The spectacle of fashion was on full display during Paris Fashion Week, with celebrity appearances and staged “viral moments” threatening to distract onlookers entirely from the main event: clothes.
With memorable highlights including Cher’s cameo at Balmain and Bella Hadid’s spray-painted Coperni dress, there was no shortage of fun and innovation.
Some of the stunts faltered. Balenciaga’s headline-grabbing decision to cast Kanye West on its mud-soaked catwalk began looking ill-advised when the vexed star — alongside Conservative commentator Candace Owens — wore a T-shirt bearing the words “White Lives Matter” at his off-schedule Yeezy show a day later. (The slogan, often used by White supremacist groups, is widely considered an attempt to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement.)
This season in Paris also saw many debuts, including Australian brand Zimmermann and most notably, Victoria Beckham, who staged her first show in three years. The collection was a sexier and fresher take on Beckham’s minimal aesthetic, featuring softer silhouettes in the form of different iterations of bias-cut slip dresses, silk midi-dresses with sensual ruching in the midsection — worn with lace opera gloves — and a backless blazer paired with low-slung trousers modeled by Gigi Hadid.
Most brands came to inspire, not provoke. And the nine-day schedule delivered enough moments of magic to excuse much of the attention-seeking.
Read on for all our highlights from the Spring-Summer 2023 shows.
Dries Van Noten’s post-pandemic runway return
The Belgian designer’s highly anticipated return to the runway show format after a nearly three-year hiatus was received with widespread critical approval. The show, staged against bare concrete walls in a disused office building, put 64 exquisitely designed looks front and center.
Beginning with a series of tempered all-black pieces, in a range of sculptural silhouettes, the collection built up to an optimistic climax of multi-colored florals and joyous ruffles, reminding those in attendance of how powerful fashion shows can be — even without the antics.
Loewe’s love for anthuriums
A huge fiberglass anthurium flower rose from beneath white-washed floorboards to provide the focal point — both literally and conceptually — for Loewe’s Spring-Summer 2023 show. The Spanish label’s creative director, Jonathan Anderson, explored how nature can look man-made, and so the bright, plastic-looking exotic plant became a motif in a collection built on the idea of repetition and iteration.
The first look, a strapless dress with a protruding skirt, was later reimagined in three other colors. T-shirts, stretched across what looked like modern body armor, were also repeated, and styled under cardigans and jackets. The front row featured a mix of artists and celebrities, from photographer Juergen Teller to musician Dev Hynes, actor Daniel Levy and Kylie Jenner (who surreptitiously slid into the show via a back entrance after the other guests had all taken their seats).
Kylie Jenner’s Schiaparelli cameo
Kylie Jenner also popped up at Schiaparelli’s presentation, this time in an impossible-to-miss royal blue velvet gown.
Held next door to The Ritz, the informal presentation allowed guests to spend time with creative director Daniel Roseberry, who circulated through the rooms. His designs, which were described in the show notes as “couture to live life in,” were steeped in the brand’s usual Surrealist motifs.
The collection was far from one-note, however. Lots of tailoring, oversized shirts, a couture riff on the “Canadian tuxedo,” cocktail dresses, formal gowns and swimwear rounded out a practical new line that contained something for every occasion. But playful details, such as a red skirt suit featuring an army of sewn-on ants, took the ready-to-wear collection far from the everyday.
Issey Miyake’s tribute to Issey Miyake
The fashion community gathered in force at a convention center on the outskirts of Paris to watch Japanese brand Issey Miyake’s first show since its founder’s death two months ago. As the lights came down, a series of screens revealed a photo and a quote from the late Miyake, a much-loved figure within the industry who was the first Japanese designer ever to show at Paris Fashion Week: “I believe there is hope in design,” read the quote. “Design evokes surprise and joy in people.”
The first few seconds of John Lennon’s “Imagine” then played before the screens came up and the show got underway. The collection, which was overseen by the brand’s creative director, Satoshi Kondo, was a showcase of sculptural, highly technical design. Cleverly knitted and pleated dresses were full of movement — as was the troupe of dancers that took to the stage, pulsing and twirling across the set.
Fusion fashion at Chloé
Designer and climate activist Gabriela Hearst turned her attention to the science of nuclear fusion, a way of generating clean energy by replicating the reactions that power stars. It’s a romantic idea that is quickly becoming a reality, and some scientists believe it could — if mastered and scaled — represent the future of carbon-free energy production.
Hearst’s visit to ITER, a French research facility that is building a giant reactor called a tokamak, inspired the set for Chloé’s Spring-Summer 2023 show. The presentation unfolded under a series of lights that had been arranged in the same circular shape as the tokamak by visual artist Paolo Montiel Coppa. The collection, modeled by Gigi Hadid, Paloma Elsesser, Quannah Chasinghorse and Adwoa Aboah, among others, was a similarly high-energy display of ’70s disco shapes, durable leather dresses and a fuchsia suit — a nod to the fuchsia-colored plasma produced by nuclear fusion, according to show notes.
