QUIET RIOT: Yohji Yamamoto models all in a row  ::: view gallery

Last March, we headed to the city of lights to check out the fall shows of leading designers. Luckily for those who exist outside of the insular fashion bubble, what happens in Paris doesn’t stay in Paris. Here’s a taste of what we saw.

VIKTOR & ROLF I am in a Parisian taxi on an evening in early spring, whizzing through lamp-lit streets, headed to a warehouse in the Marais district. “Are you sure this is it?” asks the cabdriver. Before I can check the invitation—parchment with an island and the iconic Viktor & Rolf seal printed on it—we turn the corner to see a crush of people, a pool of taxis. When I finally inch my way past wistful-looking art-school students without invitations, photographers, and burly French security guards to enter the dark warehouse, I see a procession of models, each bathed in a nimbus of personal illumination, carrying individual light rigs and ambulating slowly, ever so slowly on Dutch clogs. And the clogs have high heels.

Suddenly the island on the invitation makes sense. In Viktor & Rolf’s world, every woman is an island. “It’s a comment on autonomy and individuality,” the designers sweetly tell the press later. Welcome to Paris fashion week. Things are going to get conceptual.

I should back up and say that for the past few years, I’ve been splitting my time between Chicago and Paris, which means that for this week of shows, I am lucky to be staying in my own studio apartment near the Canal Saint-Martin. While I’ve been to a few shows in the past, this is my first time as a bonafide member of the press. I know the schedule can be a grind, and I wonder if I can make it through without getting sick or, more important, without getting sick of fashion.


AT THE LOUVRE: Chicago Fashion director Stacey Jones (left) and associate editor Elisabeth Fourmont

There is a last-minute surprise: Stacey Jones, the director of Chicago Fashion, is delayed by meetings and will have to miss the first couple of days this week, which means that I can shimmy into her seat instead of using my own “standing” assignments. Forget worries of stamina—I wonder if I’ll have enough to wear.

YOHJI YAMAMOTO Some shows blast rap music so loud that your fillings hurt, but Yohji starts with a model wheeling
a suitcase down the runway, the room silent except for the shutters of the 50 or so photographers. What starts as a riff on Louis Vuitton logomania (model and luggage are decked out in head-to-toe logos) ends as a lovely bit of drama: The skirts twirl and swirl via a hidden mechanical wonder.
I am flat-out breathless. This is exactly what the art-school students would have wanted to see.

Across the runway in the front row, I spy a smiling Ikram Goldman, the owner of one of Chicago’s top boutiques, Ikram, with her husband, Josh, and her colleague Shane Petyko. This might be a good place to mention how seating works: Buyers and the press put in their requests, and based on a few factors (their relationship with the house, how much of the designer’s work they’ve photographed for print or purchased recently, and variances in the weather), they are assigned a seat. It’s a visible ranking system, as in the army. Ikram’s placement reveals the kind of power she holds in the eyes of this designer.

VALENTINO I know that the Valentino show is about to begin because the girl in front of me (I recognize her as a Voguette) is running. I follow her matchstick legs and miniskirt (all the Vogue Paris girls seem to wear black miniskirts, tights, and Balenciaga ankle boots—they’re not really about individuality, but gosh they look good) and zip through the hallways of the Louvre.

When we arrive, the show is packed and I’m made to sit on the steps just outside of my row. Halfway through the show, a PETA protester begins stripping in front of the cameras in one of the most talked-about stunts of the week. She gets all the way nude, save for a sign that reads i’d rather be naked than wear fur before she is tackled by the Cravates Rouges (the Fashion Week security officials) and escorted out through the aisle where I’m sitting.

The protestor certainly picked the right music to get naked to. This show has my favorite soundtrack of any all week. They’ve mixed Kim Carne’s “Bette Davis Eyes” with Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” for very sexy results.


THE FRONT ROW: Model Gemma Ward at Chloe with the American Vouge team

COSTUME NATIONAL About a third of the shows are held at the Carrousel du Louvre. To get there, you enter the Louvre from the Rue de Rivoli, go down an escalator, head through a marble passageway, then turn left and keep going until you hit The Hub. It is a chaotic, overheated hive, and everyone is taking somebody’s picture. There is a security checkpoint, which feels to me like the tarmac at some glamorous airport—all those Chanel bags getting manhandled by guards. Next there is signage: Andrew Gn to the right, Cacharel to the left.

I’m thrilled because the show I’m about to see, Costume National, is right after Valentino, and I don’t have to leave the building. I can relax in the press area, where everyone drinks shots of espresso in little white plastic cups.

This season, there was a lot of discussion about models’ weights. With all this talk of their exploitation, it’s lovely when you glimpse them having a good time. I’m seated in the far corner at Costume National, so I can see the women making their exits. With Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” playing, Irina Lazareanu works it down the runway with an expression of seriousness, then, the second she rounds the corner of the set, I catch a glimpse of her rocking out backstage. This little private moment is one of my favorites of the week.

DRIES VAN NOTEN At Dries, early arrivers are rewarded with a preshow: backstage developments visible through a scrim. I love watching the models after their exits. Most keep walking, looking straight ahead, until they arrive at their designated dressing area, but Sasha Pivovarova, the Russian who reminds me of an intense android on the runway, turns her long neck and gives a death stare right at the audience from behind the scrim.

