Fashion, fun and Fomo as Paris goes out to play
When I arrive at the Shangri-La hotel in Paris, there is already a crowd waiting behind a velvet rope to enter, and paparazzi gathered on the sidewalk. I’m here to see a fashion show hosted by Koché, an independent French brand known for its androgynous, streetwear-meet-couture side. The atmosphere is festive. The sun is shining. Everyone is good looking or, should I say, very cool without trying.
Nature heals at Paris Fashion Week. It looks like the first real edition to be held since Covid-19 shut down the world 18 months ago. No more compromises. No more fear, since vaccines and masks are mandatory. About a third of the 97 shows will be live, including all of the biggest names, while the rest will stick to streaming videos.
In a gilded living room with chandeliers above, rows of upholstered gilded chairs have been set up to line the walkway. Soon the insanely tall models are stepping out dressed in designer Christelle Kocher’s creations – a shimmering glittery pink mini dress, a perfectly fitted green and gold brocade trench coat, a midnight blue cape fringed with feathers.
It’s a radical departure from what the French designer did a year ago at an outdoor guerrilla-style show at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in northeast Paris. The Covid-19 restrictions made Koché’s show a bit chaotic then. The professional models were interspersed with amateurs and the more relaxed models, almost punk-inspired. I watched the show from a park bench.
Kocher says she made the clothes more elaborate this year to showcase the craftsmanship she and her team could finally do right now that they were no longer working on Zoom. “I wanted the setting to be calm, soft and poetic, like the salons where couture was once presented to clients,” she confided to me after the show. When I ask her how she felt this week, now that she can show off to a large audience again, she says she is “really moved. It was beautiful. People are so happy to be together.
Returning to live shows is no small feat for the city that has incubated the modern global luxury goods industry. Event planners, florists, restaurants, upscale hotels, drivers all benefit from the glitz. Sonia Papet, the concierge at the five-star Le Bristol hotel, struggles to respond to restaurant reservation requests. “It was great to see all our regulars again. But they all want to go to the same places at the same time! she tells me.
Going back to the days before has a downside for me. During the pandemic, none of the top editors, influencers, celebrities and buyers who typically hail from the United States and Asia were able to attend. So local correspondents like me got places for the few in-person shows.
Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Kenzo, Dior, Chloé: I enjoyed them last year as a traveler who had a surprise switch from economy class to first class – with wonder and the certainty that it was wrong. not recur. This year, now that many of the real VIPs are back, I’ve only received a handful of invitations.
But it’s impossible to be grumpy about it. Paris has been her spectacular old self since returning from summer vacation. With vaccination rates now among the highest in Europe and few remaining Covid-19 restrictions in place, Parisians have finally been able to do whatever makes living in this very dense, noisy and expensive city worth it.
This of course means different things to different people. For me that meant going out to dinner with friends – a basic treat that was impossible from around November to June due to a 6pm curfew. I also began to fight again for a table at La Palette, a café popular with the beauties of Saint Germain, before falling back on a less cool back-up plan.
For others, it means reviving the tradition of weekend protests, in recent times against the demands of President Emmanuel Macron’s vaccination passport. These are fading now, but I can’t help but welcome them as part of a return to normalcy.
Another thing that I appreciated is the return of creativity and daring to the capital. Lionel Messi now plays for Paris Saint-Germain, the ultimate symbol of luxury for a team owned by Qatar. His first goal Tuesday night against Manchester City was incredibly beautiful.
Another visible symbol of Parisian audacity, the Arc de Triomphe has been wrapped for several weeks in 25,000 m² of silver-blue plastic canvas held in place by red cords. The artwork was the longtime dream of the Bulgarian conceptual artist known as Christo, who died in 2020. His nephew had to fight bird conservationists and Covid-19 delays for bring the project to fruition.
The effect is mesmerizing. A familiar monument is refurbished. Even the usual chaos of cars, bikes and buses circulating around Place de l’Etoile is interrupted on weekends.
I had an unknown feeling recently – “FOMO”. When the pandemic was at its peak, we felt like we were missing out on fun experiences. There simply weren’t any.
As I lived alone, I could not fall back on the family cocoon for company. There was nothing left but work. And probe the depths of Netflix and Amazon Prime. An isolation fog has set in. At one point during the second (or was it the third?) Lockdown, I swore that if the pandemic ever ended, I would never turn down a social invite again.
A friend called me last week to invite me to the reopening of the Rex Club, one of the city’s most famous dance venues, closed since the coup of Covid-19. Laurent Garnier, legendary French DJ and spiritual founder of the club, played on Sunday. “Come on, it’s gonna be fun,” my friend said.
Nightclubs in France have suffered from the government’s decision to keep them closed longer than any other business during the pandemic. They were allowed to reopen in July as long as they met crowd size caps and checked people’s immunization status, but the Rex decided to wait until now.
Tucked away in the basement of the Grand Rex, an extravagant Art Deco movie theater, the Rex is a bit grungy. The bar is sticky. It’s ridiculously hot in there. But the Rex is loved by techno and electronic music enthusiasts for having incubated many “French Touch” DJs, the local iteration of house in the 1990s. In my twenties, I went there often.
But those nights seemed like another life, and I had work the next day, so I politely said no, having completely forgotten my promise.
Only to regret it the next day. My friend posted a video of the crowded dance floor. People were screaming with joy and jumping up and down as the pace picked up. Even Laurent Garnier had a huge smile on his face.
Another friend texted me offer a last minute outing to the theater. She had tickets to one of the most talked about shows of the season, an intense drama called Mom, which stars French singer and film actress Vanessa Paradis in her first theatrical performance. He plays in one of my favorite theaters in Paris, the Théâtre Edouard VI, nestled in a round pedestrian square on the Right Bank.
“It’s a ticket for a jump seat tomorrow night, ”she said to me, referring to the folding seats glued to the edge of the aisles. “May I?”
This time, I didn’t hesitate. It would be the first time that I would set foot in a theater since the start of the pandemic.
Sitting in the dark in the sold-out performance as the play began, I felt a pang in my heart. It wasn’t the tiny seat or being in a crowded room with strangers. It was the rhythm of the play. After so much Netflix frenzy and social media scrolling, I wasn’t used to listening to theatrical dialogue. Everything distracted me – members of the audience were moving in their seats, exhaling loudly, fiddling with their phones.
I took a few deep breaths to calm myself down.
Jeanne, played by Paradis, and her very ignorant husband sat at the table as she tried to tell him about a life changing thing that just happened to her. The conversation was embarrassing and angry when the husband realizes that Jeanne has suddenly become a stranger.
With only three characters, the play was centered on Jeanne, who was in every scene. Paradis, former child star and former partner of Johnny Depp, had ditched the ingenuous schtick she used to in the movies for something deeper and more disturbing.
Slowly, I was drawn. The occasional sound of a squeaky seat or a sneeze was just a reminder that we were living a collective experience, not a lonely one. I can still do it.
A few hours later, I was one of the first standing to applaud the performers.
Leila Abboud is the FT’s correspondent in Paris
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