The first fully digital Paris Fashion Week has ended, after offering a vision of optimism.
With a year to adapt and adjust to a new audience-free format, designers of Paris Fashion Week decided that while we cannot travel, visit museums or even have a night out the way we used to, the memory of it is almost as exciting as actually doing it.
Gifted the freedom to leave the confines of the runway, designers let their imaginations fly, taking their audience along for the journey. The results were utterly uplifting.
Over at Christian Dior, designer Maria Grazia Chiuri delivered her collection as a dreamy film, shot entirely within the gilded Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. Even watching through a computer screen, there was something thrilling knowing that, because of the pandemic, the Dior team had the entire palace to themselves. Not even its creator, King Louis XVI, could have boasted of such a privilege.
Offering a beautiful solution to what our post-Covid dressing might look like, Chiuri played with the idea of what women's clothes are meant to be, subverting and shifting them to something far more relevant and desirable.
Textured grey wool – more akin to menswear than womens – became neatly tailored coats, suits, and jackets, while prim and proper collared dresses arrived carved from leather, into something altogether more edgy.
Elsewhere, laser-cut leather bibs were teamed with white shirts and full skirts, as darkly shimmery gold lurex was cut into city shorts and tidy jackets.
Streetwear-style puffer jackets arrived quilted into the same strict lines of Dior's famed cannage pattern (think the Lady Dior Bag), as white broderie anglaise dresses were worn with heavy boots with what looked like white spats. Even Chiuri’s trademark gossamer skirts were mixed with long-line pea coats.
At Lanvin, designer Bruno Sialelli gave us a party, with his show a girls' night in at a hotel. As the girls in question were supposedly returning from a shopping binge (all Lanvin, naturally), Gwen Stefani's Rich Girl played, and the result was more fabulous music video than fashion show, with models cavorting and lip synching along.
Clad in beautiful pieces, they strutted around the hotel pool and even drove toy cars around the ballroom, in a joyous antidote to the pandemic. Digging through the archive, Sialelli reinterpreted looks from the 1930s, such as flapper dresses now cropped short, and gowns truncated to mid-thigh, but with the train left trailing behind.
What had previously been mid-calf dresses, tied loosely on the hip, were now sliced into high-low hems, as evening looks with plunging necklines were cut micro short and teamed with extra long boots.
At Balmain, designer Olivier Rousteing harked back to the days when we all used to flying, staging his show in a hanger at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
Using an actual Air France 777 aircraft, his models strode across the wings in many iterations of the flight suit, including perhaps the best take on personal protective equipment seen so far: a see-through boiler suit with taped fabric seams.
Knitwear was made into stretched sleeve jumpers and slashed skirts in gleaming metallics as trousers and jumpsuits came gathered and given the same gilt treatment.
Sandwiched between all the Parisian landscapes came Miu Miu’s film, shot entirely in the snow of the Dolomite mountains.
Wearing homemade caps with buttoned on face masks and long shearling gloves, the models walked through the snow in crocheted dresses and fragile silk slips.
Snow suits arrived with matching quilting for top and bottom, and crochet bralet tops were worn over tiny knitted skirts. Feet were clad in Monsters Inc-style furry shoes, as tiny dresses were scattered with crystals and spiked studs, and camisole tops were edged with lace.
Most fabulously, there was even a pair of shearling trousers. The models may have been freezing in the snow, but in the audience, even through a screen, you could almost feel the chilled air.
Chanel, meanwhile, stepped away from its terra firma of the Grand Palais in central Paris, instead decamping to the small and intimate venue of the Chez Castel nightclub on the Left Bank.
It's famous for its narrow staircases, and small rooms set over three floors (and across several buildings), so one would imagine holding a fashion show there with an audience would be an impossibility. Yet take the audience away, and creative director Virginie Viard was free to indulge her imagination.
The film was shot by the duo of Inez and Vinoodh, and it followed the models as they navigated the cramped space. The audience was left to feel as though they were walking the same snug corridors.
In a tribute to the style of the late model Stella Tennant, Viard sent out long, heavy tweed coats over gossamer thin chiffon dresses, and, as if in a real nightclub, the models tossed their coats on the cloakroom counter as they swept past.
Apres ski looks arrived as salopettes and knitted dresses resembled Norwegian jumpers. Tweed was welcomed as cropped tops and long skirts worn under see-through silk tunics, with huge, shaggy moon boots that, like the coats, could have the heavy outer layer removed.
Ending the week was Louis Vuitton, which managed to get one over on Dior at Versaille by staging its show in the Louvre. Despite the venue handling 10 million-plus visitors a year pre-pandemic, Nicolas Ghesquiere and his models had the place all to themselves.
Striding past the Greek, Roman and Etruscan sculptures of the Denon wing, the models clutched bags that had been made in collaboration with Fornasetti, with hand-drawn faces that echoed the statues around them, clad in Ghesquiere's trademark mix of feminine and masculine.
Opening with frothy net skirts under oversized jumpers and technical jackets, there were cocooning capes and bulbous blouson jackets over jewelled tunics and A-line dresses.
Knee-high boots were ingeniously unzipped on the sides, and bounced as the model walked, as that gave way to pseudo gladiator boots (in reality long flat boots with faux lacing).
The final clothes were cropped gladiatorial skirts with tunic tops that echoed the statued history around them.
With a soundtrack of a live version of Daft Punk's Around the World, the models walked as the crowd roared its approval, in perfect contrast to the still of the empty museum.
It felt like the clothes themselves were designed to dance all night.