As the Spring/Summer 2020 fashion shows come to a close, the French capital seems increasingly divided between simple, yet edgy, young-designer presentations and blockbuster-worthy runway productions staged by famous fashion houses.
The Eiffel Tower was ridiculously dim on Tuesday evening, as about 400 lights were instead illuminating the extravagant Saint Laurent fashion show. Set in the Trocadero gardens, immediately adjacent to the Parisian landmark, the brand served an over-the-top backdrop for its runway show.
In fact, this extravagant mise-en-scène left a lasting impression on the guests who attended the show. Its extraordinary light installation enhanced the glamour of Anthony Vaccarello’s womenswear designs, giving him an advantage over his lesser-known peers on a more economical budget, many of whom don’t have the money for fancy props. Case in point: Kevin Germanier unveiled an equally flashy and flamboyant collection the very next day…but in his case, the presentation was held without all the special effects, in a quiet apartment close to the Place Vendôme.
This – and other examples – symbolize the hodgepodge of luxury designer brands that are invited to showcase their women’s Spring/Summer 2020 ready-to-wear collections during Paris Fashion Week. In fact, the nine-day calendar includes a hefty one hundred fashion houses, registered on the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode’s official roster. More than half of them are international brands. And all of these brands represent only the tip of the fashion industry iceberg. In addition to the official calendar, Paris is home to countless runway shows and presentations held off-schedule. The city also hosts a handful of trade shows – such as Tranoï, Première Classe, and Woman. All these events garner the attention of about 6,000 fashion professionals who flock to Paris for the fashion season.
Paris Fashion Week’s prestige has, in fact, never been more prominent. The established maisons contribute significantly to this reputation, with their runway shows that feature spectacular set designs and show-stopping entertainment. However, one can’t help but wonder: is this race for power and grandeur eclipsing the authentic creative strength that Paris has been cultivating since the first ready-to-wear designer brands, or “créateurs” as the French say, began to emerge in the early 1970s?
It is often the strength of the collections, whose creative directions are often boundary-pushing and off-the-beaten-track, that fortify fashion season’s relevance. Especially if one considers that New York, London, and Milan are usually promoting a more commercial take on fashion. “Paris will always be Paris, far ahead of the other fashion capitals,” stated Nathalie Ours, head of the PRConsulting Paris press office. “In Paris, we still have a melting-pot of cutting-edge fashion talents that are not found elsewhere.” As a matter of fact, independent designers who showcase in Paris are the ones who set trends and push boundaries from one season to another. However, their shows are often overshadowed by the spectacular rendezvous of the established maisons that are often taking place right before or after their presentation. Some independent designers are even trying to mimic this showmanship and intend to create anticipation amongst the invited guests by showcasing their collections in never-seen-before locations. One of them is Marine Serre, who staged her latest “outing” in the outskirts of Paris, at an abandoned site. Across town, Yolanda Zobel (creative director of Courrèges) showcased her last collection along the Canal Saint Martin, and Glenn Martens (Y/Project creative director) staged his runway show under the Alexandre III bridge.
Dries Van Noten, who used to stage his runway shows in locations that echoed his collections’ seasonal ethos, now opts for neutral venues that allow invitees to focus on the garments, rather than merely the show itself. Olivier Theyskens, who had also made a name for himself by staging elaborate runway shows, no longer takes such financial risks, as the level of competition is particularly high. On Friday afternoon, he simply brought his presentation back home, in the salons of the Hôtel de Bourrienne, the brand’s headquarters. Others like Issey Miyake, a brand renowned for the memorable shows its founder staged throughout the 80s and 90s, re-embraced its old showmanship by collaborating with choreographer Daniel Ezralow for the second-consecutive season. “While the impact of last June’s Homme Plissé fashion show and performance has not changed the traditional press’ perception of the brand, the impact of this performance has been tremendous on social media,” explained Véronique Vasseur, the brand’s press relations director.
And it is indeed the power of social media and its impact on the performance of the collection that is the reason for this growing interest in ever-decadent runway shows. “It’s difficult to compete with the big brands when you’re a young designer,” observed Kevin Germanier. “But, at the same time, I can create a sense of anticipation, on my own level,” he added.
Thus, a few hours before his collection’s presentation started, the young Swiss designer shared a preview on Instagram and was able to catch the attention of buyers and the press. “Paris is the place to be, and it is the most competitive one,” stated Yannick Aellen, co-founder of the multi-brand showroom Dach, which brings together German, Austrian, and Swiss fashion brands. However, experience shows that even without the use of social media or the staging of gargantuan shows, a designer can be successful. As long as his approach to fashion is sincere and his collections are of high quality, the word-of-mouth technique still works. This is precisely the case of one of Dach’s young designers, Julia Heuer, who was able to develop her network of professional contacts in a traditional way. The Korean designer Han Kyung-Ae and founder of the brand Re;Code was equally successful with this more conventional approach of nurturing business contacts. She presented her collection in a showroom in Paris for the very first time, and also staged a smaller presentation in Paris’ reputed L’Éclaireur boutique. Re;Code’s success, in fact, is based on a sincere approach to up-cycling. The designer uses deadstock fabrics from the textile group Kolon Industries FnC, of which she is vice-president. Re;Code embodies a design process that is entirely in-line with the quest for sustainability that many luxury brands are currently advocating. The brand has actually been working on sustainability since 2012 and, today, doesn’t feel the need to build an over-the-top set design to enthrall the fashion crowd for a mere few minutes.