HUSSEIN CHALAYAN Chalayan is going to be a madhouse, so I get there early. I know this, because even the most jaded fashion types are going around saying things like “Chalayan tonight!” and “This is why we come to Paris!” And I know that they are saying this for one reason: His previous collection was one of the most provocative shows of the season, delicate and scientific at the same time. He made gowns morph mechanically onstage—the first look went from Victorian gown to flapper dress in less than a minute.“He’s doing it again,” says a spectator behind me when a dress begins to glow. There are shining orange space-alien helmets and whirling mini tornadoes. “It’s a comment on the environment,” someone behind me says.


Andrew Gn’s little black dresses

All that, and the clothes are actually wearable. Quite the tightrope walker, that Hussein Chalayan. I’m watching fashion history, but the days are starting to take their toll. My throat is sore, and a nice, long bath sounds more appealing than the dinner I have planned with some fashion friends this evening.

STELLA MCCARTNEY Stella’s invitation is a connect-the-dots game card that spells her name and a pen that writes in six different colors, junior-high style. Already you’re having fun, which is good because the show is at 10 a.m. I’m all for roughing it on the Métro, but my energy level has downshifted, and I decide taxis are my new best friend. The taxis fail to materialize, however, and I hobble down the Métro stairs once more in my Chloé platforms—the ones with the black patent leather top and the wood sole—my heart racing when I realize how late I am. Of course, everyone else is late, too (Vogue Paris sponsored a party at the Hotel de Crillon the night before), and I wind up arriving just on time.

Because there are some celebrities at this show (Jessica Biel, Lily Allen), it is a mess to exit, and we are all held up on the stairs. It’s a good time to get a close-up look at people’s handbags—something I love to do on the street—to guess if they’re real or fake. This is not a very fun game to play at Paris Fashion Week.

CHANEL It is almost too hokey and Bridget Jones for words, but I do of course fall going into the show at Chanel. All of this running on cobblestones in heels—it was bound to happen sooner or later. A Cravates Rouges hands me the lost Chloé platform, his lips making an “o” shape. Little fashion victim.
By the time I’m dusted off, it’s too late to climb down to my seat. So I stand in the back row, up in the stratosphere. Lagerfeld has built a big, puffy balloon of a tulle cloud in the Grand Palais that drops snowflake confetti at the end of the show. Fashionistas will fall for the Aspen-like feel of the clothes; there’s a cheerfulness to the collection that gives my Midwestern heart a lift.

CHLOE There’s a new man in town at Chloé, Paulo Melim Andersson, and I hear before the show starts that fans of Phoebe Philo, the former head of design, might be disappointed. Sure enough, Andersson is hardening things up. Meanwhile, the audience is sitting there melting. This is the first day that feels like spring, and the show happens to be held in a clear tent in the Tuileries garden. (“I wanted to mimic the light and white space we have in our studio,” says the designer.) The tent feels like a hothouse. I can’t keep my Wayfarers from slipping down my nose. (Yes, sunglasses indoors actually do make sense in this context, but I draw the line after that.) Anna Wintour does not seem troubled at all; she merely lowers her jacket to her shoulders.

MARTIN GRANT I sit watching Martin Grant, he of the excellent press reviews and the cult Parisian status, and think of how fabulous his pretty cocktail dresses and tailored coats would look at any big-city function. When we get there, the sweet press woman, Maud, puts Stacey and me in the front row. Our feet are on Style.com the next day.

After the show, some friends and I head to the Hôtel Costes for replenishment. I’m asked what I thought of the collection, and I’m so bushed all I can say is “Pretty, so pretty.”

LOUIS VUITTON Editors tend to wear edgy combinations of black in dramatic volumes. They sometimes look like highwaymen or as if they’re dressed for a Victorian duel, all streaming fabric as they swoop onto an escalator or into a cab.  From a sartorial standpoint, I’ve made it through the week just fine in a chic gray Marni coat (half off) and my beaten-up buttery brown Gerard Darel bag. Underneath is usually the same black dress every day, but who would know? Your coat is your calling card.

Vuitton is my last show of the week, but what a show! Scarlett Johansson! Kylie Minogue! That girl who is the daughter of Gérard Depardieu! Me in the dress I’ve been wearing all week!

ANDREW GN Now that the week is over, Stacey and I spend a few days visiting studios around Paris for “re-see” appointments, where we look closely at some of our favorite collections and check in on the designers whose shows we had to miss, like Andrew Gn.

The show room is fairly quiet, and buyers are getting down to the business of determining what purchases they’ll make for their stores. Stacey and I go from one garment to the next, staggered by the feathers on the collar, the beading, and general construction of each piece. We look at a coat with a collar of little black fabric balls. “Andrew calls it velvet caviar,” says his press person.

Andrew, in a black T-shirt and chinos, says hello to us. And then we’re off to Martin Grant for another look at those pretty dresses.


Photography by Elisabeth Fourmont, Monica Feudi for Yohji Yamamoto, Cassi Bryn Michalik