By guest author Christina Binkley from Vogue Business
The last leg of fashion month will be remembered more for its surroundings than its runway shows.
- Paris Fashion Week went on amid show cancellations and rising concerns over the global spread of coronavirus.
- Covid-19’s immediate and long-term impacts on the industry overshadowed typical discussions around diversity, sustainability and gender nonconformity.
- Despite external forces casting a shadow, designers including Stella McCartney and Thom Browne created upbeat moments, and the return of Kanye West got people talking.
Despite notable moments, including a surprise appearance from Kanye West, Paris Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2020 seems destined to be remembered as the coronavirus fashion week. Covid-19 concerns reshaped presentations and conversations from the beginning, with many showgoers skipping out after northern Italy’s viral outbreak, or getting called home midweek, leaving shows late in the week with unfilled seats.
Handwashing and wringing over sanitation were rife. At Felipe Oliveira Baptista’s Wednesday debut at Kenzo, in a series of air-locked tents of transparent plastic erected in the 5th arrondissement, guests parsed the likely microbial count of the vacuum-tube air as Baptista’s nomadic collection, with ferocious prints based on tiger paintings by the Lisbon artist Julio Pomar, marched down the runway.
Loewe and Dries Van Noten offered face masks — although few took them — while the Belgian designer’s security guards asked guests to use antibacterial hand cleaner upon entering the show at the Opera Bastille.
Although there were no reports of attendees falling ill with Covid-19 by week’s end, the corpses of cancelled events piled high. LVMH nixed its annual cocktail party in celebration of the LVMH prize nominees, asking guests to visit the young designers’ displays without crowding in for champagne. From New York, designer Rosie Assoulin sent a note saying she had cancelled her presentation. Soon after, Byredo cancelled its Paris presentation “to preserve the well-being of the invited guests and staff”. Toward the end of the week in Paris, organisers of Tokyo Fashion Week, scheduled to begin 16 March, announced the event would be cancelled outright due to coronavirus. Gucci cancelled the Cruise 2021 show that it had scheduled for May in San Francisco, also citing the virus. On Tuesday evening, Ralph Lauren announced its April show in New York, which signalled a significant departure from the fashion calendar, would not go on, citing the outbreak.
The fixation on coronavirus, both the health concerns and the sweeping impact it’s had on the luxury market, detracted attention from some excellent collections and several topics that have otherwise been top of mind in fashion lately. Talk of sustainability, a rampant discussion throughout New York Fashion Week, died to nearly a whisper. The piles of confetti that rained from the ceiling and turned the runway slippery at Virgil Abloh’s Off-White show might have been a talking point regarding fashion’s wastefulness in another season. This year, it was overlooked.
Stella McCartney did ask showgoers to take Lime scooters rather than gas-chugging vehicles to her show on Monday at the Opera Garnier — a show that featured luscious perforated vegan leather outerwear and a cast of plushie cos-playing animal rights activists prancing and dancing as stuffed animals. It was the most cheerful finale of the week (runner up: Thom Browne’s closing soundtrack, “Here Comes the Sun” by Stella’s father, Paul, in his Beatles days).
Perhaps the distractions explain the muted response to the announcement that Alexandre de Betak, whose firm Bureau Betak produces shows including Isabel Marant and Nina Ricci, received certification from the Swiss International Organization for Standardization for sustainable event management. Known as ISO 20121, the certification requires that Bureau Betak adhere to strict standards. Betak has pledged to bar single-use plastic, repurpose 100 per cent of sets, use renewable energy and reduce his shows’ carbon emissions by 25 per cent by 2021, among other efforts. Betak said in a statement that clients would be asked to sign a purchasing charter to buy “environmentally and socially conscious products” and services as part of his certification.
There was also little discussion of diversity, a typically hot topic, which nonetheless tiptoed down a few runways. Although Paris has been slow to adapt to calls for more diversity on runways, a few labels made efforts. Chanel featured a couple of real-bodied models, and Miu Miu walked several black models, a year after its sister brand Prada suffered withering criticism for selling monkey charms that evoked blackface and formed a diversity council to address the issue.
Some collections delved further into gender-bending territory in ways that suggest it’s a dimension of fashion that’s here to stay. Although most of the attention on Thom Browne’s runway was directed at his Noah’s Ark menagerie of leather handbags — my personal favourites segued from anteater bag to tortoise backpack — his approach served as a statement for tolerance and the right to dress across gender traditions. Browne sent his models down a faux snow-covered runway in male-female pairs, each pair dressed identically in the designer’s playful and often surreal tailoring. Some pairs wore pants; some pairs wore skirts. At Valentino, designer Pierpaolo Piccioli showed decidedly feminine clothes on male bodies: a ruffled handbag here, a diaphanous dress there, topped off by a tailored coat with a red floral motif.
The crossover fashion-art star of the moment, Virgil Abloh (now so famous he is often referred to only by his first name) signalled he senses a shift coming in his own field of streetwear. The designer who once drilled down into luxe athletic wear, told Dazed magazine in an interview last December that streetwear will soon lose its fashion edge. “I would definitely say it’s gonna die, you know? Like, its time will be up. In my mind, how many more T-shirts can we own, how many more hoodies, how many sneakers?”
Abloh’s Off-White runway was replete with tailoring and sculptured tulle evening gowns that suggest he’s been studying up on Viktor & Rolf’s archives. There was graffiti sprayed on some looks that signalled the brand’s codes, but this was a collection of luxury suiting, set to a soundtrack that intoned, “The real truth of the universe is there’s change.”
At Loewe, Jonathan Anderson continued a masterful run at turning the former Spanish accessories house into a full ready-to-wear brand with a likely appeal to the same client who once purchased Phoebe Philo’s Celine. LVMH scion Alexandre Arnault was notably in attendance. The young Arnault has been carving a path apart from his siblings, building the German luggage maker Rimowa into a fashion lifestyle brand, but he is expected to grow into a larger role at LVMH.
Hedi Slimane continued adapting Celine to his own skinny 70s-esque sensibilities with the long, dark silhouettes and lost-youth styling that he has previously implemented at Saint Laurent and Dior Men. Among so many designer musical-chair moves, Slimane is a singular argument that a designer can defy the traditions of a house and make it their own rather than remaking themselves in the form of each house they progressively join.
Overall, the fashion industry showed similar resilience in Paris in the face of 24/7 newscasts warning of a global pandemic. Most store buyers, fashion brands, editors and others stayed with the schedule, washed their hands frequently and proceeded with the task at hand.
By Sunday morning, Kanye West brought his Sunday Services to a half-ruined theatre near the Gare du Nord. It was a stripped-down version of the services he produces on a weekly basis, with only a pianist rather than the normal troupe of keyboards and drummers. But his professional gospel choir brought the sceptical fashion-heavy audience – which included Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing; Sarah Andelman, former creative director of Colette; and Pamela Golbin, artistic director of Jacquard by Google — to its feet for most of the service.
Designer Thebe Magugu watched the services with his hands clasped with pleasure. “I grew up next to two churches, so this was drawing on so much for me,” said Magugu, winner of the 2019 LVMH Prize. Then he dashed back to the Palais de Tokyo showroom where he was selling his collection to retailers.