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For over a year and a half, the global fashion industry — and haute couture in particular — has struggled without live fashion and film red carpet events. This week, haute couture designers gathered in Paris to show their new collections. Designers, buyers and the international press assembled to see the 33 brands showing their collections on the runway.
Some houses opted for online shows, but this fashion week underscored why it’s so important for couture to be seen in person. The autumn-winter 2021-22 shows emphasized that shows are necessary for luxury houses to survive — and that designs must be functional and wearable in order to thrive in a shifting landscape.
Dior, Chanel, Giorgio Armani Privé, Balenciaga, Jean Paul Gaultier, Zuhair Murad, Vaishali S, and Pyer Moss all showed on physical runways, while Azzaro Couture was shown as a broadcast. Twenty-four brands ranging from Julien Fournié, Viktor & Rolf, to Imane Ayissi showed digitally, despite France loosening in-person pandemic restrictions. Digital presentations — which are cheaper and less work to pull off than runway shows — have become a common practice over the past year, and many in the industry are wondering whether they may become the norm.
For the brands that decided to show in-person, the City of Lights became a city-wide runway. Show venues included the Musée Rodin for Dior’s haute couture show, the La Samaritaine department store, the newly renovated Hôtel de la Marine at Place de la Concorde, and the Bourse de Commerce contemporary art museum.
The House of Chanel hosted their runway show and a retrospective on founder Gabrielle Chanel at the renovated Palais Galliera. Hosting the show in an iconic Parisian location was a show of strength. “All these projects that are coming to fruition today reinforce the city’s unique position as the capital of creativity and fashion,” Chanel president Bruno Pavlovsky told Women’s Wear Daily.
Chanel’s latest collection was about reclaiming the values of haute couture after a period of restrictions. Seasons designed by chief creator Maria Grazia Chiuri were mainly presented through film. Drawing out the importance of textiles and tactile materials in post-pandemic fashion was the aim of Chiuri and her creative team. Walking into the show space, the walls were covered in life-size embroideries.
The pandemic has also reset how some houses are choosing to show collections on their own terms. Next week Valentino will debut its haute couture from Venice. And Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia has chosen to hold only one couture show a year – a seasonless collection including menswear. In press notes for the show, Gvasalia states, “couture is the highest level of garment construction, that is not only relevant in today’s mass-productive industry, but even absolutely necessary for the survival and further evolution of modern fashion.”