Parisian fashion goes physical despite Omicron

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Paris (AFP)- The city may still be in the throes of Omicron’s rise and adjusting to the latest Covid restrictions, but Paris Fashion Week will kick off on Tuesday nonetheless.

The industry is determined to return to the catwalks after nearly two years in which most brands were forced to retreat online.

Despite the complications caused by the pandemic, the fashion community is coming out regardless. Most fashion houses return to live shows as menswear week kicks off, followed immediately by haute couture shows.

Some 17 of the 76 brands on the official Parisian menswear calendar – including big names like Dior, Hermès and Rick Owens – will be back on the catwalks, up from just six last summer.

And nearly 30 others are opting for other types of in-person events – inviting journalists, buyers and other tastemakers to less formal gatherings around the French capital.

The first week will taste bittersweet, however, as Louis Vuitton presents the latest collection from American designer Virgil Abloh, who died in November at the age of 41 after a private battle with cancer.

The enthusiasm around Abloh, a close friend of Kanye West who helped break the glass ceiling for black designers, is such that Louis Vuitton presents the show twice on Thursday.

Many are also excited to see what streetwear veteran Nigo is up to as Kenzo’s new creative director.

And there’s also the hype surrounding the French label Egonlab, which launched two years ago with a series of arty videos and which is now making its first foray into the official calendar.

“Presenting your work alongside the big houses that have influenced us a lot, it does something to you,” said co-founder Florentin Glemarec.

EgonLab founders Florentin Glemarec and Kevin Nompeix embody the new mix of physical and digital creations Christophe ARCHAMBAULTAFP

Nonetheless, like many fashion newcomers, Egonlab embraces both the live and online worlds, with a line of NFT and Metaverse digital apparel that he is developing in partnership with footwear brand Crocs.

“Caught in the Crossfire”

Haute couture designers are also returning to the catwalks, with 18 of the 29 houses planning live shows – but with the now common warning that the virus could throw a last-minute spanner in the works.

Changes have already been announced: the Sidaction charity evening for the benefit of AIDS research, which traditionally marks the end of haute couture week, has been postponed to July.

Giorgio Armani has canceled his menswear show in Milan and his haute couture show in Paris following the latest surge in Covid cases.

The move sparked a sense of deja vu as it was the 87-year-old Italian maestro who was the first to cancel his shows at the start of the pandemic in February 2020.

“It’s their choice,” said Pascal Morand, president of the French Haute Couture and Fashion Federation.

He said the federation makes several recommendations including the use of FFP2 masks, but he was happy to see the brands returning to the live sphere.

“We have learned to live with the virus,” he told AFP. “Digital enriches the physical, but it cannot replace the emotional and sensory side of fashion shows.”

Some still feel uncomfortable returning to in-person events.

Designer Julien Fournie in the latest short film from his haute couture brand
Designer Julien Fournie in the latest short film from his haute couture brand Sameer Al-DOUMY AFP/Archive

“I feel caught in the crossfire,” said Jean Paul Cauvin, director of haute couture brand Julien Fournie, who had to deal with the disruption of positive tests among models and workshop workers.

“We would be frustrated not to be on the catwalks, but hopefully we won’t create a high fashion cluster,” he told AFP.

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