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How fashion brought fantasy to the first Paris Digital Couture Week

Now, more than ever, the world is in need of fantasy.

Paris, where haute couture collections are shown, has always been where fashion’s dreamers found their fix. This season, though, the magic was elsewhere. It was on our screens.

Going digital is a first for Paris Couture Week, which has long been stuck on its staid traditions: invite-only runway presentations, spectators from the world’s upper crust, and a slew of garments of impossible proportions and impeccable handiwork for said spectators to wear.

For Fall 2020, the garments stuck, but everything else was open to experimentation.

For one, this season’s audience was democratised. Anyone along the Seine on Sunday could count themselves as guests of Balmain’s runway show on the Paris river. Models posed on a barge bound for the Eiffel Tower, while dressed in archival Balmain creations and newer ones by Olivier Rousteing.

(Photo credit: Balmain)
(Photo credit: Balmain)

The mood, like the stage, was buoyant, not least because of the accompanying live concert and dance performance. The spectacle was dubbed the #BalmainSurSeine and livestreamed on TikTok, making it the app’s first link-up with a luxury brand. (It certainly won’t be its last.)

Music also struck a chord with Chanel this season. Via a short film, creative director Virginie Viard took a turn from her solemn Spring 2020 outing and presented a new Chanel woman: unrestrained and eccentric. She was the kind of “punk princess”, as Viard describes, that you would find partying at Le Palace, Paris’s answer to Studio 54 and the nightclub that Karl Lagerfeld used to haunt. Think less Avril Lavigne, more Grace Jones and Paloma Picasso.

Speaking of Picasso, a surrealist mood also seeped into the season. That’s to be expected at Schiaparelli, of course. Instead of creating an actual collection, artistic director Daniel Roseberry simply sketched one out. The designs were as imaginative as you would expect of something penned on paper (how would you like an outfit that matched your pet Shar Pei?), but Roseberry will take on the tall order of producing them later in the year.

Dior, too, responded to our strange times with surrealism. The brand replaced models with mythological figures in its short film, directed by Matteo Garrone. An all-white cast of nymphs, mermaids and fauns took their pick from a trunk of doll-sized Dior creations, later realised in full size. The miniature collection was a nod to the Théâtre de la Mode of fashion’s past, an inventive way to showcase new designs.

While Dior looked to the past, Iris Van Herpen looked to the future. There was only a single dress featured in the Dutch designer’s short film, Transmotion, but it spoke volumes. Its geometric lattice at the bodice was dotted with seeds in the form of black beads. These sprouted into black branches of laser-cut duchess satin on the dress’s façade, before blooming into the white petals of silk organza that enveloped Game of Thrones star Carice van Houten.

Van Herpen calls her design a representation of growth and regeneration, which fashion seems to be on the cusp of. “I think the fashion system will change, and this is a part of it,” she says. “It’s important to not stop or to block yourself because it is a different way of working.” Here’s hoping that fashion, not change, remains a fantasy.

Header photo credit: Dior

Pameyla Cambe
Senior Writer
Pameyla Cambe is a fashion and jewellery writer who believes that style and substance shouldn't be mutually exclusive. She makes sense of the world through Gothic novels, horror films and music. Lots of music.