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Our features editor returns to the French capital for another season of Haute Couture fashion shows.
It’s the second day of Haute Couture Week in Paris and I’m standing amongst a crowd of fashionistas on the pavement outside of the Serbian ambassador’s residence, somewhere in the west of the French capital. The fashion show that we’re all here to see was supposed to start an hour ago, yet we’re still waiting to be let in. It’s baking hot and I’m starving.
Fashion shows never start on time. This being my second time in Paris for fashion week, I know what to expect. Last time I was here, in January, I’d turned up early in blizzard-like winds, only to freeze in the queue of people waiting before the show. This time, the weather and outfits are somewhat different. It’s heating up in Paris, yet I’m told it was even warmer days before my arrival. Thank goodness, I think to myself, given that I want to appear chic in my navy blue blazer (it felt like a safe option) rather than a hot, sweaty mess.
My arrival in Paris is filled with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. As we emerge out of the Eurotunnel on the Eurostar, they make an announcement saying that Parisian public transport is going to be severely disrupted due to riots that have been bubbling up across France. Just days before, a police officer had shot dead a teenager in a suburb in Paris, sparking a national outcry. I arrive just after ten in the evening at Gare du Nord, and to my relief the metro is still running; and there are no riots in the city centre. As soon as I arrive at Hotel Rendez-Vous, which seems to have become my go-to auberge in Paris, I collapse into my bed.
The next morning I head out to buy madeleines and stop off at a newsstand to buy a collection of magazines. Armed with snacks and reading materials, I sit on the hotel bed and begin to plan out my day. Fortunately for me, the shows I’ve been invited to today are all at the same venue. The American Cathedral in Paris is no stranger to fashion shows, and is situated somewhere between the Champs-Élysées and the Seine. It’s about a twenty minute ride on the metro from my hotel.
I join the growing crowd outside the doors of the cathedral. There are various cars pulling up and glamorous women are stepping out onto the curb in heels that feel incompatible with the cobbled streets of Paris. One car in particular has caught my eye. A woman has asked her taxi driver if he can wait, whilst her friend films her getting out of the car on her phone. She does this about ten times. On the eleventh, either by accident or out of impatience, the driver releases the break and the car door almost knocks her off her feet. Nevertheless, she hands him a 50 euro note and thanks him.
For the first show, Valeriya presents her Haute Couture collection ‘Futur Antérieur’ for the forthcoming Fall-Winter 2023-24 season. The asymmetrical designs of her creations, alongside the signature ankle-attachments, run throughout Valeriya’s collection. As I watch the show from the second row of this rather warm cathedral, where the models are mostly wearing outfits made of wool and silk, I wonder how they’re able to not even break a sweat as they walk down the runway.
The show ends fifteen minutes after it started and we all spill out onto the avenue. My attempts to get a table at the Relais de l’Entrecôte, in a street opposite the cathedral, fall short as I’m greeted with a queue of almost thirty people waiting to be served. Instead, I decide to have lunch at a nearby brasserie, where I’ve been before. The service is typically Parisian: not too slow and incredibly direct. Much like when I ask the waiter what he recommends I try and he replies, “I’m not the one who is eating, you are.” Alas, the food is wonderful. The speed at which I’m served gives me some time to walk along the banks of the Seine and take some pictures of the Eiffel Tower, posing in an almost-cloudless blue sky, before the next show.
Now it’s the turn of La Metamorphose, who is taking us to the ocean for the second show. The collection is inspired by the waves and sounds of the sea, so it’s unsurprising to see rich blues and greens in this collection. It’s also a welcome contrast to the black and gold of the previous show. Seated in front of me at this show is Lady Victoria Hervey, and behind me is a French man who has never been to a fashion show and kept asking people around him when the show was going to start. He’ll know for next time to leave at least a couple of hours between shows.
I pop back to my hotel, before heading out to Le Marais, where I’m meeting a friend who lives in Paris for a drink. We opt for a table on the terrace of a bar on the corner of a bustling street. Two women are sharing a bottle of white wine, whilst eating smoked salmon, and at another table, a man is balancing a cigarette between his lips whilst turning the pages of La Gloire de mon père. We eventually move onto a gay bar, Café Voulez-Vous, where I spot a quote from Coco Chanel on the drinks menu, as I sip on my Cosmo.
The next day, I take the metro to Passy and, seeing as I’m early, decide to walk around the bourgeois part of town. I stumble across a group of dancers rehearing on the riverbank, and a photoshoot on the steps of the Luís de Camões monument. I’m regretting not having a bigger breakfast, as I wait outside of the Serbian ambassador’s residence for the Stefan Djokovich show. Everyone around me is growing impatient and a huge bumble bee landing on a woman’s shoulder causes a moment of pandemonium amongst the show-goers.
We’re invited to form a line (people are queue-jumping from all angles) as a publicist checks people’s invites against a list of names. Some people (the VIPs) are being let in, whilst others are being asked to wait on the side. I fall into the “other” list, and wait patiently with my fellow non-VIPs on the other side of the doorway. Suddenly, no more VIPs are being let in through the doors, and the ten of us who were originally rejected are ushered inside.
The ambassador’s residence is really a palace, with its marble lobby, crystal chandeliers and gold-rimmed armchairs. Whilst the VIPs sit in said armchairs that are organised along the edges of the dining room and lobby, we are asked to stand against a wall behind a row of chairs. The woman standing to my left in all black and still wearing her sunglasses indoors, says that she is outraged that she is being asked to stand. “I’m not used to being treated like this,” she tells me in French, before saying that she’s tempted to just leave altogether. “Je me casse!” she exclaims, clambering over an armchair and bolting for the exit.
Soon, the music starts and models glide between the different rooms of the residence. Some are wearing headpieces made from gold and pink leaves, whilst others attempt to balance heavy neckpieces on their shoulders. Meanwhile, the woman standing to my right is just thrilled to be here. “This is like something out of a movie,” she beams. Yes, it really is.
Main photo: Méphistophélès Productions.