Paris: Fashion Week

It’s that time of year again—twice a year in fact!! Twice a year, in September and March, the fashion industry, and designers, show their designs for the following season, and people in the industry, and those who love fashion, and some just drawn by the excitement, flock to four cities to see what designers have in store. American designers show their wares in New York for a week. The second ‘showing’ is in London, by British designers, and the shows last for four days. The excitement then moves to Milan for Italian designers, and also lasts four days. And the grand finale takes place in Paris for French designers, and lasts 8 days. That’s a lot of fashion, and a lot of clothes. And in the fashion world, it is a HUGE event. Originally, these shows were intended only for store buyers who would order the clothes there after the shows, and it was also intended for magazine editors and journalists who reported on coming fashions and trends. And those two groups of people are there, heavily in attendance, going from city to city for nearly a month. Anna Wintour, the editor of American Vogue is there like the queen of the event, in her signature dark glasses and straight hair cut in a bob. Designers’ careers can rise and fall with the stamp of approval of Ms. Wintour, or if she fails to give it. She is flanked at shows by the visible and well known creative director of the Magazine, Grace Coddington, with a stunning mane of bright red hair and enormous talent in fashion. In many ways, these two women ‘make’ fashion. Editors and store buyers come to these shows from around the world, and sitting in the audience, you hear Russian, Japanese, English, French, Spanish, Italian, every language imaginable. I’m sure that years ago this was a purely industry event. But somewhere along the way, the world has changed. The elitist world of Haute Couture in fashion (intricately hand made, singly ordered exquisite clothes by big French design houses) became a dinosaur and died out (there are only a few of those houses left), celebrity culture became an object of fascination with tabloids and gossip magazines telling us every detail (we never wanted to know) about minor and major movie stars and some people who just want attention or are famous for being famous (although sometimes we don’t even know for what)——and Presto Magic, one day, these ‘fashion weeks’ exploded into the public eye. Now movie stars attend in abundance (huge photo ops abound!!), politicians’ wives, minor and major celebrities, important business men (40 hot models to admire in every show!!). And now the audience has become even more fascinating than the show, the atmosphere is electric, the shows are beautiful, the models gorgeous, and every five minutes you see a star you’ve only seen on screen, and Fashion Week, in whichever city, has become a Hot Event. and you cant just decide to go, you have to be invited, and people nearly kill and use every ruse imaginable to snag a seat at one or all of the shows. And it really is a ton of fun to be there.

As I’ve mentioned before, three of my daughters work in fashion, and need to be at Fashion Week for work. I’ve always had a passion for fashion, as an art form, and I studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design, so I have the interest and some of the credentials—-and to be honest, it is a fantastic opportunity for me to hang out with my girls. So, for the second time, I have tagged along at fashion week in Paris. And Wow has it been fun!!! It feels like something in a movie, and I just want to sit there and giggle, watching the clothes, looking at the shows on the runway, recognizing stars, and hanging out with my girls. In a way, it’s very much about youth culture, and pop culture and celebrity culture for those on the outside. For those working in that world, this is serious business. (Bottom line, they want to sell the clothes, and get big orders). The designers work like dogs, with tremendous pressure to produce 3 collections a year (spring, fall, and resort, in addition to which they have pre-collections, less expensive lines, and some designers design for more than one house. Karl Lagerfeld designs for Fendi, Lagerfeld, and Chanel—-a massive undertaking, which he does brilliantly, with phenomenal success). Being close to my daughters, I see the young designers struggling to ‘make it’ (Alexander Wang is their childhood friend and a wonderful person as well as a talented and very successful designer. Joseph Altuzarra is a new face on the scene, designing beautiful clothes, with impressive talent). I’ve seen new faces come and go, and am so thrilled for them when they make it. It is an extremely tough business, and knowing how important these shows are for them, it’s a little bit like watching the Olympics, and holding your breath to see who will win the gold, silver, or bronze, or blow it entirely. But the ‘action’, the ‘scene’, is absolutely incredible!!!

I’ve seen four shows so far during Paris Fashion week, and an absolute fortune is spent on these shows. They are a spectacle and a fabulous PR event, as well as the more practical side of showing clothes. Each house has its own style, and tries to make their fashion show completely different from every other designer’s. Most of them give a party afterwards, which is another major PR event. I havent gone to the parties, just the shows. But I’ve had a ball at the shows. For someone who loves fashion, this is a total immersion event. And even for someone who knows nothing about fashion, it is a knock-down very exciting event. (I’ve seen lots of businessmen at the shows, who just come to see it. There are lots of foreigners at these shows, but France has always taken enormous pride in their fashion industry, and it’s not unusual for a head of a corporation to get a seat at one or several of these shows, just to see it—-kind of like going to the Super Bowl, or a bullfight in Spain– – it’s part of the national color, and something you should see at least once, in whatever city. I’ve only been to Fashion week once in New York to see one show, and this is my second time in Paris. (I hope my kids invite me again!!!).

