Paris fashion gets physical despite Omicron

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Paris (AFP) – The city may still be in the throes of the Omicron wave and adjusting to the latest Covid restrictions, but Paris Fashion Week will still launch on Tuesday.

The industry is determined to get back on the runways after nearly two years during which most brands have been forced to retire online.

Despite the complications caused by the pandemic, the fashion community is coming out of it regardless. Most fashion houses are returning to live shows with the start of menswear week, followed immediately by high fashion shows.

About 17 of the 76 brands on the official Paris menswear calendar, including big names like Dior, Hermes and Rick Owens, will return to the runway, up from just six last summer.

And nearly 30 others are opting for other types of in-person events, inviting journalists, shoppers and other flavor creators to less formal gatherings in the French capital.

There will be a bittersweet flavor in the first week, however, when Louis Vuitton unveils the final collection of US designer Virgil Abloh, who died in November at the age of 41 after a private battle with cancer.

Such is the interest around Abloh, a close partner of Kanye West who helped break through glass ceilings for black designers, that Louis Vuitton will present the show twice on Thursday.

Many are also excited to see what streetwear veteran Nigo will do as Kenzo’s new artistic director.

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

“Presenting your work together with the big houses that have strongly influenced us does something for you,” said co-founder Florentin Glemarec.

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

However, like many newcomers to fashion, Egonlab is embracing both the live and online worlds, with an NFT and Metaverse digital clothing line that it is developing in partnership with footwear brand Crocs.

“Caught in the crossfire”

High fashion designers are also making a comeback, with 18 out of 29 houses planning live shows, albeit with the now common caveat that the virus could throw a last-minute key into the works.

Some changes have already been announced: the Sidaction fundraising evening to raise funds for AIDS research, which traditionally marks the end of haute couture week, has been postponed to July.

Giorgio Armani canceled his menswear show in Milan and haute couture show in Paris for the latest wave of Covid cases.

That decision sparked a sense of deja vu as it was the 87-year-old Italian maestro who first canceled his shows in the early days of the pandemic in February 2020.

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

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

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

Some still feel uncomfortable going back to events in person.

Designer Julien Fournie appears in the latest short film for his haute couture brand
Designer Julien Fournie appears in the latest short film for his haute couture brand Sameer Al-DOUMY AFP / File

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

“We would be frustrated not to be on the catwalk, but I hope we don’t create a haute couture cluster,” he told AFP.

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