Paris Fashion Week has been a staple of the fashion calendar for decades, and this season’s contribution has once again brought the theatricality, spectacle and glamour we have come to expect from one of the biggest weeks in fashion. From literally smoking models (circa Kate Moss for Louis Vuitton 2011) to designers taking equestrian fashion to a new extreme (Hermès 2010’s equine talent), Paris closes each fashion season with an inimitable flourish.
Prior to the first official ‘Semaine de la mode de Paris’ in 1973, both Milan and New York City had already inaugurated the tradition of a biannual Fashion Week. While this means Paris was not the first to formally instigate the event, the city of love and lights was the birthplace of the idea. Charles Frederick Worth was one designer of many in 19th and 20th century Paris who would hire women to display his wares, having them parade in his designs, in a manner almost identical to the modern-day fashion show. These instances would then become series’ of social events in which designers and fashion houses flaunted their latest styles, evolving into an unofficial fashion convention, before 1973 eventually saw the arrival of Paris fashion week.
Paris’ first Fashion Week came with the formation of the ‘Fédération Française de la Couture’, the governing body of the French fashion industry. The Parisian Fashion Week burst onto the scene with a show dubbed the ‘Battle of Versailles’, held at the Palace itself with the intention of fundraising for restoration work and renovations. Aptly named, the ‘Battle’ pitted American against French designers: De la Renta versus Givenchy, Halston versus Yves Saint Laurent, Anne Klein versus Dior. While the French opted for a very ‘Versailles’ approach, no strangers to opulence and splendour, their competition shot straight for revolution. The American portion of the show included 11 models of colour of a total 36, a sight yet unseen in any show, as well as showcasing the work of a young African American designer, Stephen Burrows. The American battalion was the indisputable victor, not only proving themselves against the ‘tour de force’ put together by the French, but also heralding in an era of inclusivity in the fashion industry.
Paris 1992 conformed to the shock and rebellion that was now well-established and even banked on during Fashion Week. 1973 Liza Minelli, meet 1992 Madonna. Minelli’s presence at the ‘Battle of Versailles’ brought the performance together seamlessly and was woven effortlessly throughout; Madonna for Jean Paul Gaultier brought the show to its climax. After designing the Queen of Pop’s iconic cone bra for her third concert tour, ‘Blonde Ambition’, Gaultier toyed with the idea that less is more by having Madonna strip back to basics and bare her chest on the catwalk. Less may not be more conventional, but in this case it was certainly more memorable.
With the thrilling and the sensational, Paris Fashion Week has also supplied the bitter-sweet and somber. One such moment is Alexander McQueen’s last ever show before his death in 2010. The collection ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ was his swan-song and poised Spring/Summer 2010 to be remembered forever as the setting for McQueen’s final contribution to fashion within his lifetime. It seems only fitting that a designer who has been deemed a legend in the industry, said his final farewell in Paris: the beating heart of couture.
More recently, Paris Fashion Week has seen creatives take their visions to the next level, immersing their audience in a reality crafted to best accentuate their creations. Karl Lagerfeld’s 2014 Chanel Supermarket exemplifies this saturated experience as he had his models walk the set and ‘browse’ the shelves simultaneously. Cara Delevingne, Kendall Jenner and Stella Tennant to name a few, played pretend at normalcy for the display, although performance may be a more suitable label for the extravaganza. The Chanel Supermarket is a key example of how Paris Fashion Week has maintained the theatricality it is known for, while still delivering on the promise of the experimental and imaginative: evolving and dynamising the expectations of Paris Fashion Week.
Innovation and wonder are now synonymous with Paris Fashion Week, and last week’s Coperni show was no exception to the ongoing modernisation of fashion. Using new scientific fabric technology, Coperni sprayed a liquid onto Bella Hadid’s near-naked form which then transformed into a white, off the shoulder, high-slit dress that stunned spectators. Coperni epitomises how the world of fashion is adapting for the future, intermingling the scientific and the stylish and taking the industry deeper into development and advancement. De la Renta and Givenchy could never have dreamed when preparing for the ‘Battle of Versailles’ that decades later designers would be able to create a dress onstage that mere minutes before, was liquid in a beaker.
The first Paris Fashion Week in 1973 paved the (run)way for creators like Coperni today to continue to astound the public, never leaving the industry stagnant and providing a stage on which to change the fashion world forever. Paris invites designers to share in their devotion to fashion and compete to prove themselves as the future of the industry, preaching inventiveness and originality, worshipping at the altar of textile revolution.
Designers are now finding themselves one step ahead, experimenting with apparent sorcery by fabricating clothes mid-show. Does it come as a surprise that it is, once again, Paris Fashion Week that lends itself as the scene for yet another revolution? The ‘Semaine de la Mode’ consistently transforms the fashion world, each season as if for the very first time.
Featured image: Chalo Garcia via Unsplash with license.