Paris Fashion Week: Escapism, innovation and hints of joy

Written by Fiona Sinclair Scott, CNN

Contributors Leah Dolan, CNN

In late February last year, Paris was quietly falling into the clutches of the coronavirus pandemic as packed runway shows took place at locations around the city during Paris Fashion Week. Event attendees joked uneasily about adopting the fashion cliché of air kissing, and applied extra lashings of hand sanitizer as they compared notes about who was being allowed back into the office or had been asked too quarantine at home “as a precautionary measure.” Despite it all, the event was largely uninterrupted and most attendees went about the business of fashion in what we now recognize as careless naivety.

A year on, and the event could not be more different. As is the norm across all the fashion weeks, the Paris shows were virtual, and international editors, journalists and buyers had to forgo their usual trip, watching the season’s latest presentations from home instead.

And while the 10-day schedule of mostly videos and live streams felt overwhelming — at times relentless — there were moments of ingenuity as a number of designers clearly hit their stride in the new digital fashion show space. Read on for highlights from Paris Fashion Week.

No travel? No problem

As a designer what do you do when your guests can’t travel to Paris to see your clothes? You bring the city to them, of course.

Dior presented its collection in a haunting fairytale-inspired fashion film shot inside the Palais de Versailles. Louis Vuitton unveiled new designs incorporating drawings by the irreverent Italian modernist Piero Fornasetti in the Michelangelo and Daru galleries within the Louvre.

The Louvre helped set the scene for the Louis Vuitton FW21 show. Credit: Grégoire Vieille

Chanel’s Virginie Viard pulled online viewers into the depths of legendary Parisian nightclub Castel. In an act that still feels painfully out of reach due to the pandemic, models ditched their coats at the door as they embarked on a night out, dressed to the nines in a number of sheer and slinky looks.

Christian Dior shot their FW21  film in the Hall of Mirrors inside Versailles.

Christian Dior shot their FW21 film in the Hall of Mirrors inside Versailles. Credit: Adrien Dirand

Meanwhile, Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing staged his show of both menswear and womenswear on the wings of a grounded Air France plane (playful invitations were sent out to guests in the form of a fake passport, airline ticket and a neck cushion covered in the Balmain motif). The collection drew on the uniforms of pilots and astronauts with lace-up boots, bomber jackets and large parachute-inspired frocks.

Balmain's new collection was inspired by the mind expanding power of travel.

Balmain’s new collection was inspired by the mind expanding power of travel. Credit: Balmain

Further afield, Miu Miu transported its digital audience to the mountains of Cortina d’Ampezzo in northern Italy, where a band of models wearing crochet balaclavas (also serving as face masks) and faux-fur boots cut lines through the endless white snowscape in a collection that blended padded outerwear with pretty lingerie.

In more snowy scenes, Thom Browne showcased his co-ed collection in a short film starring Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, who agreed to hit the slopes in head-to-toe eveningwear.

Inventive formats

Jonathan Anderson, a designer who has proven to be quite comfortable working outside of the traditional runway show format, nailed it again in his role as creative director of Spanish house Loewe. On the day of its scheduled show, the brand released a newspaper-style promotional, leading with a story announcing “The Loewe show has been cancelled.” The pages, filled with collection imagery, were inserted as supplements into national papers around the world including El Mundo in Spain, The Times in London and The New York Times.
Loewe's custom-made newspaper included shots from the campaign and details of new collection.

Loewe’s custom-made newspaper included shots from the campaign and details of new collection. Credit: Loewe

Anderson’s generously proportioned collection features bright colors, geometric shapes and playful tassels. It’s clothing you’d expect to see at an art gallery opening or a design fair, which makes sense given Anderson’s unwavering appreciation for arts and crafts.

Jonathan Anderson's collection for Loewe was all about catching the eye.

Jonathan Anderson’s collection for Loewe was all about catching the eye. Credit: Loewe

The French duo designing for Coperni pulled off the most ambitious socially distanced presentation of the week, staging a drive-in fashion show at a stadium in Paris. Guests were picked up at home and driven into the 20,100-seat AccorHotels Arena at night, their cars lined up to create a runway for models who walked in new designs lit up by the headlights.

The return of joy

Fashion is often a reflection of the wider world, and so pandemic-driven upheaval, fear, and even that all-too-familiar mundanity have been the themes for a number of the collection stagings over the course of a difficult year. But this season hinted at a possible seachange; with intimations of hope, strength and even smatterings of joy all making an appearance.

Schiaparelli designer Daniel Roseberry, the man behind Lady Gaga’s much talked about get up at the US inauguration in January, has embraced the fashion house’s historical ties to Surrealism (the founding designer Elsa Schiaparelli collaborated with Salvador Dali in her time), punctuating his last few collections with off-key gold jewelry that is endlessly fun to look at. This season he added gold breast plates, less conical than Madonna’s iconic set but still evoking a sense of playfulness when presented alongside an oversized gold phone cover in the shape of an ear, or a jean jacket worn back-to-front with buttons shaped like ears, noses and door locks.
Schiaparelli's FW21 collection was an homage to the label's surrealist roots.

Schiaparelli’s FW21 collection was an homage to the label’s surrealist roots. Credit: Schiaparelli

French designer Marine Serre launched a website dedicated to her new collection, with a series of short videos depicting light and familiar scenes. The collection, called “Core,” is made from an eclectic patchwork of textures and fabrics including deadstock leather, silks, denim and tartan, and the designer’s message was a celebration of family. Children play on the lawn in front of their apparent home; a young mother takes her baby outside for a walk, stopping to wave at her partner through the window; a father and daughter watch a sunset. Each moment planting fashion firmly in reality, or at least a version of it.