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Catwalk │ © Kris Atomic/Unsplash
Catwalk │ © Kris Atomic/Unsplash

A Guide To Paris Fashion Week If You Know Nothing About Fashion

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 6 January 2017
At some point, you might suspect the energy in the city has shifted, ramped up a gear. Then, and this is almost guaranteed, you’ll see your first conspicuously well-dressed person scuttling down the street, like an exotic bird escaped from the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes compared to the average, distinctly pigeon-like Parisian on their way to the office. And then finally, over the din of the crowd outside the Grand Palais, you’ll hear the unmistakable cry of the style squad: It’s fashion week, darling! An outsider to this world of paparazzi and pleating, you may well ask yourself what the heck it’s all about. Well, for those of you who don’t know your Nina Ricci from your Riccardo Tisci, we have all the answers in our handy guide to Paris Fashion Week.

When is it?

As with cocktail hour, at any time on any day it’s probably fashion week somewhere. In Paris alone, there are six each year. It starts with the men’s fall lines in the middle of January and the spring haute couture collections swiftly after that. Then, at the end of February, we have the fall ready-to-wear shows. Next come the men’s spring collections in June, the fall haute couture in July and, finally, the women’s spring ready-to-wear, which this year will be shown between September 27th and October 5th. So spring means spring for couture but fall for men’s and ready-to-wear, summer means spring for men’s but fall for couture and fall means spring for ready-to-wear. Not confusing at all. To make matters…more interesting, designers have taken to messing with the standard schedule, holding individual events throughout the year, mixing collections in single shows or simply opting out of runway presentations altogether. Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, for example, now previews his haute couture collections alongside his men’s lines. Paris’ spring ready-to-wear fashion week is the last of the Big Four events, finishing off a hectic month, and year, for designers, stylists, models, editors, and bloggers after weeks in New York, London and Milan.

What is it?

There might be quite a clear distinction between men’s and women’s fashion weeks (for now), but you’d be forgiven for asking what exactly separates haute couture from ready-to-wear. Essentially, the answer lies in the methods of fabrication. Whereas a couture gown may take hundreds, if not thousands, of hours to hand stitch, with every bead, button, feather, sequin, and Swarovski crystal painstakingly positioned, the ready-to-wear lines have to be suitable for mass production. With haute couture you’ll see the limits of creativity pushed to the extreme, and with ready-to-wear you’ll see perhaps one element of this vision distilled down into a wearable, machine-friendly form. This, in turn, influences the other side of fashion: money. Haute couture isn’t going to make anyone rich, though it might make them famous and more likely bankrupt, but a successful ready-to-wear collection can make billions for a brand.

Who goes to fashion week?

This year, approximately 100 designers are scheduled to show ready-to-wear collections in Paris. This list includes all the household names like Dior, Chanel, Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Givenchy, Balmain, Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Valentino and Louis Vuitton as well as perhaps less well-known brands such as Alexis Mabille, Comme des Garçons and Rick Owens. Paris Fashion Week is also a time for models to make a name for themselves. Many will walk in dozens of shows, running full pelt across the city between them to make it in time for hair and makeup and final fittings. Those who stamp their mark can look forward to more lucrative campaign deals and cover shoots throughout the winter. It is also a crazy time for the fashion press. Editors from all the major magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle will be in attendance as will the new breed of fashion experts, the bloggers like Jeanne Damas. Sadly, access is by invitation or with a press pass. If you have neither, it’s still worth a trip to one of the larger venues to see who’s hanging about outside and, most importantly, what they’re wearing.

Where is it held?

Fashion week events take place in venues all across the city. Typically, the bigger the brand, the more sensational the location for the show. Take Karl Lagerfeld, creative director at Chanel, as an example. His venue of choice in recent years has been the Grand Palais. Under its vast glass roof, he has succeeded in constructing an airport terminal, a casino floor, a minimalist water garden and the largest cat you have ever seen in your entire life. They don’t call it a show for nothing!

Why do we have it?

Aside from the obvious response that it is a massive hoot for everyone involved, the ready-to-wear fashion weeks in Paris are essential for brand exposure. The more excited people are by the theatrics of the show and the way the clothes look on the runway, the more likely they are to appear in magazines and then sell once they appear in stores. This, as anyone who has seen The Devil Wears Prada knows all too well, will ultimately influence how clothes are designed throughout the fashion industry, right the way down to that lumpy blue sweater you have lodged in the back of your wardrobe.

How is it organized?

In Paris, all of the fashion weeks are coordinated by the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. The organization (which is in desperate need of an acronym) was set up in 1973, the year of the city’s first ever fashion week which showcased French and American designers in Versailles, and strives to retain Paris’ reputation as the fashion capital of the world. The hundred or so shows are scheduled over nine days, starting this year at 10:00am on Tuesday, September 27th. There is a show every hour after that (or there should be if there are no delays, which, inevitably, there will be) until the last one starts at 9:00pm. This full-on pace even continues through the weekend. The final show this year will be on Wednesday, October 5th at 3:30pm and the job of closing the event with a bang will fall to Moon Young Hee.