It’s been over a year and a half since Paris Couture Week was live and in-person, filled with the glamour, parties, and over-the-top-designs that make haute couture such a unique corner of the fashion industry. But as vaccinations have increased and restrictions have lifted globally, it seems like things may be on their way back to normalcy.
The fall 2021 couture shows in Paris mark the first time in a post-lockdown world that shows are happening again on a major scale—think: Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Balenciaga (though some brands are staging super-exclusive shows attended by just a handful of journalists you can count on one hand). It’s also the first time in a while that designers and creative directors are opening their ateliers and backstages to meet people in real life again. Digital shows have their advantages, but a real-life couture week in Paris is an experience unlike any other. Here, a behind-the-scenes look at a historic couture week.
Day 1: July 5, 2021
I start the morning at Dior backstage, where the brand’s creative image director of beauty, Peter Philips, created a deep smoky liner that goes from the underside of the models’ eyes to the inner corners.
Philips tells me he created the look by using a thick ultra-pigmented liner and then layering the rich blue shadow on top of it, no primer required. “The look wasn’t about storytelling or anything,” he says. “It was more about, I love that eyeliner and that blue. I wanted it to be the focus, but at the same time, sophisticated.”
I leave the Dior backstage area to get an Uber to my next location. It takes 15 minutes for the car to come so I walk around the grounds of the Rodin Museum. For the next few hours, I try to make it to two different appointments but fail and get rejected at the door for being so late due to Paris traffic.
It’s too early to go to inside the Dior show—which is the sole live presentation taking place today—so I wait outside at a café. Street style photographers surround the place, where there’s a mix of editors and the label’s clients, dressed in head-to-toe Dior, natch. The photographers are armed with cigarettes and big lenses, and peer through the glass to see who they can capture next. Meanwhile, street style aspirants stalk back and forth across the street, hoping they’ll make it into one of the shots.
The Dior show has begun. There are riding hats and tweed; thick, chunky silver jewelry which, at times, cover the model’s entire hand, plus plenty of feather details layered under all that tweed. Maria Grazia Chiuri said her inspiration for this collection stemmed from the craftsmanship of couture and dressing for the days of post-pandemic life.
The artist Eva Jospin designed a textural mural for the show that covered the entire venue. The piece represented a landscape mural titled “in solidarity with India,” which was made in partnership with an Indian embroidery school that the brand supports.
Waiting for an Uber from one show to my next appointment is my favorite way to sightsee.
I make my friend take photos of me outside the Swiss embassy because their sign matches my outfit.
Even though it’s technically couture week, tons of designers are hosting showroom appointments. I stop by Y/Project to see the brand’s latest collection, which includes these spiral earrings (I’m obsessed!), plus a few more hush-hush upcoming collaborations.
Inside the Hotel de Crillon’s Marie Antoinette room, the jewelry brand Messika hosts a cocktail and viewing of its new collection. There are scores of enormous yellow diamonds, and this is just one of the many fancy earrings fashioned with the precious stone.
I stop for dinner at Caviar Kaspia and get lots of pickles, blinis, and baked potatoes. Since this is the first fashion week with live shows since ready-to-wear in March 2020, Paris is notably more empty than usual—even during couture, where there are traditionally far fewer editors, stylists, and influencers. The restaurant is no different; it’s nearly (pleasantly) empty.
Day 2: July 6, 2021
I start the day at the Giambattista Valli atelier, where the collection is on display in all its splendor. The Roman designer said he was inspired by the idea of going out and dressing up again—and it shows. Three different rooms are full of towering tulle confections, sequin embellishments, and fluffy feathers.
The Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées is right next door to the couture salon; inside, there’s a pop-up Jacquemus restaurant called Citron. I stop for a fruit bowl and ginger tea to start a very busy morning of back-to-back appointments (and maybe some shopping, too.) So much for “maybe.” I end up buying a pair of thigh-high Ganni boots.
I head to Schiaparelli headquarters, where creative director Daniel Roseberry is presenting his collection to the press. It’s completely over the top, with jewelry sewn to clothing, molded chrome body parts attached to dresses and vintage jeans, and moto jackets re-tooled into couture.
I can’t stop staring at the jewelry. Roseberry put a huge emphasis on these pieces, telling me, “Last season, we said something Baroque about jewelry. This season, I wanted to say something that wasn’t as intense. It all starts with the body. For me, when people see their own body casted in gold reflected back at them, there’s a visceral reaction.”
I squeeze in more appointments—this time, at Louis Vuittons Women’s Cruise 2022 and Men’s Pre-Spring 2022. The weather in Paris is much cooler than New York, and the shearling bags and knits on offer look so tempting.
