What Went Wrong at Paris Fashion Week

This season’s Paris Fashion Week promised to be a jam-packed, full-speed-ahead event, a return to normal at last for an industry that has been squirming for the opportunity to revert to its old ways of revelry since the pandemic began.

That was exactly the problem. Along the way, Paris Fashion Week’s “like it never happened” mentality of frivolity managed to shine a spotlight on the very handicaps and inconvenient realities that it was trying to sweep under the rug.

“People are really lost,” said a veteran footwear designer in her Paris showroom during the week. “They don’t know what to do.”

Continuing pandemic uncertainty on top of mounting economic woes seem to have rendered the industry essentially frozen on the ideas of change and progress that emerged in the early months of the pandemic. Shifts to more sustainable practices, a rethinking of the pace of fashion and a reconfiguring the fashion show and the  calendar — those things were essentially nowhere to be seen this past week.

There were still some bright spots. Designers such as Rick Owens, Thom Browne, Dries Van Noten and Comme des Garçons reminded audiences and viewers of the essential joy that fashion can and should bring — the same feeling that was vacuum-sealed and sucked out dry from spectacles such as Kanye West’s YZY show.

Here, a rundown of what went wrong at Paris Fashion Week, perhaps a reminder to the industry that the world has changed — and so must fashion.

Designers failed to address the current international debate on a woman’s freedom to choose what to wear

Not every political or social issue needs to be inserted into fashion. But when that issue has to do with the very thing that the fashion industry is about — what women are wearing — it feels not just appropriate but crucial. Paris saw multiple protests and demonstrations during the week in relation to the demonstrations in Iran surrounding the death of 22-year-old Iranian Mahsa Amini. And yet no major designer or brand spoke out on the topic.

What’s more, a handful actually showed head coverings in their collections, but included no disclaimer on how current events might render the garments insensitive. At Saint Laurent, creative director Anthony Vaccarello looked back in the archives to resurrect the glamorous “capuche” that Yves put on the runway in the ’70s and ’80s. Valentino, too, showed a few hoods. At another time, they might be the pinnacle of vintage glamour (and perhaps especially for wearers of hijabs). But showing them now is like showing a line of hoodies following the death of Trayvon Martin. Designers, producers, marketers, publicists, editors and experts of women’s fashion must confront what the hijab protests mean for women’s fashion going forward, in all parts of the world.

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 27: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY - For Non-Editorial use please seek approval from Fashion House) A model walks the runway during the Saint Laurent Womenswear Spring/Summer 2023 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on September 27, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
A hooded look at Saint Laurent spring summer ’23.
CREDIT: Getty Images

Kanye West’s YZY show was the apex of the fashion industry’s turn to social media sensationalism and the Kardashian echo chamber

The industry has collectively deemed Kanye West’s YZY show as dangerous and irresponsible, and they have also rallied around Vogue fashion editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson after the artist bullied her in response to her critique on the show. But they should also take responsibility — especially at the very top — for helping to prop up West and his antics, season after season after season. The industry has also bounced around the Kardashian echo chamber ad nauseam, and will continue to do so unless actively choosing to cover other topics and figures, forfeiting some of its digital footprint. This is no different than the Donald Trump media game.

kanye west, paris fashion week, PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 02: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY - For Non-Editorial use please seek approval from Fashion House) Ye attends the Givenchy Womenswear Spring/Summer 2023 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on October 02, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Kanye West at Paris Fashion Week.
CREDIT: Getty Images

The models were rail-thin once again

It wasn’t just the fashion itself that felt like Y2K again. Model casting decisively skewed on the skinny side, and at some shows it felt like the scary-skinny trend of the ‘90s and early ‘00s. Balmain, Chloé and Chanel made clear efforts to include differently-shaped models, but overall the casting reverted back to that of seasons — and decades — past.

paris fashion week, givenchy
Givenchy spring summer ’23

A lack of focus on climate change and sustainability was tone deaf – again

While the destruction of Hurricane Ian in Florida gave Americans a preview of just how much climate change can ramp up the devastation of natural events, designers in Paris were showing bloated collections. At Balmain, creative director Olivier Rousteing may have touted his use of organic materials through looks made of rattan and straw. But the sheer volume of his collection tipped the scales — and even made editors leave early. At Balenciaga, a mud-soaked runway was a continuation of Demna’s commentary of an apocalyptic future and the clothing we’ll need for it. Parent company Kering has significant sustainability efforts outlined, but they don’t often come through in tone at Balenciaga. Certainly not in the new shoes made to look old and dirty.

balmain, paris fashion week
An organic straw look from Balmain spring summer ’23, which featured hundreds of looks on the runway.

The gender conversation went stale

While men’s collections continue to explore a new world of gender fluidity, women’s counterparts seem stale and unwilling to join the adventure. At Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri had the right idea of showing the body as confrontation in this moment of women’s bodily rights (or lack thereof), but it was contradicted with the circle skirts and corsets. Overall, the collections lacked the adventurous, curious nature of fashion when it intersects with gender.

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 27: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY - For Non-Editorial use please seek approval from Fashion House) A model walks the runway during the Christian Dior Womenswear Spring/Summer 2023 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on September 27, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dominique Charriau/WireImage)
Christian Dior spring summer ’23.
CREDIT: WireImage

A lack of wearable clothing (and shoes)

At a time when people are searching now more than ever for guidance on how to get dressed, the majority of brands offered little practical advice. Extreme lace-up, pointed-toe shoes at Givenchy were a clear misstep on what women want to wear now. Even those joyful shows (Rick Owens, Thom Browne, Comme des Garçons) offered little in the way of real-life dressing.

Only the usual designers touched on it — Stella McCartney, Gabriela Hearst at Chloé in some pieces here and there, Dries Van Noten. At Laurence Dacade, a return to heels came with sleek stability and the microscopic tweaks that need to be made for women to actually be able to walk in shoes — a concept that’s been batted around forever but which most designers cannot get right. The designers who are succeeding are mostly women, and that’s no coincidence.

PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 02: A model walks the runway during the Givenchy Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2023 fashion show as part of the Paris Fashion Week on October 2, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Shoes on the runway at Givenchy spring summer ’23.
CREDIT: Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

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