Paris Fashion Week is typified by an irreverence unmatched by London, Milan and New York. Since its inaugural show in 1973, the biannual event has been the final call in fashion’s whistle-stop tour around the world, bringing with it some iconic Paris Fashion Week moments.
The Battle of Versailles
For Paris Fashion Week’s first incarnation, titled The Battle of Versailles, French couture powerhouses such as Yves Saint Laurent and Dior were pitted against the new kids on the New York block, including Oscar de la Renta and Anne Klein. At this historic and iconic catwalk event, each of the 10 participating designers chose eight outfits to present to a front row featuring Princess Grace, Andy Warhol and Liza Minnelli.
Despite underestimating the Americans as mere sportswear designers, the French fashion elite were captivated by the US showcase's palpable energy and relaxed ready-to-wear outfits. The use of ten black models – an unprecedented number on a Parisian catwalk – was also considered momentous in a largely white-dominated industry.
The event, which raised money towards restoring the crumbling Palace of Versailles, is widely considered to have launched the US as a formidable force in high fashion.
Avant-Garde Alexander McQueen
While The Battle of Versailles looked to the past for inspiration, Alexander McQueen created one of the best Paris Fashion Week shows with his futuristic spray-paint collection in 1998. In a demonstration of the mechanical destruction of human innocence, model Shalom Harlow’s bouffant white strapless dress was spritzed with ebony and yellow emulsion by two robotic arms for an urban, ravaged effect.
Continuously fusing fashion and theatre, McQueen delivered a typically visionary display, and masterminded one of the best Paris Fashion Week moments, with his final show, Plato's Atlantis, where he launched his now-iconic 10-inch Armadillo shoes. This forward-thinking Spring 2008 ready-to-wear extravaganza again highlighted robotic intervention in the human narrative. Digital-print designs and laser-cutting technology were used to startling effect, creating dresses influenced by the multifaceted shapes of coral reefs and oceanic creatures.
Karl's Supermarket Supermodels
In a 2014 iconic Paris fashion week moment, Karl Lagerfeld took inspiration not from lost undersea cities or futuristic cyborgs but from the most run-of-the-mill of places: the supermarket. Lagerfeld's models struck a balance between quintessential Chanel and sports-luxe chic, with Kendall Jenner making her debut for the fashion house in an oversized black funnel-neck coat with shimmering purple and blue waved lines. Other models browsed shelves stocked with bottled soda and baked beans in athletic couture styles, featuring similar slicked-down hair and glittery trainers.
Cara Delevingne walked down the supermarket aisle in a bubblegum pink long-sleeved crop top and leggings combination, hand in hand with Lagerfeld himself. She wore an oversized tweed coat in powdery purple tones slung over her hole-riddled ensemble.
Givenchy's Slam Dunk
With a basketball court erected on the catwalk, Givenchy's darkly lit AW14 menswear show also alluded to everyday urban spaces. Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci merged his own childhood love of the game with themes as diverse as the Bauhaus movement, '20s male grooming rituals and modern-day street style.
In an iconic Paris fashion week moment, models in loosely tailored clothing – think old-school suits, silky printed shirts and bomber jackets – meandered around the outside of the basketball court, hair plastered back. Fishnets were wrapped over heads and faces, referencing the way gentlemen in the 1920s preserved their well-manicured look while they slept.
Louis Vuitton's Carousels and Carry Cases
A dream-like quality saturated Marc Jacobs’ iconic SS12 'carousel show' – feared at the time to be his final hurrah for Louis Vuitton. The all-white merry-go-round whirled with an angelic energy, and the fact latecomers were not permitted entry enhanced the secretive, exclusive atmosphere. Models in iridescent dresses and ladylike headbands completed the fantasyland aesthetic as they hopped off horses one-by-one to showcase the collection. Walking in time to music as ethereal as the outfits on display, they radiated a sense of girlish innocence with a floral-inspired motif and pastel hues. The show was closed by the inimitable Kate Moss, elegantly dressed in flowers and feathers.
For AW12, Jacobs set up a surreal atmosphere for his front row once again with a fashion show at the Louvre’s Cour Carrée in Paris, which he transformed into a train platform. Models encircled a custom-made steam engine in nostalgic LV designs, but the emphasis was on the brand’s calling cards: Louis Vuitton Vintage carry cases and luggage.
Featuring surprising spaces, contemporary art performances and extravagant outfits, Paris Fashion Week proves twice a year that style is substance. With its awe-inspiring shows, the iconic event continues to challenge expectations every time.