What showed up more on your social media feed this Paris Fashion Week? Was it Chanel's epic mountains and waterfalls – it's biggest set yet, in fact – or Thom Browne's unicorn in Warhorse-style configuration as three models made its mechanics work and a magical fashion moment happen? Was it Moncler's larger-than-life disco balls and ballet dancers; Ann Demeulemeester's rock-out live performance? Alexa Chung's really rather brilliant prom gone wrong party, complete with streamers, bouncy castle, crisps in bowls, and Chris Isaak tunes?
Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION
Or, perhaps, depending on your style disposition and where your fashion loyalties lie, it was Undercover's ode to Cindy Sherman and The Shining, the models coming out all a little off-kilter and holding hands. Or perhaps it was one of the guerilla shows that took place? Gypsy Sport took over Place de la République while Dumitrascu went underground and attempted a show on the platform of Rambuteau metro. It didn't go down well – peak commuter time and all – and the show had to move locations. As the PR noted, "creativity isn't always legal" – but it certainly does lend itself to some fashion show set surprises.
Because that is alive and well. Apt in a week when the renowned fashion show set and event designer Alexandre de Betak celebrated the launch of his new book and all the great shows he and his team have produced over the years with a party at Colette. And apt when there were perhaps more to see off the catwalk than on. Just read back through the above: mountains, discos, more.
Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION
"For me, it's always important to tell a story. The clothing is important, yes, but it's also about selling a vision," explains London-based designer Peter Jensen, known for his imaginative sets. "I design simple clothing: a jumper, a dress, a skirt, a shirt – so I think they need a place to live and this is where the set is important." He makes a good point.
At Elie Saab this week, the designer's standard glamazons found their wardrobe belonging in the Amazon, a rainforest jungle set to house the exotic python prints and swaying fringe. It made his blend of glamour more interesting.
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Meanwhile at Acne, creative director Jonny Johansson was interested in looking at fashion outside of fashion. Real life. "It's an attitude that is at the heart of Acne Studios and this season I wanted to explore this outsider way of being. These are individual pieces that are as if I found characterful looks that were made for pleasure." To this end, awesome jackets with embellished beads dripping from their pockets and a collection full of Seventies-riffing separates in jarring shades were unveiled from beneath an industrial clear curtain. At first the models walked and we couldn't see; we were outside. Then came the reveal and a cool collection that did more of the same.
"I'm a fashion designer so the clothing is where my passion is, but I do love thinking about the room, the set, what is happening," continues Jensen. And his earlier point makes sense when a collection might be quiet or seemingly simple and one has to turn up the volume control to make sure it gets heard – make sure it makes the social media set.
At Akris, that came by way of the architect and designer Alexander Girard, specifically his use of colour which created the set just as much as it did the clothes for bold and joyful colourful installations.
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A show, of course, is a marketing tool, and especially so for brands that aren't part of the fragrance game. Every single thing now speaks in Insta terms and Snap style. Hence the ever-growing amount of lavish productions. Sometimes it seems relevant to the collections and sometimes perhaps it doesn't. A collection full of ballet references, the addition of glitter balls was perhaps a little lost at Moncler. But it looked nice and made a picture.
For other designers, there is a more obvious connection. "Because of the way I work with muses," explains Jensen, who always picks a noted name – or sometimes a brilliant random name – as inspiration. "I think they play a big part in building sets or having the idea of how these women would live and what they do."
Back at Thom Browne and with the Little Mermaid theme singing, these incredible tulle creations plucked from a world that seemed to be part Twin Peaks (the reboot) and part what it would be like to live on a cloud, one couldn't really imagine what "these" women would do. Apart from having quite incredible dreams. The other element, of course, being the set. Browne might have just managed to melt even the most jaded of fashion hearts on the last day of Paris Fashion Week.