Paris Fashion Week Exudes Hope In Uncertain Times: 'We Must Keep On' The fashion industry is reeling in the pandemic; marketing budgets have been slashed and magazines are thinner. But houses moved forward with a handful of physical runway shows and lots more online.
NPR logo 'We Must Keep On': Paris Fashion Week Exudes Hope In Uncertain Times

'We Must Keep On': Paris Fashion Week Exudes Hope In Uncertain Times

Models walk the runway during the Chanel Womenswear Spring/Summer 2021 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on Oct. 06, 2020. Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images hide caption

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Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Models walk the runway during the Chanel Womenswear Spring/Summer 2021 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on Oct. 06, 2020.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

New York, London, Milan and Paris have all hosted fashion weeks this fall — even if much of the world was too preoccupied to notice. The fashion industry is reeling; marketing budgets have been slashed, fashion magazines are thinner. Paris is facing a coronavirus spike and there's a possible lockdown looming — but Paris Fashion Week went on, with collections that exuded hope for an industry uncertain of its own path.

At a time when the relevance of bespoke clothing, haute couture and luxury ready-to-wear is in question, fashion designer Andrew Gn feels the mission is clear: "I strongly feel that, despite all the unknown, we have to move forward," he said in a statement. "We have to project ourselves towards better times. We, designers, are the core and the driving force of the whole fashion ecosystem. The weavers, printers, embroiderers, ateliers, all depend on our creative work. We must keep on."

Designers mostly showed their collections online, with about 20 physical runway shows in Paris this week. Some see 2020 as an opportunity for the highly interdependent fashion industry to refocus.

"We've all learned a lot about ourselves this year," says Olivier Rousteing, creative director of the French fashion house, Balmain, in a statement. "Being forced apart taught us just how much we actually depend on being together. Fashion's post-confinement efforts have made very clear that design thrives when there is constant dialogue, exchange of ideas and shared experiences and we are all trying to find new ways to make that happen."

Dries Van Noten

If it wasn't physical, it was digital, but with a strong dose of theatricality. Belgian designer Dries Van Noten opted for an interview before he presented his SS21 collection, which was inspired by the late New Zealand artist and experimental filmmaker, Len Lye. "In talking with my team, one thing became rather clear: The collection had to be simple, straightforward and not boring. I wanted to make something that was going to be fresh and optimistic," he shared.

Ralph & Russo

Australian design duo, Ralph & Russo put on a dreamy digital runway show themed La Futura. Set against crashing waves reminiscent of Latin American summers, Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo mixed the House's laser-cut leather looks with abstract prints. There were double-satin cocktail dresses and metallic raffia tailoring. In the midst of bleak days, the design duo hoped the collection would evoke an inspiring future, one where someone might wear a slinky gown.

Givenchy

Matthew Williams' debut collection for the iconic French fashion house, Givenchy, was one of Paris Fashion Week's most anticipated shows. But rather than put on a show, Givenchy released images of the 54 looks. Graphic and geometric, the collection features splashes of raw urban design. Born in Chicago and raised in California, Williams, 34, has designed for Lady Gaga and Kanye West. He also has his own brand, 1017 ALYX 9SM. For his SS21 collection for menswear and womenswear, Williams went back to Hubert de Givenchy's design archives to create looks that pull from the brand's history while weaving in Williams' contemporary, urban references.

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Dior

For Dior, creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri also turned to the house archives, bringing a Japanese-inspired jacket that Christian Dior designed in 1957. With a global thumbprint the collection includes Slavic smocks and tunics and Far East, as well as Ottoman Empire influences.

Gabriela Hearst

Fashion designer Gabriela Hearst held her first ever show in Paris. The pandemic fueled Hearst's creativity for the mostly sustainable collection, and the collection is made with 60 percent dead stock materials — that's inventory that was never sold to consumers. It includes Uruguayan gaucho-style ponchos — Hearst is from Uruguay — and shell embroidery inspired from a shell bracelet that her mother had given her.

Balmain

Olivier Rousteing, the creative director of Balmain, put on a star-studded show on day six of Paris Fashion Week. High profile "attendees" such as Anna Wintour, Jennifer Lopez and Cindy Crawford "appeared" in the audience on 58 side-by-side screens as they watched the show from their homes in the U.S. It took Rousteing months of planning and numerous Zoom calls with his team. Making the collection and doing a live show boiled down to two truths: "One, we believe that fashion is best experienced when presented live," he shared in a statement. "And two, we know that a shared experience is crucial for our fashion community." In describing the denim aspect of collection, Rousteing pointed to his style inspiration, "a '70s Saint Germain and a '90s Brooklyn." His collection featured a mix of strong silhouettes, tailored jackets and fluorescent colors.

Chanel

The Chanel show is always the crème de la crème of Paris Fashion Week shows, with elaborate sets that transport show attendees to another world. While the SS21 show was not as ostentatious as usual, it was still grand at the Grand Palais. With cinematic influences, the House's creative director, Virginie Viard paid homage to Chanel's eternal muses: Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld.

2021 will likely see more making and breaking of fashion brands. With all the health and political challenges the world is currently facing, fashion itself appears to be holding on for dear life.

Nina Gregory edited this story.