In the past week, as the fashion capital of the world was preparing for its Paris Fashion Week, there were 12,115 new cases of the coronavirus reported in France, the majority of them focused in and around the capital.
Compare that to the 5,989 cases reported in the state of New York over the same period of time — or to Italy’s seven-day average of 1,694 — and one starts to wonder just why the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode thinks it’s acceptable to host fashion events as if a global pandemic was not happening.
There was no better place to see this flagrant disregard for public health in the name of fashion than at today’s Christian Dior spring ’21 runway show. Held inside a fully enclosed tent in the Jardin du Tuileries with an audience that appeared to be at least 200 or more, the show felt like a distinct déjà vu of the last Paris Fashion Week. Back in late February, amidst a growing outbreak that included plenty of fashion people migrating from Italy to France and bringing the virus with them, brands and the federation alike refused to cancel shows, ignoring the impending public health crisis.
This season’s Dior show was set up to look like the inside of a cathedral, with stained glass windows serving as the only illumination in the darkened tent/bubble/petri dish. Guests sat shoulder to shoulder, in row after row. They were wearing masks — but the 87 or so models (maybe just under that as there were repeats) walking the runway were not.
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Neither were the members of a choir that sang — and literally screamed — as the models walked past them. Witnessing this specifically chosen form of artistic expression during this specific moment in time, it was hard not to think of specific super-spreader cases, like when a single member of a Washington-based choir passed along the virus to 87 percent of 61 fellow singers. Two of them ended up dying.
Compare this setting to even the most ambitious of shows that took place at Milan Fashion Week, and Dior’s event feels risky at best, just plain irresponsible in reality. When Fendi showed its own spring ’21 collection last week, it had only 130 guests, all spaced six feet apart (and with masks) — plus the benefit of significantly lower case numbers in Italy. Models did not wear masks but they were also physically spaced out. Back in early September, Jason Wu’s rooftop show at New York Fashion Week only held 30 guests and smartly suggested that any shows that could be held outdoors should and could do so creatively.
Back at the Dior show (where a cloudy 65 degrees Fahrenheit would have made for a pleasant alfresco setting) most attendees we more preoccupied with the scandale of a protestor walking the runway. At the end of the show, after the entire cast of models walked side-by-side in their floaty caftans and flat sandals, a woman wearing a mask unfurled a large yellow banner reading “We Are All Fashion Victims.”
“It was so well done, you couldn’t tell what it was,” Pietro Beccari, chairman and CEO of Christian Dior Couture told WWD after the show.
“I think it was part of the show. It’s hard to tell these days,” Antoine Arnault, head of communications and image at LVMH, also told WWD immediately following (though later writing to clarify that it was not part of the show).
The protestor, it turns out, was part of environmental group Extinction Rebellion. Even later in the day, the message seemed to be taken strictly at face value. The real tragedy and the true fashion victims — both in climate impact and the spread of a deadly disease? That all comes later.