Paris Couture Week Gears Up for Return to Physical Shows

July 5, 2021

Paris couture houses plan to stage their first runway shows in 18 months, with pent-up creativity and demand to spare.

© Christian Dior

PARIS — Paris Couture Week returns Monday with the French capital’s first physical couture shows in 18 months, and a glut of pent-up creativity and demand that promises to make it a memorable season.

Dior, Chanel, Giorgio Armani Privé, Balenciaga, Jean Paul Gaultier, Zuhair Murad, Vaishali S and Pyer Moss Couture will stage livestreamed runway events, while Azzaro Couture plans to broadcast its presentation.

A further 24 brands — including Fendi, Giambattista Valli, Elie Saab and Viktor & Rolf — are sticking with the digital format despite the loosening of restrictions designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The season coincides with the opening of a host of high-profile venues, including the La Samaritaine department store, the Bourse de Commerce contemporary art museum and the renovated Hôtel de la Marine on Place de la Concorde, all of which feature new dining hot spots.

Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion and president of Chanel SAS, also pointed to the recently renovated Palais Galliera, which is hosting a retrospective on Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and will be the venue for two Chanel shows on Tuesday, each with 120 guests. The French luxury house was the exclusive sponsor of the new area for permanent exhibitions located in the museum’s basement.

“It’s become one of the most beautiful fashion museums in the world, and the fact that we’re doing our show there is also a way of supporting fashion in Paris,” he said. “All these projects that are coming to fruition today reinforce the city’s unique position as the capital of creativity and fashion.”

The executive is confident that after hitting a low point 12 months ago, when couture houses were forced to switch to virtual presentations, activity will pick up this season, even if many clients are still unable to travel to France.

“For us, proportionally, haute couture is the activity that suffered the most in 2020,” he said, noting that the house had to set up teams in the U.S., Hong Kong and China to provide a bridge between the workshops in Paris and their local clients.

Working remotely has been particularly challenging for haute couture houses, which produce one-of-a-kind, made-to-measure outfits for a handful of the world’s wealthiest people — the definition of a high-touch profession.

“We have a lot of promising appointments set up, so I think that with this collection, we should be able to return to levels of activity similar to 2019,” Pavlovsly added.

Looking ahead, Chanel hopes to stage a runway show with a larger audience during Paris Fashion Week next fall. It also plans to resume overseas events with a replica of its cruise collection, unveiled in May in the Provence region of France, though it has yet to reveal the location.

Even with larger events on the horizon, the brand – which has invested heavily in infrastructure over the last year – believes it’s too early to revert to business as usual.

“This is not a time to stage the kind of extraordinary events we did in the past,” Pavlovsky said. “We feel in our markets and among our teams the need to be closer to our customers and to do things that are more one-to-one.”

Among the returning couture customers is Christine Chiu, star and producer of the Netflix series “Bling Empire,” who last attended Paris Couture Week in 2019. A couture collector, she has her eyes on the Chanel, Dior, Fendi, Armani, Gaultier and Balenciaga collections. “The haute couture experience cannot be replicated virtually,” she said.

“Couture is not about buying. Haute couture is about learning, touching, feeling — experiencing and then, wanting to have a piece of that at home. I miss catching up with friends from all over the world at the shows, the smell of bread and cigarettes in the streets, the stress of not making a show on time and the high of actually making it just before the lights dim,” she enthused.

“I even miss sweating at the shows, but not caring because I am so overwhelmed by a powerful collection,” added Chiu, who has continued to buy couture remotely during the pandemic, most recently from Iris Van Herpen.

“Regardless of the amount of hospitality and pleasantries extended, remote fittings and processes ultimately do lack the emotional component of the couture experience. Virtual couture feels more transactional than experiential. The haute couture experience, to me, should be balanced,” she said.