Bella Hadid’s viral spray-on dress
Fashion loves an Instagram-worthy moment, and Bella Hadid having her dress sprayed on in front of a live audience was the week’s biggest viral hit. Closing Coperni’s show, the supermodel appeared on stage in nude underwear as Manel Torres – creator of the spray-on fabric – and two scientists worked their magic. The solution mixes natural and synthetic fibers with a polymer solution. Dubbed Fabrican, it turns into a jersey-like fabric when it hits the skin.
Guests including Kylie Jenner and Alexa Chung watched on as the dress was literally painted on Hadid’s body. To complete the look, Coperni’s head of design joined the quartet on stage and began rolling the neckline off the shoulders and cutting a leg slit. The spectacle immediately went viral, with the hashtag #sprayondress amassing over 3 million views on TikTok.
Cher takes a bow at Balmain
Established models like Irina Lazareanu, Ashley Graham and Kristen McMenamy may all have walked for Balmain this season, but it was veteran superstar Cher who stole the show. The 76-year-old singer strutted down the outdoor runway at Paris’ Stade Jean-Bouin in a latex bodysuit with sharp shoulders and a plunging neckline. At the end, she joined Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing on stage, sauntering in on towering platform boots to her 1999 anthem “Strong Enough.” Guests erupted in cheers, with many standing to dance and sing along.
“Just had (the) best time on stage… felt great,” the star tweeted afterwards. “Show was probably (the) best fashion show ‘ever’… clothes 2 die 4.” Rousteing, meanwhile, called Cher the “ultimate trailblazer” in a press release, before announcing that she would be fronting a campaign for the label’s new Blaze bag collection.
The show marked the third edition of the Balmain Festival, an amalgamation of fashion, music and food that raises money for (RED), a global health charity.
Rick Owens’ fuchsia tulle fantasy
Fairytale dresses aren’t usually part of Rick Owens’ lexicon. But the American designer is a master of dark romanticism, and this season saw an explosion of tulle that showed his softer side. The show took place at the Palais de Tokyo’s outdoor pool, Owens’ default locale. Water sprung from a central fountain as models walked around the periphery through a haze of a fog machine.
The collection opened with light yellow chiffon creations, including dresses twisted around the hips and worn with his signature thigh-high platform boots. Then, about half way through, things took an unexpected — and fantastical — turn when Owens sent a pair of giant fuchsia tulle gowns, complete with cloud-like trains, down the runway. With silhouettes inspired by jellyfish, the floor-sweeping gowns were fitted around the bustline before blossoming into voluminous bell-shaped fantasies that billowed effortlessly against the light fall breeze.
Thom Browne’s varsity jacket opera coats
Thom Browne has always been a master of storytelling, and his latest offering was what he called “an American prom mixed with Cinderella, mixed with the Paris Opera.” Starring “Game of Thrones” actress Gwendoline Christie and “Pose’s” MJ Rodriguez, it was a campy re-telling of the classic fairy tale that ended with a promise that “everyone fits in the shoe.”
Browne’s fashion sensibility has always been shaped by American preppiness, and his reimagining of “Cinderella” featured 20 candy-hued taffeta varsity-jackets-turned-opera-coats that opened to reveal suiting with polka dot detailing.
“The opera coats played with every different incarnation of draping that I could think of,” Browne told CNN Style backstage after the show. “The reveal was opening into my Oxford tailoring, which is what people know me for, and playing with a level of intarsia with the polka dots.”
Also on display were extreme poodle skirts, though the usual poodle motif was replaced with images of Browne’s dachshund, Hector, and punks wearing shrunken jackets, Y-fronts and pleated minis. The show ended with a pink tulle Cadillac, while Cinderella and Prince Charming danced off to their happily ever after.
Last season, Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli presented a collection entirely in one hue: pink. But the label’s signature shade was nowhere in sight this time around. Rather, it was a series of monochromatic looks, including nude bodysuits that matched the skin tones of his models.
The term “nude” has proven controversial, as it is often represented as a pale peachy pink at the expense of all other skin tones. But Piccioli created five different nude hues — from the palest beige to cocoa — sending out a powerful message to other luxury brands about creating more inclusive palettes.
The designer featured these shades in almost every look, from voluminous dresses to bodysuits worn with pops of color, including citrus maxi skirts and green sequined trousers. Soft suits, textural tuxedos and caped dresses also got the nude treatment.
Sacai’s joyful pleats
Pleats have long been synonymous with the late Issey Miyake. But this season, another Japanese designer decided to make them the main focus of her collection. Sacai’s creative director Chitose Abe used pleats to “express freedom through the attitude of positivity and restraint, strength and joy,” she said after her show.
The presentation opened with a double-breasted tuxedo jacket fused with a white shirt to create a kind of dress coat, its large, loose pleats creating a sense of joyous nonchalance. It was worn with stovepipe pants embedded with tight pleats that opened into dramatic flares right above the ankle.
Every garment featured some element of pleating, from track jackets and trench coats to sensual metallic silver dresses that were pleated from collar to hem. The A-line silhouette that Abe so often favors was also seen in different iterations throughout, whether it was sleeves that pooled at the wrist (or split down the seams to create an elegant drape) or kick flare pants and elongated bomber jackets with flounced hems.
Top image: Bella Hadid walks for Thom Brown Spring-Summer 2023 at Paris Fashion Week, 2022.