Paris fashion week kicks off 'physigital' Spring/Summer 2021 edition

Paris women's fashion week opened Monday just as the city limited public gatherings in a bid to slow rocketing virus infections in France.

Like Milan -- which finished Sunday -- the vast majority of Paris shows over the next nine days will be virtual, with frustrated fashionistas watching on their phones and computers through TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and the labels' own sites.

Hollywood star Sharon Stone declared the week open in a video message, urging designers to rise to the challenge of better serving "emancipated, free and bold women.

"Fashion has to be more fair, diverse and equal," she said.

Only a handful the biggest brands, led by Dior, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Chanel, are staging real live shows.

With the vast bulk of international buyers and style journalists who usually flood the French capital staying away because of travel restrictions, Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane's Celine and Virgil Abloh's luxury street brand Off-White have bowed out altogether.

The lack of pomp of spectacle has led to no end of streaked mascara online from influencers mourning the loss of yet another proper fashion week to Covid-19.

"The last Paris fashion week which was entirely digital left us all orphans," fashion historian Olivier Saillard told AFP.

People crave the "theatre of the live spectacle", he added, saying the digital men's and haute couture shows in June were something of an anti-climax.

Despite big social media campaigns, the new "physigital" reality -- mixing digital and physical shows -- lack fizz, with brands struggling to create the same buzz online.

Before the week had even officially started, John Galliano released images of his new Margiela collection, even though he is not supposed to show until next Tuesday.

'The world has changed'

And rising French designer Marine Serre warned that "Amor Fati", the film that will showcase her spring summer looks, "contains strong images that some viewers may be sensitive to."

"This collection is a mirror of the last five months," Serre told AFP.

With the Belgian master Dries Van Noten, she has called for a major rethink of how the industry works.

Their manifesto for responsible fashion has since been signed by hundreds of other designers.

"The world around us has changed radically," Serre added.

Fashion's enfant terrible of the moment, Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga, said he also found himself asking if "fashion makes sense in the apocalyptic world in which we have been living since March", when lockdowns began in Europe.

However, the Georgian designer told the industry bible Women's Wear Daily that he has since "discovered that even in times of pandemic, people want something new. They even want it more to distract themselves from the horrors," he added.

Even so, Salliard questioned whether it was worth persisting with shows while the pandemic continued.

"If there are no American and Asian buyers, and no journalists, what's it for?" he asked.

The Korean label Kimhekim kicked off Monday's six digital shows, with the young Georgian Irakli Rusadze making his Paris debut with his Situationist brand.

His slightly surreal film was shot on the streets of his native Tbilisi, with his models buying potatoes in its street markets.

Danish designer Cecilie Bahnsen, who "adores the idea that you can wear a ballgown with a pair of trainers", also made her first bow with a film showcasing her long white, black and pastel dresses on a blasted Nordic heath and the beach.

American artist Sterling Ruby with his S.R. Studio. LA. CA. brand and London newcomer Wales Bonner, who won the prestigious LVMH prize for young designers in 2016, rounded off the opening day's shows.(AFP)

Photo credit: Celine AW19 at PWF, Catwalkpictures