“It’s akin to dating and marriage — one should feel all the excitement, adventures, curiosities prior to purchasing a piece as well as similar emotions following the acquisition of it. With virtual couture and fittings, it seems back-loaded. All the fun is only after you’ve received the look,” Chiu remarked.

This season promises to deliver plenty of runway highlights.

Balenciaga will make its return to haute couture after 53 years with an in-person show at its historic headquarters at 10 Avenue Georges V on July 7 at 11:30 a.m. CET, in a fully restored version of founder Cristóbal Balenciaga’s original couture salon. Fewer than 70 people have been invited, making tickets as rare as gold dust.

Meanwhile, Gaultier will finally unveil its eagerly awaited one-off collection created by Sacai’s Chitose Abe — the first of a series of guest creatives following the founder’s retirement from the runway in January 2020. The line was due to be presented a year ago and was twice postponed due to the pandemic.

The collection will feature an exclusive print by tattoo artist Dr. Woo on tops and leggings that underpin almost every look. Antoine Gagey, general manager of the Puig-owned fashion house, said its clients were impatient to discover the line.

“With the richness of Jean Paul Gaultier’s archives, we have been able to fulfill our clients’ desire to get dressed in Gaultier Paris, but a new collection always awakens excitement and triggers new demand. More than ever, our clients will be attending the show if they are able to travel, and they are already asking for appointments, even before discovering the collection,” he reported.

He expects the collection to spark interest not just among Gaultier’s historic clients, but also new prospects. “New relationships have already been engaged since the collaboration has been revealed, in particular in Asian countries, and amongst a new generation of clients,” Gagey said.

Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director of women’s collections at Dior, said the return to in-person shows had influenced her work on the house’s fall haute couture collection, which features a collaboration with artist Eva Jospin, who has designed a series of embroidered silk panels that will serve as the backdrop and setting for the display.

“I wanted to create a collection that is less narrative, more conceptual; able to be both a reflection and an investigation of something. I therefore focused on the materiality of textiles that becomes a form in its own right, and on the subversive language of embroidery,” Chiuri said in a statement.

Armani will return to Paris with a show on July 6 at 7 p.m., to be held at the headquarters of the Italian Embassy.

“I think the time has come to return to show in front of a live public because I think fashion only in a virtual format has no future,” Armani previously told WWD. “A fashion show is a tool we cannot do without because of its format, energy and effectiveness. It’s important to restore the physical shows and they can then be translated in digital experiences for a global audience.”

Even without a physical event in Paris, Pyer Moss designer Kerby Jean-Raymond is also sure to generate excitement with his first couture collection as an invited guest designer of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. He will close the week with a livestreamed show on July 8 at 8 p.m., becoming the first Black American designer to join the couture schedule.

Three categories of brands show during haute couture week. At the top of the pyramid are the 16 houses that qualify for the haute couture designation, which is delivered once a year by a commission appointed by the Industry Ministry based on a strict set of criteria.

They are Adeline André, Alexandre Vauthier, Alexis Mabille, Bouchra Jarrar, Chanel, Dior, Franck Sorbier, Giambattista Valli, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Julien Fournié, Maison Margiela, Maison Rabih Kayrouz, Maurizio Galante, Schiaparelli and Stéphane Rolland.

A further seven houses are corresponding members whose activities are similar to haute couture houses, but who are not originally based in Paris. They are Atelier Versace, Elie Saab, Fendi, Giorgio Armani Privé, Iris Van Herpen, Ulyana Sergeenko, Valentino and Viktor & Rolf.

Finally, the couture committee selects a group of invited members each season.

This season, they are Aelis, Azzaro Couture, Balenciaga, Charles de Vilmorin, Christophe Josse, Georges Hobeika, Imane Ayissi, Julie de Libran, Pyer Moss, Rahul Mishra, RVDK Ronald Van Der Kemp, RR331, Vaishali S, Yuima Nakazato and Zuhair Murad.

The Federation thanks Joelle Diderich and Miles Socha and invites you to discover all the WWD Fashion content via this link.

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