In Paris, Compensating With Spectacle

illustration by LeAnne Chan
illustration by LeAnne Chan

Paris Fashion Week has just ended. They claim to save the best for last. It’s a city of heavy hitters. Chanel, Vuitton, Dior, the list goes on. Houses which, season after season, produce collections that solidify trends or, if we’re lucky, change the way we think about clothes. A reworking of the lapel here, a new textile there. During the month-long fashion parade, what with its crowded show schedules, Paris’s offerings are a necessary punctuation mark. But over the past few seasons, perhaps the nature of this punctuation mark has changed, and it’s worth asking in what way.

So much as Paris has offered new ideas, it’s also offered immense spectacle. You know, the seemingly miles-long runways, the elaborate and peopled formations, the live orchestras playing original soundtracks. Since the collective spectacles have risen in parallel with the use of smartphones, the fashion set now refers to these shows with catchphrases like ‘smartphone fashion,’ or ‘Instagram runway.’ Runway collections with sets so outrageous, so expansive (and expensive) that even the most jaded or, at the very least, tenured of fashion veterans, raise a phone in the air. Snap. Post.

Chanel has certainly pioneered this movement — its decadent displays even preceding fashion’s Instagram obsession. For the spring-summer 2009 collection the iconic Chanel headquarters, 31 Rue Cambon, were replicated. A few years later designer Karl Lagerfeld imported an iceberg from Sweden, for his models to strut around. And, for its latest collection, the House set off a massive rocket ship — NASA-size — which accelerated toward the roof of the Grand Palais.

While all of Chanel’s fanfare is certainly an eye feast — “this is why we can never do without the fashion show!” editors chant — I also think it points toward a larger schism. Say you strip away the rocket ships, the icebergs, the grocery store stocked with double-C-branded products, what do you have? Eighty or so variations of the iconic bouclé suit, season in and season out. Ditto if you strip away the stretches of denim-blue runway at Dior and are left with Maria Grazia Chiuri’s uninspiring dedication to the hue.

The clothes thus fall flat, and the eye feasts become mere scapegoat. And since the internet moves so fast — its constant churn of content met with our endless scroll — you have to wonder just how long these spectacles can visually-compensate for the lull in creativity. Luckily, from out behind the shadows of the old guard grandiosity, there is a collection of young and talented designers in Paris who are making clothes not for the sake of ‘postability’ and certainly without the bolster of elaborate runways. Their clothes are interesting and dynamic, and the relative humility refreshing.

These young designers seem to understand that in a world where political leadership has become a dramatic demonstration, sometimes what we crave most is just a simple but clever styling trick. So, please, spare us the rockets.

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