The shows I’ve seen so far are Balenciaga—-this is the cream of the cream. The clothes are designed by a young French designer, Nicolas de Guesquiere. He has enormous talent, and the clothes are very architectural, while being extremely elegant and stylish. It is one of the most popular high end brands today. And the show just oozed talent, style and elegance, in a gorgeous setting at the Hotel Crillon, one of the most beautiful hotels in Paris. It was shown in three large reception rooms with twenty foot ceilings, gilt moldings, a subtle lit up floor had been installed for the show. Only 300 people were invited. You sit on benches, no fancy seating, and where you sit is also important and speaks of your status. The music is vital to the show. Roughly 40 models wear the clothes and come out one after the other, tall, beautiful, young, skinny beyond belief. They are the hangers for the clothes. But the whole ensemble is knock down drop dead gorgeous. And it feels like being in a movie just sitting there. I loved every minute of the show. At the end of an haute couture show, there was always a bride to signal the finale of a show. There is no bride in Ready to Wear. And at the end (as in haute couture), the designer comes out, walks swiftly down the runway, to applause. Mr. de Guesquiere came out looking shy, and was met with uproarious, and well deserved applause. It was a gorgeous show, with truly beautiful clothes (with all the fanfare, sometimes one forgets that’s why we’re there: to see the clothes.)

The scene on the way in to the shows is exciting too. Although there is no ‘red carpet’ like at the Oscars (and there are 8 to l0 of these shows a day), the same kind of atmosphere prevails. A wall of photographers are waiting for those coming to the show, the names of celebrities and movie stars are shouted, there is a certain amount of jostling, lots of cameras going off, and showing your invitation, like a passport into a secret world, you finally squeeze in to wherever the fashion show is being held. Needless to say, at the Hotel Crillon, everything went smoothly. Last year, at another show, two thousand people had to squeeze into one tiny door the size of a closet door, coming out of the rain, and I honestly thought for a moment I would be trampled. And some designers hold these shows in odd locations. I like the shows a lot better in more sedate venues (like big hotels), and it would be embarassing to get trampled and stomped to death at a fashion show!!!

The Dior show was spectacularly theatrical and I loved it. It was held in a tent set up in the Tuileries Gardens, which is the open stretch of garden, pretty paths, statues and benches, between the Louvre Museum and the Place de la Concorde, famous landmarks of Paris. And you had to walk about a block on gravel to get to the tent (no mean feat in stiletto heels or platform shoes—-because you have to look great if you go to these shows!!! Or so my daughters tell me—-although I cheated a couple of times and wore flats, and was scolded soundly!!!). Dior is designed by a British designer named John Galliano, who is very talented, and also very theatrical himself, and the show followed suit. After walking across the gravel, with the Louvre in the distance, followed by literally hundreds of photographers (maybe 400??), we entered the huge white tent. There were 3,000 seats in the tent. And you don’t stand a chance of getting in if you don’t have a numbered ticket with your name on it. So in we went…oops. I have night blindness, and it was pitch black in the tent. And I mean PITCH BLACK. It stopped me in my tracks, as I wondered if anyone shoving past me would be willing to fireman carry me to my seat. Not likely. And my daughter said, “Come on, Mom” grabbed my arm, and I somehow groped my way to my seat, and there we were, sitting in the dark, with only a few spotlights overhead. The tent was huge, and as people’s eyes adjusted, they saw the movie star they were sitting in front of, or next to , the famous editors and politicians across the way. and the nervousness of finding your seat dispelled as you sat there, listening to the music (sexy songs by Sade, to make everyone relax), and waiting for the show to begin. The shows usually start about half an hour late, and some are more precise than others. (Chanel always starts on time and goes off without a hitch.). Within minutes, everyone was in their seats, and the tiny spotlights went out, and there was suddenly the huge crashing sound of a thunderstorm and heavy rains. Electrical ‘bolts’ of lightning flashed throughout the tent. It was crazy and gorgeous, and heightened the mood of excitement. And then just as suddenly, the storm stopped and more music came on, and out came spectacularly beautiful models in the clothes with wildly teased out hair. The mood, the music and the girls looked sexy, in a very soft, appealing way. There was a softness to it all, perhaps it was more sensual than sexy. I watched the businessmen watching the show, and they were mesmerized by the girls (I’m not sure they even noticed the clothes). 46 incredibly beautiful models showed the clothes, and then with their model’s gait, they disappeared into the wings. They never look at the audience, they are mannequins for the clothes. There are no expressions on their faces, and they are trained to overcome any mishap on the runway, if they break a heel, if they lose a shoe, if a piece of jewelry falls off, it they step on an evening gown, or even stumble in ridiculously high heeled runway shoes, they just keep right on going with no visible reaction on their face. And then finally the last of them had disappeared into the wings, and the room went black again, the thunderstorm began again, and after a moment, the lights came up and there was Mr. Galliano at the end of the runway, leaning against a scenery wall in jodphurs, boots, pencil mustache, a muslin shirt open and exposing his chest to the waist. He looked at us all languidly, and strolled part way down the runway, gave us all somewhat scornful looks, and then drifted back into the wings, and it was over, to thunderous applause. End of show, and what a show!!! I have to admit that between the thunder and lightning, the beautiful girls, the music, and the fascinating crowd around me, I didnt pay as much attention to the clothes as I should. But like a kid at a three ring circus, I wasn’t sure what to look at first, and you wind up mesmerized by the high wire act, and don’t notice the lion taming act at all. But I had a ton of fun, and we groped our way out of the tent and moved on to the next show. (The tents are rented out to different designers, just like the tents in Bryant Park in New York for fashion week there).

