Times Fashion Journalists Consider Returning to the Runway

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The pandemic has shaken the fashion industry to its core. Stores have closed, production has slowed or stalled, companies have filed for bankruptcy, and demonstrations – a big, crowded celebration of designs – have become virtual moments. But this month, haute couture shows in Paris are largely back. Celebrities were in the front row. Stilettos creaked. And for the first time in a year and a half, journalists were able to experience these creations again on tour. Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic for The New York Times, and fashion reporter Jessica Testa, return to Paris. This interview has been edited.

What was unique about the fashion shows in Paris?

Vanessa Friedman For the first time in more than a year, the most high-profile and moving shows took place in person with a live audience made up of much of the fashion world. These are groundbreaking shows on social media like Dior and Chanel, so they reach far more people than just tented fashion.

What is couture fashion? Why is it important?

FRIEDMAN Handcrafted bespoke garments by highly skilled artisans who have trained for an individual for years can cost a staggering amount of money: $20,000 and more for a dress. There are maybe 200 real couture clients in the world. This is a very formal fashion industry. There are all these rules about what you need to do to qualify to be a couture house. It used to be a fashion lab, and everything was filtered: silhouettes were created and then turned into ready-to-wear that could be sold in a store — and then widely copied by more accessible brands. Now, it has become a more independent art form.

What was it like coming back to Paris? How was it different from previous years?

FRIEDMAN Normally they cram people into rows near the catwalks but this time there was something like feet on both sides and most people were wearing masks in tents – but otherwise it felt like a normal show. And every night there were big fancy dinners that a lot of people went to. It had a weird feeling, like in Before Times.

But the last 16 months have hit fashion incredibly hard. It was a very difficult time for the industry. All that talk in June, when people said it was nature’s way of saying the system was broken – sales suck, there’s too much – those conversations ended. I think the question that remained on both of us was: What has this industry learned? And the truth is, it’s not clear. The answer is actually possible: not as much as you might hope.

What other questions did you leave with?

JESSICA TESTA We’ve also talked a lot over the past few years about how the focus has been on making shows sustainable and less wasteful. You fly all these people around the world and gather in one place for an event, usually a tent or a structure, or one that will then immediately break down. Another question was whether fashion was committed to being more sustainable during this recovery period.

FRIEDMAN: Yes, and what will that look like? Because another noticeable improvement over the past year and a half is that even though we’ve been complaining about shows for a long time, we’ve all realized that it’s too much or that running from one city to another is exhausting. city ​​- no one has really come up with a great alternative. Some of the things we saw during the pandemic, some digital mini-movies or video games were really interesting and creative, but “Okay, great: That’s the answer and everybody should go. This.”

What was it like to see the designs in person again?

TESTA As someone who’s still relatively new to fashion journalism, this is a great experience because it’s a real opportunity to get a close-up view of how things are done and how long it takes to do something truly extraordinary.

That’s the difference between seeing a picture in person and seeing it on screen. For example, there was this oversized bathrobe at the Balenciaga fashion show. When you just look at a picture on your phone, it looks like “Oh, a big Terry cloth colored robe.” And then, it’s actually made from chunks of leather with these micro blades. This is utter madness. Like the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.

How does seeing clothes shape what you write?

FRIEDMAN I think that’s what helps them understand why something that looks like an insane, elitist, indulgent, maybe offensive fashion piece is something worth preserving, far from being a livelihood for a lot of people. But the handicraft, the human expertise that goes into it as a purely object and kind of craft, is extraordinary. It would be sad to lose that. I think you can appreciate it whether you think about buying it or not. This is something worth honoring. If you’re looking at it from a screen, you can’t really convey that.

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