It may be the birthplace of the fashion show – back in the era of intimate salon presentations with a privileged few sitting in antique gilt seats and not an iPhone in sight – but this season Paris Fashion Week has proved that, while it still has a penchant for its heritage and nostalgia, it also offers a home for designers looking to the future.
The shows were caught between past and present, with new creative directors making their debut at the helm of some of the oldest and most prestigious houses, seeking, according to the New York Times, either to "refine or redefine the houses they've been tasked with helming".
Lanvin, Christian Dior, Olivier Theyskens and Saint Laurent all enjoyed a rebirth, with each new designer choosing to steer their time machine in a different direction. Saint Laurent and Olivier Theyskens opted for collections that were black-heavy and suggestive, described by Vogue.com as "subversive takes on sex" that took us back to the 1980s. They weren't the only shows that drew on the Dynasty era for their inspiration, as spandex and bejewelled press-on nails adorned the Balenciaga runway, while Louis Vuitton and Chanel hailed the return of denim-blue eyeshadow. Chanel's collection was described by the Financial Times as "more rooted in the bright futurism of the early 1980s than it was in the world of tomorrow", with models wearing robot masks, neon tweed, baseball caps and heavy chains worthy of MC Hammer. You should expect all things 1980s to be on your spring shopping list, says The Guardian – "metallics, leather, 10-denier tights, stilettos and anything ruched".
Christian Dior's new creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri elected to speed forward instead, offering a diverse collection that "modernised the legendary house's codes", according to Vogue.com. At times, it was hard to escape technology – during Hussein Chalayan's show, his models' emotions were projected on to a screen alongside the runway, showing their levels of anxiety, fear and excitement, while Louis Vuitton chose to ditch the handbag in favour of a new accessory – a luxury iPhone case inspired by the brand's iconic leather luggage. Not just a "strikingly modern image", but also a "lucrative line to add to the shop floor", pointed out The Guardian.
The battle between past and present was just as evident off the catwalk as on it, with the front-row line-up at each show becoming a talking point for whether it had accommodated old-school fashion press or whipped up a social-media storm by inviting celebrity influencers, dredging up the decade-long turf tussle between bloggers and editors. The Financial Times offered the best analysis of the digital spat between US Vogue's editors and the bloggers they accused of "heralding the death of style" because of their paid appearances and borrowed clothes. "Vogue's ire sounded a lot like sour grapes," the newspaper reported. "It was also rather disingenuous when one considers how much editorial the Vogue site devotes to cataloguing the exact type of behaviours they claim to be so ruinous." The debate surrounding the role of traditional media and how digital, social-smart stars are taking over the fashion industry peaked with news of the gun-point robbery of Kim Kardashian West. Now a regular on Paris Fashion Week front rows, the reality TV star was the victim of a £9-million jewellery heist and came under fire for lauding herself and her possessions so publicly on social media. The story, according to the Financial Times, prompted "a whole new fashion debate, about celebrity and culpability and complicity", questioning the identity and moral scruples of fashion's power players, both old and new.
At the end of four weeks of city-hopping and around-the-clock shows, the mood inevitably always sours a little, and it was never felt so acutely as during this season’s uncertain time of new technologies and new retail concepts. Vanity Fair's market director Michael Carl sums up the end-of-term feeling that fashion feels so intensely at the close of the Paris shows, signalling the need for rest and respite until next season – "I am out of clothes, out of things to say, and a little out of my mind!"
CHARLIE BOYD is the executive fashion and jewellery editor for Harper's Bazaar UK and Town & Country