the audience.

Isabel Marant pasted photos of her new collection on the columns of the Palais Brogniart, and organised a picnic on the square in front of it (a great idea, too bad it was unseasonably cold). Courrèges opened a new shop in the Marais. Acne exhibited archive issues of its Acne Journal magazine, which will be relaunched later this year. Jean-Charles de Castelbajac had an army of models in white tunics painted on the esplanade of the Centre Pompidou on Sunday afternoon, a fine artistic performance.

Celine, Saint Laurent, Kenzo, Balenciaga, Balmain, Berluti and Raf Simons and a number of other brands were nowhere to be seen last week. Some labels probably prefer to wait until September to present their men’s collections together with their women’s collections. Saint Laurent and Celine, like Gucci, seem more at ease when they can follow their own rhythm. Balenciaga has an important appointment next week, during couture week.

In the future, fashion weeks will be both digital and analogue

If the men’s fashion week proved anything, it is that the catwalk show is here to stay. The fashion industry needs events (to create content for social media, but also just for networking), as do the cities where fashion weeks take place. But maybe not every label needs a show anymore, and maybe it will never be as large-scale as it once was, although Dior’s show seems to suggest the opposite. It remains to be seen whether international journalists and buyers will return en masse to Paris, Milan, London and New York. A number of boutiques did not survive the pandemic, or only just, and worldwide magazines are shrinking and disappearing.

The fashion film is not going away either. With this tool, brands reach a much larger audience, although the ultimate impact may be smaller than that of a fashion show. Giants like Vuitton or Chanel have enough resources to finance both a spectacular catwalk show and a Hollywood production. But for smaller brands, it becomes a case of finding the most efficient formula to score.

“I love shows,” emerging designer Boramy Viguier, in his third film this season, told FashionUnited, “but a white box with a row of models in a row is no longer enough. In the old days, in the days of Coco Chanel, the models would hold a sign with a number on it that referred to their outfit in an order book. You also had typical model poses back then. What I mean to say is: shows have always evolved.”

In the long run, it might become like before: almost every show was already livestreamed pre-covid. In the meantime, the organisers of fashion weeks, such as the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, have set up the necessary digital infrastructure to bring these livestreams together on a single platform. The next generation of fashion weeks will be simultaneously analogue and digital, adding even more weight.

This article was translated from Dutch

Homepage image: Louis Gabriel Nouchi