Paris fashion week has launched with a mix of digital and in-person shows as the industry adapts as best it can to the latest Covid restrictions in France.
London cancelled its menswear show this month due to uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the highly-infectious Omicron variant, but Paris is going ahead as scheduled.
Some 17 of the 76 brands of the official Paris menswear calendar – including big names like Dior, Hermes and Rick Owens – will be back on the runway, up from just six last summer.
Nearly 30 others are opting for other types of in-person events, including inviting journalists, buyers and other tastemakers to less formal gatherings around the French capital.
In what is set to be a moving tribute, Louis Vuitton will present the much-awaited final collection from US designer Virgil Abloh, who died in November at the age of 41.
Abloh, named head of menswear at Louis Vuitton in 2018, was the first black man to become the lead designer of a major French fashion house. His show will be presented twice on Thursday.
Learning to live with the virus
Haute couture designers are also returning to the catwalk, with 18 of 29 houses planning live shows – albeit with the caveat that the virus could upset proceedings last minute.
Some changes have already been announced, including the Sidaction charity evening to raise money for AIDS research that traditionally marks the end of the haute couture week and which has been postponed until July.
Giorgio Armani cancelled his menswear show in Milan and his haute couture show in Paris in response to the latest surge in Covid cases.
The 87-year-old Italian maestro had been the first to cancel his catwalk shows in the early days of the pandemic in February 2020.
“It’s their choice,” said Pascal Morand, head of France’s Federation for Haute Couture and Fashion.
He said the federation has made several recommendations, including encouraging the use of FFP2 masks, in order to get brands back to the live sphere.
“We have learned to live with the virus,” he told French news agency AFP. “Digital enriches the physical, but it can’t replace the emotion and sensory side of the runway shows.”
Some still feel uneasy about returning to in-person events.
“I feel caught in the crossfire,” said Jean Paul Cauvin, director of haute couture brand Julien Fournie, who has had to deal with the disruption of positive tests among models and workshop workers.
“We would be frustrated not to be on the catwalk, but I hope we don’t create an haute couture cluster,” he said.