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The Autumn-Winter Shows Must Go On: Paris Fashion Week In The Time Of Corona

Designer Rabih Kayrouz says he's going back to basics with his new collection.
Rabih Kayrouz
Designer Rabih Kayrouz says he's going back to basics with his new collection.

Paris Fashion Week, the last of the autumn-winter 2021 womenswear shows that take place in the U.S. and Europe, has pressed on with a mix of digital presentations and IRL (in real life) shows, in a city where pandemic restrictions are still in full swing. Paris is still under a 6pm curfew and while it has now been a year since the global lockdown, fashion in a time of Corona has gone through many changes. Many brands have had to cut back and downsize, but the industry has proven that shows must go on. From March 1 to 10, more than ninety brands presented collections.

The Italian fashion house, Valentino, normally presents at Paris Fashion Week, but this season, like the past season, Valentino showed in Italy. In the new collection, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli threw yet another curve ball, experimenting with unexpected shapes, colors and cuts for both womenswear and menswear. Held at Milan's Piccolo Teatro, Valentino paid homage to theater houses that have been closed during the pandemic. Fitting for the theater, Piccioli's collection stuck to a color palette of black and white, with a smattering of a few gold pieces.

Designers like Paul Smith, a Paris Fashion Week regular, opted not to put on a digital presentation and only released images. Carrying on with his usual references to the '70s, Smith took classics and remixed and reinvented them for this collection. A master tailor of suits, Smith applied looks and techniques of that tailoring to casual shapes for everyday pieces, all with a refined edge. Not afraid of color, there are 3D floral prints on leather and woven into fabric.

The fashion world was on the edge of its seat, waiting for the Parisian house Chloé's new creative director, Gabriela Hearst, to showcase her inaugural collection, after Natacha Ramsay-Levi announced her exit in December. The collection is rich in color and culture, filled with traces of Hearst's Uruguayan heritage and the house's signature style. Hearst also collaborated with Sheltersuit, an organization that helps the homeless by creating the "Sheltersuit x Chloe Backpack" in four distinct colors. A ceramic button and a quote from the founder of Chloe, the late Gaby Aghion, inspired Hearst's designs, "There was no luxury ready-to-wear; well-made clothes with quality fabrics and fine detailing did not exist." The designer promised the founder, "your house is in good hands," as her show premiered a hundred years to the week of Aghion's birth.

French design duo for the brand Coperni, Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant, known for their out-of-the-box fashion presentations held a live show, all COVID safe, at an arena on the outskirts of Paris, drive-in style. With a collection themed "the night," Coperni presented nightlife looks, primed for post-pandemic celebration. "We are waiting for the time when we will be out, dancing, being around people, freely," say Meyer and Vaillant. Guests stayed in their cars as models walked down two runways where the headlights were the model's bright lights.

Designer Rabih Kayrouz also showed a collection. Kayrouz, from Lebanon, has been recuperating from a brain hemorrhage, two clots and twenty-two stitches after the August 4 explosion in Beirut. Slowly he has come back to life and has shifted his brand MRK (Maison Rabih Kayrouz). "MRK is going back to the basics, back to our iconic pieces and giving new breath. This is a time we are firmly expressing our DNA," says Kayrouz. Notably, prices are shifting down 20-30% thanks to new partnerships with their manufacturers.

Turkish sisters Ece and Ayse Ege told their brand Dice Kayek's story through the lens of a murder mystery.
/ Dice Kayek
Dice Kayek
Turkish sisters Ece and Ayse Ege told their brand Dice Kayek's story through the lens of a murder mystery.

One of the more creative presentations came from Turkish sisters Ece and Ayse Ege, who told their brand Dice Kayek's sartorial story through an engaging murder mystery of a "whodunit," with an Agatha Christie-esque film themed "Who Killed Philippe Stone?" "These times have forced us to be more creative than ever," note the sisters, "so that's why we collaborated with [director] Marie Schuller to shoot the film." Filmed at Istanbul's Pera Palace Hotel, where Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express, their collection is full of cinematic intrigue showcasing their seasons looks of volumes, lots of bows, short cocktail dresses and jewel-embroidered separates with bold black and white accents, a nod to the Golden Age of film.

More balancing of dualities was seen at Givenchy, where creative director Matthew M. Williams showed his second collection. "In many ways, this collection is about a constant tension between two worlds," Williams said in a statement. "It's about finding personal meaning in difficult circumstances; it's about sincerity in what we do rather than strategy. We wanted to bring a sense of lived reality alongside precision, elegance and extravagance in the clothing and looks." The collection calls on the emotional side of the business of luxury fashion as he worked to bridge his streetwear edge with the classical side of the house. This was seen in a mix of fur and puffers, leather jackets and lots of hats and balaclavas that can work as chic face masks.

Olivier Rousteing paid homage to Pierre Balmain's jet-setting travels around America and Australia.
/ Balmain
Olivier Rousteing paid homage to Pierre Balmain's jet-setting travels around America and Australia.

Olivier Rousteing paid homage to Pierre Balmain in his collection. After Balmain created his first couture collection seventy-five years ago, he went to the U.S. and, at the directive of his friend Gertrude Stein, toured the country giving talks about French culture and savoir-faire. From there, he went to London and Australia giving talks on "New French Style." To capture this, Rousteing presented his idea of jet-setting the way Balmain did, seeing it first and foremost as a form a freedom missing in these times. "Many of our designs riff on the distinctive beauty found in the uniforms of early pilots and astronauts, with takes on parachute dresses, lace-up flight boots, bomber jackets and shimmering anti-g jumpsuits," Rousteing said in a statement. Filmed on an Air France plane, the collection is very much inspired by one-piece suits of pilots, with futuristic galactic designs.

And finally, more jet-setting at the Christian Louboutin collection was revealed in a one-of-a-kind digital experience, inspired by his love of travel. The experience, created by INSPIFY, takes you on a dreamy air journey from New York's TWA Terminal onto Loubi Airways, an airline with distinct details from the red flooring to custom seats and bespoke prints for his new collection of heels, boots and loafers. Until it's all safe for travel, though, perhaps we'll just have to kick up some imaginary red heels and enjoy Louboutin's fantasy airline.

This story was edited by Nina Gregory.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Allyson Portee