When I arrived at the Shangri-La Hotel in Paris, a crowd was already waiting behind a velvet rope to enter, and paparazzi were clinging to the sidewalk. I’m here to see a fashion show by Koché, an independent French brand known for its androgenic, streetwear-meets-couture atmosphere. The mood is festive. The sun is shining. Everyone looks beautiful or, I must say, very nice without trying.
Nature heals during Paris Fashion Week. It feels like this is the first real issue held since Covid-19 closed the world about 18 months ago. No more compromises. No more fear, as vaccines and masks are needed. About a third of the 97 shows will be live, including all the biggest names, while the rest will stay with streamed videos.
In a gilded salon with chandeliers on top, rows of upholstered gold chairs were erected to walk along the gangplank. Soon, the impossibly long models come out with the creations of designer Christelle Kocher — a glittery pink minidress, a perfectly cut green-and-gold knitted trench coat, a midnight blue hood surrounded by feathers.
This is a massive departure from what the French designer did a year ago at a guerrilla-like outdoor show at the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in north-east Paris. Covid-19 restrictions then made Koché’s performance a bit chaotic. Professional models have alternated with amateurs and the designs are more comfortable, almost punk-inspired. I watch the spectacle from a park bench.
Kocher says she expanded the clothing this year to showcase the craftsmanship she and her team were finally able to do properly now that they are no longer working on Zoom. “I wanted the environment to feel calm, soft and poetic, like the salons where the clothes have been shown to clients in the past,” she said after the show. When I ask how she felt this week, now that she can show to a large audience again, she says she ‘was really moved. It was beautiful. People are so happy to be together. ”
Returning to personal performances is not a small thing for the city that has incubated the modern global luxury goods industry. Event planners, florists, restaurants, luxury hotels, executives all benefit from the glamor. Sonia Papet, the porter at the five-star hotel in Le Bristol, is struggling to keep up with requests for restaurant bookings. “It was great to see all of our regular people again. But they all want to go to the same places at the same time! She tells me.
The return to the former times has one disadvantage for me. During the pandemic, none of the top editors, influencers, celebrities, and buyers who usually come from the US and Asia were able to attend. Local correspondents like me therefore found space for the few personal performances.
Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Kenzo, Dior, Chloé: I enjoyed them last year as a traveler who got a surprise from the economy after first class — with amazement and the certainty that it was not going to happen again. This year, now that many of the real VIPs are back, I have received only a handful of invitations.
But it is impossible to be grumpy about it. Paris has been its spectacular old self since returning from summer vacation. As vaccination rates are now among the highest in Europe and few remaining Covid-19 restrictions apply, Parisians have finally been able to do everything that makes life in this very dense, noisy, expensive city worth living.
This of course means different things to different people. For me, that meant going out to dinner with friends – a basic pleasure that was impossible from about November to June due to a 6pm curfew. I also went back to fighting for a table in La Palette, a cafe that the lovely people in Saint Germain enjoy, before returning to a less cool back-up plan.
For others, it means reviving the tradition of weekend protests, recently against the requirements of President Emmanuel Macron’s passport. It’s disappearing now, but I can not help but welcome them as part of a return to normal.
Another thing I appreciated is how creativity and courage made a return to the capital. Lionel Messi now plays for Paris Saint-Germain – the ultimate luxury status symbol for a team owned by Qatar. His first goal Tuesday night against Manchester City was a thing of insane beauty.
Another visible symbol of Parisian audacity is the Arc de Triomphe, which in recent weeks has been wrapped in 25,000 square meters of silver-blue plastic fabric held with red ropes. The artwork was the long dream of the Bulgarian conceptual artist, known as Christo, who died in 2020. His cousin had to fight birdwatchers and Covid-19 delays to clear the project.
The effect is mesmerizing. A famous monument is being made new. Even the usual chaos of cars, bicycles and buses circling the Place de l’Étoile is interrupted on weekends.
I recently had an unfamiliar feeling – “FOMO”. When the pandemic was at its worst, we spared the feeling that we were missing out on fun experiences. There was simply nothing to be found.
Since I lived alone, I could not go back on the family cocoon for company. All that was left was work. And plumbers in the depths of Netflix and Amazon Prime. A mist of isolation ensued. Somewhere during the second (or was it third?) Promise, I promised that if the pandemic ever ended, I would never refuse a social invitation again.
A friend called me last week to invite me to the reopening of the Rex Club, one of the most famous dance venues in the city, which has been closed since Covid-19 was hit. Laurent Garnier, a legendary French DJ and the club’s spiritual founder, played on Sunday. “Come on, it’s gonna be nice,” my friend said.
Nightclubs in France succumbed to the government’s decision to keep them closed longer than any other business during the pandemic. They were allowed to reopen in July, as long as they respected the caps of the crowd and checked the vaccination status of people, but the Rex decided to wait until now.
In the basement of the Grand Rex, a lavish Art Deco theater, the Rex is a bit grungy. The bar is tough. It gets absurdly hot inside. But the Rex is beloved by fans of techno and electronic music because it has incubated many DJs, the local repeat of the house in the 1990s. In my twenties I went there a lot.
But those nights felt like another life, and I had a job the next day, and I politely said no and completely forgot my promise.
Just to be sorry the next day. My friend posted a video of the crowded dance floor. People cry with joy and jump up and down as the beat picks up. Even Laurent Garnier has a big smile on his face.
Another friend sent me an SMS to suggest a last outing to the theater. She had tickets for one of the season’s most talked about shows, an intense drama Ma, with French singer and film actress Vanessa Paradis in her first theatrical performance. It plays in one of my favorite theaters in Paris, the Théâtre Edouard VI, located in a pedestrian round square on the right bank.
‘This is a ticket for a jump seat tomorrow night, ”she tells me, referring to the folding seats that are pinned to the edge of the corridors. “Do you care?”
This time I did not hesitate. This would be the first time I have set foot in a theater since the pandemic began.
As I sit in the dark in the sold-out performance while the play begins, I feel a little uncomfortable. It was not the small seat or being with strangers in a crowded room. That was the pace of the play. After so many binges from Netflix and browsing on social media, I was not used to listening to theater dialogue. Everything distracts me – audience members move in their seats, blow out loud, fiddle with their phones.
I take a few deep breaths to rest myself.
Jeanne, played by Paradise, and her very ignorant husband sat at the dinner table while she wanted to tell him about a life-changing thing that had just happened to her. The conversation was awkward and angry when the man realized that Jeanne had suddenly become a stranger.
With only three characters, the play was directed at Jeanne, who was in each scene. Paradise, a former child star and former partner of Johnny Depp, rejected the ingenious film she usually had in movies for something deeper and more disturbing.
Slowly I am drawn in. Occasionally a noise from a creaking seat or sneezing was just a reminder that we are having a shared experience, not a lonely experience. I can still do it.
A few hours later, I was one of the first to get on my feet to applaud the artists.
Leila Abboud is the FT’s Paris correspondent
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