The highlights from Paris Fashion Week so far: Elie Saab, Dior, Balmain and big hats at Kenzo

Mixing digital presentations with physical shows, the Paris spring / summer 2021 collections have found their stride

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Having had a few months to adjust to the restrictions of a Covid-19 world, the spring / summer 2021 collections being unveiled in Paris prove that designers and labels alike are settling into a new way of doing things.

With a mix of pre-recorded and socially distanced physical shows, plus films and/or lookbook-style photography, the experimental phase of new show formats has passed, with a new breed of presentations coming out of Paris.

Christian Dior

A paisley kimono at Dior spring / summer 2021. Courtesy Dior

Since taking over at Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri has been unpicking the maison's rigid constructions, softening lines and loosening fits. For spring / summer 2021, her instincts proved once again to be spot on as, in our current pandemic-ridden world, comfort is a by-word for self love.

Despite the vivid backdrop of faux stained-glass windows by 1960s artist Lucia Marcucci and the spooky 19th-century funeral dirge sung live by an all-female choir, the looks were all about a more relaxed way of dressing.

Amid the paisley-strewn mini kimonos and duster coats were echoes of the tight silhouette created by Christian Dior himself, in the form of a peplum here, an opera sleeve there, and waists cinched with double-strand skinny belts.

But overall, this was pure Chuiri: relaxed, fluid and scattered with the oh-so-pretty embroidered sheer dresses she has made her own, along with dashes of 1960s tie dye and North African terracotta stripes.


Balmain spring / summer 2021 revisited the famous pagoda shoulder, now in neon. Courtesy Balmain

During the lockdown in France, Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing spoke of the need to embrace the digital future of fashion, and to widen the idea of what a fashion show could, and should, be.

For his show in Paris, there was a real, if reduced, audience, as well as a beamed-in virtual audience, on screens set to one side of the runway. This mix of past and future echoed the clothes, which delved through the Balmain archives.

Brought back was the fabulous pagoda shoulder – now updated in fluorescent yellow, orange and green. Mixed with cycling shorts or loose-cut trousers, it was dazzling and will introduce Balmain to a new crowd. He also retuned en-masse to crystals, using a reported two million of them across mesh tops, jackets and dresses. He was quick to point out these were recycled, and the effect was gloriously modern glamour.

Dries Van Noten

A top embellished with the word 'You', a new approach for Dries Van Noten. Courtesy DVN

Dries Van Noten is remarkable for never having advertised its wares but, of course, Covid has changed all that, and for the first time, the designer found himself producing a long-distance lookbook and advertising campaign.

Also changed was the brand's way of working, with the trademark smorgasbord of global textile references all but gone, replaced with more simple geometric prints, mesh overlays and lots of simple, plain pieces. Always ahead of the game, summery broderie anglaise arrived cut from leather and mixed with rich metallics.


Beekeeper hats at Kenzo spring / summer 2021. Courtesy Kenzo

For his second outing at Kenzo, Felipe Oliveira Baptista hit the proverbial zeitgeist again (his first, pre-pandemic show had guests enter via airlock doors).

In this latest co-ed show, practical, utilitarian clothing arrived in pretty floral pastels worn beneath huge beekeeper hats, an unlikely hero in these strange times. The protective mesh hung to the knees on boys, wrapped as a cowl neck for girls or, best of all, tucked up under bodycon dress hemlines.

Cargo-pocketed shorts and dresses, often worn with cycling shorts or hole-y leggings, all signalled the need for hands-free self-reliance, and even an apron came with a handy pocket. If ever we needed an outfit to enforce the new reality we find ourselves in, this was it, in multiple iterations.

Carolina Herrera

Sassy polka dots at Carolina Herrera spring / summer 2021. Courtesy Carolina Herrera

At Carolina Herrera, Wes Gordon was in a sassy mood, chopping the brand's evening gowns to almost baby-doll hemlines. Still dressy, this collection was something younger and less heavy than usual.

Citing Ms Herrera herself as inspiration, Gordon truncated her elegance and style into mini dresses covered in swirling polka dots, and high-waisted trousers worn with city brogues.

Even her beloved eveningwear was reconfigured into above-the-knee frothy tulle in candy floss pink and tailored shorts worn with crisp white shirts, now with architectural shoulders.

Elie Saab

Summery optimism from Elie Saab spring / summer 2021. Courtesy Elie Saab

That Elie Saab showed a collection at all is remarkable, given that his atelier and home were all but destroyed in the Beirut explosion.

Yet here it was, a testament to his hardworking team, who were back at work just two weeks after the blast. Understandably simpler than normal -– much of the handwork that Saab is famous for was absent – it was still threaded through with an upbeat lightness that spoke volumes of the Lebanese ability to bounce back from whatever horror is thrown at them.

Presented as a series of photographs shot in the hills of Lebanon, it brimmed with his signature romance. Flowing, fluid dresses in sheer tulle and broderie anglaise abounded, broken with a neat offering of well-tailored daywear, softened into patterned pastels.


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