The biggest star of Paris fashion week was not in the front row but on the catwalk itself. Pop legend and new face (and elbow) of Balmain’s new bag, Cher walked to the end of the show wearing a silver spandex bodysuit, black platform boots, and cheekbones that could cut Comté.
The show took place at the Stade Jean-Bouin stadium in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, chosen for its capacity rather than its location. The crowd was made up of almost 8,000 people, members of creative director Olivier Rousteing’s so-called Balmain Army, who bought the tickets by donating them to Red. The event was called a festival rather than a show for good reason. They even provided snacks.
Democracy – and food – are not the norm at Paris fashion week, where closed doors, champagne and front-row scrabbles are par for the course. But Rousteing’s commercial success (he’s entering his second decade with the label) is largely based on giving people what they want. And this season, that meant more than 100 different looks, including dresses woven from straw and raffia, bustiers made from sustainably harvested chestnut bark, blazers emblazoned with Renaissance images and, of course, Cher.
Rousteing’s collection, which leaped from ready-to-wear to haute couture, addressed his fears of “a dystopian future” sparked by France’s recent wave of droughts and wildfires. “I am sure that I was not the only one asking fundamental questions about the possible dystopian future that awaits us,” he said. Balmain isn’t a brand known for nuance (the final look was a flame-covered silk gown), but the sentiment was there.
One designer well-versed in tackling climate change through her clothing is Gabriela Hearst, creative director of French brand Chloé, whose mythical client, the “Chloé girl,” will also be dowdy for spring 2023.
After last season’s “chapter” on rebuilding, a comparatively bland show that featured melting icebergs in bags and beautiful knitting, Hearst’s attention turned to eliminating fossil fuels and fusion power. This collection was particularly inspired by both function and form from a tokamak, a complex machine designed to harness the energy of fusion.
On the runway itself, the clothing was more wearable than technological, with roomy coats and capes crafted from raw silk and linen, topped with blink-and-lose hardware closures. The pants were baggy, the suit jackets voluminous, and the crocheted dresses skimmed the floor. Proof that the Y2k trend is going nowhere? The rave pants, as Hearst called them in his notes, were finished with buttonholes. As with the rest of Paris, there was plenty of leather, too, from biker jackets to babydoll dresses to vests. Everything came in white, black or red except for a bright fuchsia suit, inspired by the color produced by plasma fusion.
Showing the collection in the Pavillon Vendôme, a 19th-century event center (and former home of the poet Baudelaire), the staging itself was almost too dystopian. A Tron-esque light installation looked impressive, but it meant the clothes could only be seen halfway down the runway, leaving the audience in the dark at times. Still, with fashion catching up when it comes to a global understanding of climate change, perhaps this was the point.