Today marks the last day of this year’s spring/summer fashion shows. Usually right about now this means I would have travelled over 3,000 km, worked my way through four different wardrobes, eaten approximately 345 canapés and completely exhausted my repertoire of small talk. I would also be fantasising about sleeping in my own bed, putting on a pair of cashmere jogging pants and not seeing another soul for at least two weeks.
Yet this year I have watched almost the entire proceedings alone, in cashmere joggers and, on one rare occasion (the Dior spring/summer show), from the confines of my sick bed. That is why fantasies should remain where they bubble — in your head — because the whole Covid-induced “new fashion landscape” (translation: a scattering of live shows, a bunch of digital presentations and some brands, such as Saint Laurent, bowing out of showing altogether) has all been rather, not miserable, exactly, but… flat.
Brands have tried to do audience-free digital shows in the past and they have never quite worked because the truth is fashion is as much about the clothes in front of you as it is about the reaction those clothes elicit from others. (The only thing worse than being called vulgar in fashion is not being called anything at all). When you watch a show, you are as much watching the reaction of your front-row peers as you are the clothes in front of you. But with no celebrity frow and no fashion juniors standing on tip toes at the back, whose facial contortions are always an intriguing litmus test of what will fly with a younger audience, it all feels rather lost.
This is no one’s fault, of course. Covid has meant travel restrictions for everyone — the entire front row, the baying fashion paps and the influencers who risk life and limb pulling the insouciant “I’m just on my phone in the middle of the Arc de Triomphe” pose. But it means most of us have watched, and predicted, what the world will be wearing next season through our computer screens, which is a bit like choosing a date from behind a misty window: you can’t quite capture the full picture until it’s right there in front of you, by which point… well, you get the idea.
In London, at least, editors did manage face-to-face presentations with designers, who walked us though their collections. This was rather glorious for me, though I dare say painful for them as they had to maintain rictus grins for the endless press they invited into their studios.
Designers are putting a brave face on things but it has been a killer few months, particularly for those mid-tier brands that don’t have the might of a luxury goods conglomerate behind them or have passed the point of “bright young thing” with the press. Britain has many of these — the Simone Rochas, the Michael Halperns, the Erdems and the Molly Goddards. Their brilliance is their lack of ubiquity but that is also their challenge right now and so support them, we must.
Of course, there have been benefits. Covid has been a saving grace for the planet, for a start. And I have saved a small fortune in fashion week dressing, which usually occupies far too much time, anxiety and money.
Designers, meanwhile, have really pushed the creative boat out in terms of show invites: a DPD driver has arrived at my door with a four foot paint kit from Loewe, a box of Fendi pasta from the Italian fashion house, an actual painting that now hangs on my wall from Christopher Kane and a VR headset from Salvatore Ferragamo to ensure the most intimate imaginable viewing of their collection.
But, as ever, one of my favourite shows this season was Balenciaga’s. Designer Demna Gvasalia always treads eerily close to the prophetic and in the past has subjected his audiences to prosthetically affected models, freezing temperatures and catwalks of apocalyptic fire. (Meaning most fashion editors are only one breath away from a mild panic attack).
His collections are always grounded in gritty realism and so it was unsurprising that he chose not to do a show at all but a music video set to Corey Hart’s Eighties track Sunglasses At Night.
Models strode alone through the deserted Parisian streets in their oversized coats and slipper/heel hybrids. It feels sad and lonely and desperate… fashion’s walk to nowhere. Until you realise every model is walking towards meeting one another.
It is the first time I have ever seen Balenciaga models smile. It was wonderful and, best of all, hopeful for a time when fashion will meet again.
Farrah Storr is the editor-in-chief of Elle UK.