One of the reasons that I came to Paris during this time was undoubtedly because I knew it would be Paris Fashion Week. I could not pass up the opportunity to be in the same city at the same time as some of my favorite designers, models, and photographers. Even just by loitering around the Louvre or Café de Flore, or the Palais de Tokyo, I thought that I could absorb some of the richesse, finery, glamour, by osmosis. Well, I didn’t even have to go that far.
A month or two ago, I sent out emails to the PR contacts of all the invited members of Paris Fashion Week, organized and directed by the Fédération de la Haute Couture. On the official website, they publish all the brands that will be attending, the tentative schedule of events, and the public relations or press contacts, which are run either in-house by some of the more internationally renowned brands, or by agencies, who especially handle some of the foreign members attending by invitation. That means equally impressive but sometimes lesser-known designers instead of household names like Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Balmain … French brands who are already expected to show.
I had an ounce or two of confidence – or maybe it was just hope – that I might be invited, based on my experience of Fashion Week last year. If you missed that story, you can catch up here. I absolutely hoped that I would have better luck this time. Spoiler : I was right. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Before I left, I got emails from a few companies expressing their gratitude for my interest in the brand, but their apologies that there were no open seats left at the show, or just that it was impossible for me to get an invite. As disheartening as those messages were, it was exciting at the same time to get an email from Dior in your inbox, no matter the content 😉 I had written all the emails in French, stating my qualifications and my interest, and I think that helped because most of the PR agents were French themselves.
It was getting close to the start of the week, and I still hadn’t heard back with any positive confirmation from any brand or agency. I was resigned to the fact that I had packed 2 pairs of beautifully uncomfortable heels and several outrageous “fashion” outfits, all in vain. I could live with the disappointment of not going to a show – but taking up precious space in my already too-small suitcase, for nothing ? Impossible.
Then one afternoon after wandering around Le Marais, I was in a boutique browsing and just happened to check my email, and I had received not one but two invitations to shows later that week !! I was so excited; it was just the sort of good news that I needed to cheer and warm me up after a long day in the cold .. The first show was the following day (I am so grateful they gave me at least 24 hours notice this time !) and although it was my friend’s last day in Paris and I felt bad leaving her, I had to go see what it was like, something I had dreamed of for years. When the time came, she went to the Centre Pompidou to see the museum, and I headed over to Rue de Rivoli, to the Hôtel Le Meurice, a very posh and elegant hotel next to the Jardin des Tuileries. The first show was Antonio Grimaldi, an Italian designer.
When I got there it was pretty quiet; I had thought it would be bustling around on the street, but instead, there were just a few girls about my age, some of them photographers, taking pictures of the attendees as they walked in. One of the girls looked like she was alone, and I went up and asked if she was here for the show. She said yes but she couldn’t go in because she didn’t actually have an invitation; she just goes to the shows to see all the people and the models. She was so friendly and warm (later I found out she was Belgian, so that explains it .. :)) and we exchanged contact info and I suggested we get un café later that week.
I said goodbye and went into the show, and in the lobby I saw a young, handsome, very well-dressed man taking a selfie in the mirror. I sort of laughed inside because I probably was about to do the same thing, but then I offered to take a photo of his outfit, which he then reciprocated. We walked in to the hall together, and since he seemed to know what he was doing, I sort of following him to the seats, where he dashed up to the very front row and told me to come along too ! I was incredulous. There I was, an absolute nobody yet in the fashion world, sitting front row ! But I didn’t move; I had every right to be there as anyone else and I was not about to give up the clear and immaculate view I had of the show !
The show eventually started, a little on the later side, but I didn’t care. The lights went down, people shushed each other and grew quiet, and then classical music filled the air as the models began walking down the catwalk between the rows of seats.
