Paris has long been regarded as the world’s fashion capital: a city of haute couture, humming ateliers, and rich taste. Its reputation is based on a distinct picture of tradition and refinement. “The history of Paris fashion blends irrevocably into myth and folklore,” according to Valerie Steele in her book Paris: Capital of Fashion.
The fashion show in Paris is established.
Designers like Charles Worth (late 19th century) and Paul Poiret (early 20th century) experimented with exhibiting their clothing in action during the early days of Parisian fashion. Lady Duff-Gordon (working as Lucile) was doing something similar in London at the same time.
Poiret noted for his extravagant, flowing designs, decided to combine business and pleasure by holding a series of elaborate balls at which guests were expected to dress to impress. The Thousand and Second Night celebration in 1911 was one of the most memorable, with Poiret presenting lampshade dresses and harem trousers.
From Coco Chanel’s modest ease to Elsa Schiaparelli’s surreal experimentation to Madeleine Vionnet’s flowing draping, Paris had become a hotbed of known names by the 1920s and 1930s. Shows grew considerably smaller and more personalized, with each fashion brand presenting its collections on a succession of models on completely client-only occasions. These were highly guarded affairs since there was a lot of concern about duplicated designs.
Photographers were prohibited, a world removed from the current constellation of cameras.
In Paris, the New Look establishes fashion show trends.
The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture mandated in 1945 that all couture firms must offer at least 35 night and day items each season. Only made-to-measure garments were available, which required a lengthy ordering and fitting process. Paris’s fashion displays would not become more restricted until the wake of World War II.
The expanding influence of New York’s fashion industry, where the war had fostered the backing of US-based designers at their inaugural Press Week in 1943, was causing concern in Paris.
However, the French capital had a secret weapon in the form of Christian Dior. With exaggerated shapes, Dior’s debut presentation, Corolle, which was visited by many fashion reporters and was permitted to be shot, served to reset the sartorial plan in 1947. Dior’s New Look, which eschewed the war’s boxy practicality in favor of voluminous skirts, tiny waistlines, and conscious femininity, was all about voluminous skirts, small waistlines, and deliberate femininity. Among contemporaries such as Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Balmain, and Jacques Fath, Dior would help determine the evolving lines and forms of womenswear over the following few years, re-establishing Paris’s atmosphere.
In the 1960s, another name would emerge, Yves Saint Laurent, a designer who began his career at Dior.
Saint Laurent signaled another shift in attitude by launching a prêt-à-porter line in 1966, which included his much-loved tuxedo suit. This was echoed in the space age’ collections of Pierre Cardin and André Courrèges, the latter allowing his models to walk spontaneously, as matched the garments. The way forward was ready-to-wear.
Fashion Show during the Battle of Versailles
With the founding of the Fédération Française de la Couture in 1973, the first official Paris Fashion Week began with the game-changing Battle of Versailles Fashion Show. The ancient conflicts between Paris and New York fashion were brought to life on stage in this duel — of the sartorial sort alone — as five of the top French designers were challenged against five unknown Americans.
Paris Fashion Week today
The exhibitions in Paris now are more theatrical than ever. PFW has seen backdrops that resemble railway stations and supermarkets, airports, and merry-go-rounds, as custom-built sets have become the norm for many firms. Many of these daring sets were created during the late Karl Lagerfeld’s time at Chanel, with each season aiming to outdo the last.
Look to Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, and Rick Owens for theatricality – the latter’s SS16 display included human bags. Although this is a different city from where Poiret hosted dances more than a century ago, its specific Parisian drama will never be surpassed.