Paris: the home of haute couture and birthplace of the first-ever fashion week; the city where Coco Chanel rose to prominence and Christian Dior unveiled his New Look in 1947, changing the fashion landscape forever. In fact, the French capital is so synonymous with style that even New York hails it as Paris, Capital of Fashion – the title of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s latest exhibition.
But does it still deserve the moniker? The answer would have to be a resounding “yes” from anyone attending Paris Fashion Week (PFW), an eight-day extravaganza in contrast to London’s five. No other fashion week can match it on big-budget runway staging and spectacle – just look at the elaborate sets Chanel creates in the Grand Palais each season, from a cruise liner to a rocket ship. Even major British brands – Victoria Beckham, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen among them – decamp to the Continent to ride on the back of PFW’s muscle, rather than showing on home turf.
Even so, in today’s increasingly fluid fashion landscape, Paris’ position is hotly contested. Some ready-to-wear designers are choosing to show off-schedule, at the Pitti Uomo menswear shows in Florence, for example, or during Couture Week – the benefit being that it allows them a bit of breathing space from PFW’s hour-on-the-hour catwalk shows. With 12 or more brands showing every single day, it’s harder for smaller brands to be seen. Meanwhile, alternative, smaller fashion weeks have sprung up the world over: Copenhagen Fashion Week is considered one of the coolest now, with its roster of emerging designers like Cecilie Bahnsen and Ganni bringing a fresh perspective compared with the heritage labels with distinct brand codes that dominate in Paris.
The reality, however, is that all the retail buyers still descend on Paris to spend their budget on next season must-haves. Even if a brand like Tibi shows in New York, it will still re-present it to buyers in the sales showrooms in Paris four weeks later to ensure it gets picked up by wholesale accounts. Even Denmark’s Cecilie Bahnsen makes the trip. The French capital, then, really does still rule as the capital of fashion – it doesn’t matter where they show, for most important designers, all roads lead to Paris.
Paris Fashion Week is 23 September – 1 October. Paris, Capital of Fashion opens 6 September at the Museum at FIT, New York