How Paris Designers Brought Exclusivity Back to Fashion Week — Or Tried to, At Least

"See now, buy now" and Instagram-baiting had no place at the fashion capital's most illustrious houses.
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"See now, buy now" and Instagram-baiting had no place at the fashion capital's most illustrious houses.

One of the biggest ongoing conversation topics throughout fashion month was whether or not fashion shows should become more consumer-facing, with several brands like Rebecca Minkoff, Burberry, Tom Ford, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Proenza Schouler and Prada incorporating some "see now, buy now" elements into their shows (or announcing plans to do so next season). And after the not-so-conclusive study that the CFDA released on Mar. 3 about the options New York-based designers have for new show formats, that discussion started to dissipate in Paris.

The CFDA's report followed one by French fashion's governing organization — the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mod — in which leading French luxury executives voted unanimously that "see now, buy now" is simply not for them. Federation President Ralph Toledano argued that waiting for collections to hit stores increases customers' desire. Similarly, Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault declared that immediate accessibility to a runway collection "negates the dream" of luxury. (In New York, where he presented for the first time, A.P.C. founder Jean Touitou told us that "see now, buy now" is a "trick for press.")

And it was the dream to which Pinault referred that several of Paris's most prominent luxury houses aimed to bring to their shows for fall 2016, where there was nary a mention of instant gratification and Instagram-baiting was nowhere to be found. At Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane followed up his Los Angeles blowout (dubbed "Part 1" of his fall 2016 offering) with a super-exclusive show at a beautiful new atelier that he'd had refurbished in Paris (dubbed "Part 2"). As you can watch above, models walked slowly through various rooms as Benedicte de Ginestous, who called out look numbers during Yves Saint Laurent's own couture shows, did the same for Slimane's collection — which, while technically considered ready-to-wear, had couture elements. Other than de Ginestous' voice, there was no music, and guests — who sat on chairs engraved with their names — were asked to turn off their phones. A rep for the brand told us this wouldn't become Slimane's regular show format and was simply a one-time, special "love letter" to Paris.

The finale of the "front row only" Chanel show in Paris. Photo: Imaxtree

The finale of the "front row only" Chanel show in Paris. Photo: Imaxtree

Interestingly, longtime Slimane fan Karl Lagerfeld had a similar idea for his Chanel show the following day, where the Grand Palais was set up to resemble Coco Chanel's intimate fashion shows at 31 Rue Cambon and everyone had a front row seat. While the audience was quite a bit larger than Saint Laurent's, and social media was encouraged using the hashtag #frontrowonly, the vibe was much quieter and more intimate than Lagerfeld's usual spectacles, with the focus squarely on the clothes. Lagerfeld always has something to say, and this felt like a comment on the current state of fashion week.

At Miu Miu, Miuccia Prada also aimed to create a more intimate experience by involving the audience in the show, seating guests on ottomans and wooden fold-out chairs — and again, every seat was in the front row. (Of course, Katie Grand's casting of celebrity models like Gigi and Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski drove many an Instagram post.) At Valentino's ballet-inspired show, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli expressed in their show notes a desire to, essentially, get people off of their phones and living in the moment, perhaps trying to drum up some emotion in them via the live pianist in the middle of the runway (and the stunning collection). It was a far cry from the "Zoolander 2" promo stunt that the designers pulled off in September, a move perfectly orchestrated to break the Internet.

Paris has always been fashion month's most "exclusive" city, filled with centuries-old design houses that will go to great lengths to preserve that air of luxury. Although, a few innovators have emerged: A portion of what Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant showed for Courreges last Wednesday is in stores now; and the buzzy, influential streetwear-inspired label Vetements announced forthcoming plans to show its men's and women's collections together in Paris every January and June, two months ahead of the rest of the shows at Paris Fashion Week.

So what does this all mean for the state of the fashion calendar? Seemingly, that it's all about to get very confusing.

Homepage photo: Imaxtree