With Paris Fashion Week drawing to a close, we ask why the city remains at the forefront of the fashion landscape, despite lacking in the creativity and groundbreaking vision that many other cities possess.
When the fashion world's industry insiders descended upon Paris for the city's Spring/Summer 2016 fashion week, they were greeted by a city in chaos. Striking taxi drivers, furious at the damage that Uber had done to their business, had surrounded Paris's airports and railway stations, bringing the city center to a standstill just in time for the opening of one of the fashion world's biggest events.
Politics aside, the taxi strikes made for a neat metaphor for a nation notoriously wary of innovation; a sentiment that's reflected in its fashion scene. With an illustrious legacy in clothing (particularly of the luxury variety), Paris's labels have remained staunchly traditional, with everyone from 161-year-old Louis Vuitton down to newcomers like AMI creating collections that reinterpret France's menswear heritage in a chic-yet-safe manner.
Paris's Spring/Summer 2016 shows were very much business as usual; luxury houses and upcoming labels alike presented lush, evocative but ultimately safe collections inspired by the youth culture trend that's all the rage these days. Saint Laurent, who recorded an outrageous 27% growth in sales last year, riffed on wayward surfers with their grungy-yet-opulent basics, while Givenchy, Balmain and Balenciaga once again turned to the street for inspiration, with collections of highly wearable luxury streetwear that will no doubt translate into yet more commercial success.
In contrast, Britain's new breed of designers seemed hell-bent on revolutionizing the way we conceptualize clothing at this season's London Collections: Men, whether it was Lee Roach imagining a world without buttons, Nasir Mazhar's tribe of sexually-charged males or J.W. Anderson's sultry yet gender-vague menswear. New York, the spiritual home of all things streetwear, gives birth to countless trends that shape the way men all across the world dress with every season; from heritage Americana to street goth. So why does Paris remain the industry's biggest draw, despite looking less and less exciting with each passing year?
The short answer: money.
Where other cities' fashion weeks serve as showcases for upcoming talent and a testing grounds for new ideas rather than a genuine business event, Paris doubles as a fashion week and a city-wide tradeshow. The world's buyers flock to the city's Marais district to place their orders for next season's product, while luxury behemoths showcase their collections with lavish shows, mid-sized brands like Acne, visvim and Our Legacy hire private showrooms and the Capsule trade show houses hundreds of smaller labels.
New designers are given a chance to do business, too - like with the BFC-funded London Show Rooms program, which in the past has given the likes of Craig Green, J.W. Anderson and Christopher Kane a chance to sell their goods on an international stage in the city, and France's IFCIC program which offers financial support to domestic labels who want to show in the capital.
Fashion may be a world infatuated with innovation, progression and grand narratives, but at the end of the day, it still needs to pay the bills. In an industry forever torn between artistic vision on one hand and commercial success on the other, Paris reconciles the two by giving obscure, esoteric brands - who may struggle to find a relevant audience at home - the chance to do business with the world's biggest and best retailers. While the city's luxury powerhouses may be playing it safe (no doubt to keep their accountants happy), the city gives upcoming brands a chance to not only shine - but to make some money as well.