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A return to the runway: what the first fashion month season since the pandemic began was like in real life

7 October 2021

For the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak, Paris held physical runway shows, welcoming editors, stylists and fashion industry insiders after an 18-month hiatus. Isabelle Truman talks us through the week’s most memorable moments.

WORDS BY Isabelle Truman

Paris Fashion Week SS22 Balmain

18 months ago, I was in Paris for my first fashion month in the city. As I excitedly got ready for shows and figured out the metro system, more cases of the mysterious illness people were calling Covid-19 started to break out across Europe. Runway presentations and night events began to get cancelled and masked faces popped up on the tube. Then the streets. Then everywhere you looked. Every pharmacy I went to was completely sold out of hand sanitiser and almost everyone had looks of confusion and concern plastered across their faces. 

Unaware of the severity of the situation, we boarded the Eurostar and headed for home, choosing—though not yet advised to—isolate ourselves in our London apartments once we got there. The UK still hadn’t had its first proper outbreak of the virus and it wasn’t until a month later that the government started to shut the city down. 

As it turns out, that season was the last time designers in the city, and across the world, would take to the runway for a year and a half. But last month, fashion finally returned to the runway. First in New York, where the country welcomed only those living there to see its presentations in real life, then London, before Milan, and finally, Paris. 

Arriving in the city on the first day of the Spring Summer 2022 season, there was a lightness in the air. The sun was shining and though they say you can’t beat Wellington on a good day, Paris, it must be known, gives it a good go. Even the French—famously rude and unapologetic to tourists (one once screamed at me that I speak ‘so blah, blah, blah, which I interpreted as either fast or loud, or both)—seemed happy to have visitors and the energetic atmosphere fashion week brings in the city once again. 

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As we bid farewell to the month that was, below, three of the biggest highlights from the first Paris Fashion Week back since the pandemic began. 

A very Dior welcome back

Paris Fashion Week SS22 Christian Dior

Up first on the week’s schedule, which is always opened by and closed with the biggest fashion houses in the country, was Dior. It was my first time attending one of the house’s iconic shows in real life after covering the extravagance digitally for years, so the excitement was high. The runway was being held in the Tuileries Garden—one of the city’s most famous and most beautiful green spaces. We arrived to hundreds upon hundreds of fans crowded outside the huge white marquee, which had been erected in the middle of the gardens, poised and ready to get a glimpse of the celebrities sure to be heading inside. Those waiting weren’t disappointed, either: Rosamund Pike, Olivia Palermo, and Chiara Ferragni arrived around the same time as me, sending paparazzi running, while Iris Law, Jenna Coleman, Alexa Chung, Elizabeth Debicki, and Zoey Deutch also made their way through the crowd. French actress Camille Cottin and YouTuber Lena Situations made locals—and Call my Agent fans—scream. 

Once through the crowds, guests were seated in podiums with a colourful circular stage resembling a board game in the middle, designed by iconic Italian artist Anna Paparatti to resemble the conceptual board-game-inspired pop art she’d first made in the 1960s.

Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri was clearly inspired by not just the ‘60s, but also the playfulness that came with the era. Clearly aware of the hopeful mood as pandemic restrictions ease, Chiuri created a vibrant collection, debuting boxer shorts and matching tops in bright hues, such as green, blue and pink, as well as go-go dancer-esque gold-fringe minidresses taken directly from the ‘60s. For her inspiration, Chiuri looked to the Dior archives, specifically to the 1961 collection Marc Bohan made for the house known as Slim Look, creating A-line baby doll dresses, mini skirts, leather coats with hot pink trim, and miniaturized Dior suits. As electro-pop musicians II Quadro di Troisi played mid-stage,  models, including New Zealand’s own Becky Skirrow, moved rhythmically across numbered positions on the faux game, before eventually taking their turn around the edge of the stage. When Chiuri took her bow, the applause was loud, attendees clearly loving her creations just as much as the fact that they were at a real-life fashion show once again.

The place to be was Springfield

On Saturday night, the only place anyone wanted to be was the Théâtre du Châtelet for Balenciaga’s mysterious runway show. What transpired was guests arriving and posing for photographers while their entrance was broadcast in an awards show style to attendees already inside the theatre. Then things got better: celebrities and models began making their way through the photographer’s pit wearing the brand’s new season collection. Offset, Elliot Page, Lewis Hamilton, and Ella Emhoff were part of the line-up, as was creative director Demna Gvasalia, his personal assistant Tully, and his husband Loik. As Cardi B and Naomi Campbell made their way inside—sitting mere metres away from me—the lights dimmed and a special episode of The Simpson’s played, showing the iconic TV characters flying to Paris to walk the Balenciaga show. It was hilarious, it was meta, it was thought-provoking, and it was internet-breaking. It was perfectly Balenciaga. For new converts to the brand, it’s opening its first-ever store in New Zealand soon. 

The Diet Prada addition—and the season’s most controversial trend

Paris Fashion Week SS22 Miu Miu

When it came to Instagram, beyond The Simpsons cameo, Loewe’s beautiful show was a clear frontrunner. So too were cool Coperni’s Miami beach ready vibes and Virginie Viard’s throwback Chanel swimsuits. But nothing had the industry’s favourite (or most loathed, depending who you talk to) Instagram account Diet Prada talking more than Miu Miu. Moments after the end of the house’s runway show, held at the Palais d’Iena on the final day of fashion month, the account posted a declaration to its millions of followers: like it or not, low-rise is back. Like, really, really back. In Miuccia Prada’s collection, models wore low-rise micro mini skirts paired with crop tops, showing off their midriffs in a way that’d make even an early aughts Britney blush. The comments section was ablaze with many writing that they’re desperate for the trend not to return, while others (myself included) were ready to jump firmly on the Miu Miu train. 

Who knows, by next season we could all be finally living our highly anticipated hot girl summer dreams—and doing so wearing Miu Miu micro minis.

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