The theme and inspiration behind this Spring / Summer 2019 collection was the idea of a “labyrinth,” as in a “metaphor for the world and the tortuosity of its paths,” as described by the press kit given to each attendee. This idea was linked to the mythical figure Ariadne who freed her love Theseus from the maze and trap of the Minotaur .. to complement this, the music chosen was Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne on Naxos.” The collection itself featured geometric asymmetries and rigid structural elements that contrasted with the flowing lightness of the colors and fabrics. The image of the maze was “materialized in embroidery : silver and metal threads, thee-dimensional, geometric and luminous, with glass boules and laser-cut sequins.” You could really see the classical influence of fashion in some of the gowns that resembled the peplos, in the color palette, and in the flowings + wrappings of some garments. But I was pleased and impressed that the designer was able to take what can sometimes be a cliché – the romance and ideal of Greek / Roman antiquity – and redefine it beautifully and imaginatively for a modern audience.
The next show later that week, Guo Pei, was perhaps more sartorially impressive, as you can see below with the multitude of luxurious fabrics and sumptuous embroidery + decoration, but in a way, the whole experience was less pleasing to me.
The show was in the basement of the Palais de Tokyo, one of Paris’ modern art museums. In general I like the museum; the space is industrial, cold + hard, and lends itself well to the often eccentric and unconventional displays of many modern art exhibitions. However, for this fashion show, I didn’t like the stark and frankly boring grey carpet, the immense and also boring red columns, and the lighting was very difficult to work with as well. It was harsh in some angles and too low in others so that it was hard to even see some of the details of the dresses, let alone take decent photos of them. I also felt that the opulence of the garments and collection, inspired by Imperial China, warranted an equally regal and resplendent venue. In my opinion the bleakness and severity of Palais de Tokyo was too much of a contrast than a complement to the collection.
But location aside, the overall collection was impressive. Guo Pei, a Chinese designer, is perhaps best known for dressing Rihanna at the Met Ball in 2015, and although I didn’t know much about her work before the défilé, the show was very well attended and seemed like a larger occasion than Antonio Grimaldi. There were many more seats, maybe between 100 – 200, and the show itself was about 45 mins – 1 hour, while Grimaldi’s was only about 30 minutes.
Her Spring/Summer 2019 collection was also inspired by the past, but this time drew from the mythology of the East. As elaborated in the press kit of this show, the collection “will recount the stories of ‘East Palace,’ using the finest of traditional Chinese craftsmanship incorporated with Western stylistic elements and contemporary technical innovation.” Using Western textiles such as “twill woven with colorful metallic patent leather, mosaic-style sequins and prints, and highly textured fabrics,” the construction and design of many of the pieces were obviously Eastern. There were Mandarin collars that evoked the qipao, or cheongsam, the traditional Chinese dress for formal and festive occasions, elaborate oriental headpieces and headwear that reminded me of the tiered palaces and temples, and bizarrely-heeled footwear that at once reminded me of the chopines of 16th century Venice but also probably were inspired by the now-abolished practice of foot-binding. The collection was accompanied by traditional Chinese classical music and the lighting changed as each color palette was introduced; the five colors of black, green, gold, silver, and red symbolized the five colors of the dragon motif, central to Eastern philosophy. I wish I had been able to see the details of each ensemble more closely, as the press kit writes about intricate mother-of-pearl inlays, embroidery details and various techniques, dragon patterns on the heels, and other elements involved in each piece that all have their roots in centuries of traditional and Imperial design practices. Although the models walked slowly (to compensate for the difficulty of balancing on those precarious heels) everything seemed to move fast, and it was hard to really take everything in.
I appreciated the amount of research and significance that went into both of these collections, drawing from each designer’s respective culture and cultural past + traditions. Historicism, the idea that history has cultural and societal significance, is ubiquitous in fashion. Almost everything that we known today is recycled and drawn upon historically, from the black eyeliner of the Egyptians to the gladiator sandals of Ancient Rome, to the tribal prints of Africa and the Pacific Islands, to the fur of the Russians; to give a few examples. People tend to look at fashion one-dimensionally, to see a frivolous, self-indulgent, superficial world. But I see layers of culture, art, history, blended together to tell stories, to communicate things about ourselves and about our society, and to share and inspire beauty. I want to try to elevate the conversation of fashion into a more intellectual realm; I’m not quite sure yet how to do that or where to start, but I left these shows feeling very inspired myself and with hope that the fashion industry can still be highly regarded and respected. I hope these photos and stories do it some justice, and perhaps will spark something inside of you as well .. xx R.