Right across the street from Louis Vuitton’s HQ is La Samaritaine, one of the city’s largest stores which just reopened after a years-long hiatus. I have to go in, despite the overwhelming crowds (it felt busier than some shows and presentations at couture week!) to see the Art Deco-inspired interior design.
I slide a few more atelier appointments in before stopping at Alexandre Vauthier, Rihanna’s favorite couturier. I’m impressed by all the embellishment and shiny crystals that sparkle from across the room, but this feathered headpiece might just take the cake.
“Black and diamonds are the DNA of Paris,” Vauthier tells me. “You can imagine anything through the reflections. For me, it means absolute freedom.”
I end the day at Le Café du Commerce, a 100-year-old restaurant with three plant-covered floors and an amazing history. I eat too many steak frites.
Day 3: July 7, 2021
I start the day by walking to Galerie Vivienne—an amazing passageway with mosaic floors built in 1823—to see Alexis Mabille’s new couture collection. I’m particularly interested in the massive tulle capes and skirts. Each piece looks like it takes up half a room.
I stop for a snack at the Japanese tea house Toraya. I end up trying all the different seasonal wagashi, matcha, and red bean desserts despite the fact that it’s not even noon yet.
I’m heading to Cartier to preview the new haute joaillerie collection. The doors are guarded by branded bell hops, and the label created an entire temporary café with a full menu, including mini salads and caviar omelettes.
Inside, the brand’s new collection is on full display, in addition to some top secret pieces that couture clients haven’t even seen yet, which were delivered from the Paris workshop just hours before. The overall theme? Sixième Sens, or “sixth sense,” celebrating a play on perceptions.
I sneak in a few interviews before heading to Jean Paul Gaultier’s inaugural guest ready-to-wear designer show, with Chitose Abe of Sacai. The vibe is unexpected materials mixing, with a hint of Gaultier’s classic sculptural eclecticism.
The show ends on a high note, with models posing for photos on the runway. The designer duo heads backstage after taking a bow. Gaultier greets a slew of clients. “After I saw all the things Chitose was doing—playing with a trench coat, or creating a sailor shirt with a lace back—it’s not exactly the same as me, but kindred spirits,” he says.
There’s always a crowd outside of Gaultier shows, typically comprised of fan kids and photographers who wait through the entire show to snap photos. This time, the models came out on the balcony, as did the designer himself, to say hello. The crowd goes absolutely wild.
I attend the presentation for Zuhair Murad, a celeb courtier favorite of Jennifer Lopez and many others. Set in an idyllic courtyard, the heavily embellished collection took inspiration from Venice, a city where masks were once worn in a very different context than they are today.
The whirlwind day closes with a meal. Before heading home for bed, I stop by Miss Ko for a veggie bowl and sushi.
Day 4: July 8, 2021
It’s the final day of couture week, and I’m checking out the Van Cleef & Arpels high jewelry collection. The brand is presenting new pieces inspired by dancers’ motions, and at the same time, is displaying rare archival pieces dating back to the early 1900s, all with a focus on ballerinas.
Next, I grab a cab to go to Julie de Libran’s show, hosted in her garden. The newly emerging couture designer formerly worked under Gianni Versace and Miuccia Prada and puts an emphasis on day dresses. Here, she checks one of the models before they step out into the garden.
Things are pretty different this couture week, with much smaller shows across the board. Guests weave in and out through the garden at Julie de Libran’s presentation, and look through the pieces hanging on racks before models walk the runway in them.
On the way to my next appointment, traffic gets really backed up due to literally over 100 horses crossing the road. My Uber driver tells me they’re preparing for Bastille Day celebrations.
Cartier is hosting a tour of the brand new Damien Hirst Cherry Blossom painting exhibition at the Fondation Cartier. I wander through, taking in all the different colors.
I catch up on some work and do some more final interviews of the week before going to the Azzaro atelier. Now led by Olivier Theyskens, the brand initially planned on having a live show, but opted to host intimate meetings and a digital presentation instead.
“I wanted to have a lot of tailoring in this collection,” Theyskens tells me. “Because it’s always been so strong in the brand’s menswear collections. Shirting is really important. Of course, there are glamorous dresses, but for day—and you can mix up coats, jackets, and all the different pieces.” This dress from the fall 2021 couture collection is inspired by an Azzaro dress done in the 1960s for Tina Turner.
I end couture week—how else?—by discovering a new favorite restaurant, Onii-San, a tiny izakaya-style spot that has incredibly visual dishes; plus one of the most amazing sandwiches I’ve ever had.