The next show we saw was Balmain, a venerable old house, and a beautiful collection as a rule. (I wear some of it myself), and it’s designed by Christophe Decarnin, a young French designer, who has given the house of Balmain a new lease on life with a whole new look. (Just to reassure you, I wear their jackets, and some pants—most of what they do is extremely sexy, and my kids would lock me in a closet if I tried to wear it. But on anyone with the body for it—-WOW!!). The Balmain show was in another beautiful old hotel, the Grand Hotel, where many of the old couture shows used to be held. The room was round and had a high domed ceiling, and the whole show was incredibly sexy. Gigantically tall young models, even taller than usual, wore sequined, beaded, wow sexy dresses that barely made it to their thighs. Lots of open blouses, and deep decolletage, thigh high boots, a lot of sparkles and gold. It was knockout. And once again, so was the crowd. I swear I saw a number of men drooling as the models walked past us, only inches from our knees, on the runway.

And the next show I saw was Lanvin, designed by Albert Elbaz, an Israeli designer, who is thought to be one of the nicest men in fashion, and enormously talented. The show was held in a giant industrial warehouse on the outskirts of Paris, in the old Halles district (in the l3th arrondissement, still in Paris, but barely). When I was young, and these warehouses were still in operation, if you stayed out late at a party, the Halles district was where you went for onion soup at 3am (when I was in my early 20’s—-when I was really young, I had a curfew that didnt allow for onion soup at 3 am!!). Now many of these old warehouses are rented out for events. It looked like an airplane hanger, and the seating here was much rougher. It had stadium seating with benches and steps. There were 2,000 seats and they ran out of seats, with maybe another thousand people there. I wound up sitting on a step, squooshed between strangers, and it added to the atmosphere, as they played forties’ music. I was waiting for Rosie the Riveteer to appear. And moments later, 40 models (who are mostly in their late teens and Eastern European these days, with the occasional African or Asian model) appeared all wearing the same black shoulder length wigs with bangs, as they came down the runway looking somewhat grim and mysterious, like clones being sent out of the factory where they were made. They walked down the runway, turned around, and went to a brightly lit circular staircase, where they disappeared into black curtains. It had an eerie quality to it, and a sort of wartime atmosphere, it all felt very mysterious and CIA. The music they ran during the show was the kind of music they play in thrillers during a chase scene. The whole show made your heart pound as though something was about to happen. Again, a totally different feeling from all the other shows. And at the end of the show, out came Albert Elbaz, the designer. The word you have to use for him is ‘adorable’, he is the sweetest man. He’s very small, and somewhat round, and he bobs and smiles and looks shy. He reminds people of a lovable teddy bear, and you can only smile when you see him, and he has enormous talent, but his gentleness as a person always touches my heart.

So that’s the scene in Paris. The best part of it of course is being able to spend time with my daughters. I am very grateful that they let me join them, and it is a very exciting scene, and a far cry from my usual quiet life!!! Fashion week is an exciting scene in whatever city, and better yet in Paris (and easy for me). We’re going to the Givenchy show tonight and the Yves Saint Laurent show tomorrow. I can hardly wait!!!! I’ll give you a full report!!! I hope that all is well with you!!!! ds

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5 Comments so far
  1. Patricia Kennedy March 8, 2010 11:14 pm

    Sounds wonderful! I wish i could be there!!

  2. PJ March 9, 2010 2:58 pm

    Thanks for the full report, it was almost like being there!

  3. Adrian jo March 9, 2010 10:24 pm

    It is with an open heart that I say thank you for this insightful look.Your blog has reminded how exciting this time of year is . It’s brought many memories back, and a smile to my face. I will miss our conversations and shall always cherish the laughs and stories shared. Here’s to health and happiness for years to come. Oh and of course divine fashions!
    Fondly, Adrian(shoes)

  4. Nicole Theron March 9, 2010 11:10 pm

    Wow it sounds mind blowing! I really enjoyed reading your experience ( I am so,so jealous!).
    Sounds like you had fabulous time and you got two lovely daughters who like to include you in thre lives.
    Thanks for the insight into the shows it is a rare world most of us can only imagine.

    The only thing that sounds a little sleazy are the business men who attend.They just detract from the ambience you have described. We all know there is another underworld that exists behind these shows and those men being there is just an ugly reminder. A pity they can not be a little more discreet.

  5. kimmi March 15, 2010 6:45 am

    Sounds so lovely. Thank you for sharing your experiences!