Between the launch of Milan Fashion Week on February 22 and the last day of Paris Fashion Week on March 8, fashion went through an existential crisis, going so far as to question its own relevance in an upside-down world. The Milan week began with the euphoria of the end of the Covid pandemic being announced, and many labels paraded for the first time in two years. On February 24, the day the Russian military campaign against Ukraine was launched, this short lived celebration was already weighed down by the anguish that was spreading around the world. Giorgio Armani, whose presentation took place that day, asked for the music to be muted.

On the first day of the Parisian presentations, Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, issued a press release in which he declared: “The war has brutally broken out in Europe and is plunging the Ukrainian people into fear and pain”. He called for everyone “to live the parades of the days to come with the gravity which is essential in these dark hours”. However, the fashion industry, despite being ultra-sensitive to the times, had above all anticipated the return of parties and the joy of visiting public places, as shown by Weinsanto’s crazy parade, with its feathers galore and cabaret spirit.

Saab: “A Fearless Grace”

Feminism, once again honored on the eve of International Women’s Day, which fell on the last day of the Paris fashion shows, was one of the most common themes, particularly at Elie Saab and Christian Dior.

The Lebanese couturier titled his collection “A Fearless Grace” in homage to an imaginary muse, who dares rebel in a glam-grunge mode, gentle and determined at the same time. “Elaborately embroidered sequin bomber jackets in floral-inspired motifs add a splash of flare to sophisticated daywear and a rush of wild for a night out. Feathers softly whisper throughout, as fine accents on organically fanning knit wear or whimsical embellishments on quilted monogram down coats. Monochromatic vertical sequins inundate evening wear, with shimmers of purples and greens intertwining with embroidered tulle for loud looks that scream with attitude,” says the house’s note of intent.

Dior: feminism and climate change

At Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri adds to the power of clothing to take on prejudices, this time she’s taking on those who deny climate change is happening. Once again, she chose to collaborate with a great woman and a great artist, the Italian Mariella Bettineschi. In a space replete with Pompeii-red walls, erected in the Tuileries Garden, a new kind of museum was created. Famous portraits of women tracing the history of painting from the 16th to the 19th century were lined up, separated from their context. The artist has reworked their looks, doubling the eyes with the idea of questioning the judgment that has conditioned – and still conditions – the women of yesterday and today. The gaze is reversed to suggest “another reading of art history”, according to Bettineschi.

The show’s context breathes life into Maria Grazia Chiuri’s concepts; notably (re)constructing a performative relationship between the body and the garment in a succession of operations associating forms, savoir-faire, materials and futuristic technologies. The inside of Monsieur Dior’s garments reveals an extraordinary construction system. The Bar jacket, revisited for this collection, transforms the structure of the original model into a system that regulates the body’s humidity and warms it up if necessary, thanks to innovative techniques developed in the laboratories of the D-Air Lab, while a bodysuit – crisscrossed by what appears to be an organic network of colored veins and arteries in luminescent color – maintains a constant temperature, according to the collection’s manifesto.

Balenciaga refuses “to resign in the face of evil”

Undoubtedly the most moving moment of the Parisian parades was that of Balenciaga under the artistic direction of Demna Gvasalia. Himself a refugee, exiled from Georgia, a country that was also a victim of Russian expansionism, Gvasalia had come into fashion out of a thirst to join the rest of the world while his own was frozen behind the Iron Curtain. The floral prints borrowed from Slavic folklore, the aesthetic fantasies rooted in the 1960s, were for the designer only the bases of a plastic vocabulary limited by isolation and which he used to reinvent modernity. At the Bourget exhibition center, in a courtyard surrounded by a glass curtain behind which the guests were seated, the Balenciaga fashion show took place under an artificial storm of real snow. On each seat, a blue or yellow T-shirt celebrating the colors of Ukraine was put down, transforming the room into a moving Ukrainian flag.

Packing tape and garbage bags

The collection, produced several weeks before the event, has a dystopian allure. For the record, a spectacular jumpsuit entirely made with yellow packing tape printed with the Balenciaga logo and worn by Kim Kardashian will remain in the mind. For the rest, the androgynous models, shivered as they struggled to walk against the wind and the snow, most often dressed in black, in a clear evocation of refugees pushed towards a border and into exile. The bags held in their hands were reminiscent of garbage bags.

The parade was closed by a man in yellow and a woman in an airy blue dress. Resuming his opening recitation, Demna Gvasalia reads again this Ukrainian poem from 1917, and this haunting verse: “Long live Ukraine, for beauty, strength, truth, freedom”. Acknowledging that he almost canceled the show before giving up so as not to resign once again “in the face of the evil that has already hurt (me) so much for almost 30 years”. “The war in Ukraine has awakened the pain and trauma I had in me since 1993, when the same thing happened in my homeland and I became a refugee forever,” Gvasalia wrote in his manifesto.

At the end of the presentations, a new press release from Ralph Toledano announced: “In the tragic circumstances affecting Ukraine, the Federation of Haute Couture and Fashion comes to the aid of the Ukrainian people. Its members will therefore make donations through the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency”.