Paris fashion week is as theatrical as ever, even while playing to an empty house. Instead of their customary stadium-sized catwalk show, Dior filmed a dark fairytale in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, for an audience mostly watching on their phones.
The opulent venue was Dior’s answer to the challenge of how to make an event out of a show which is, in reality, not an event.
When lockdown ruled out the sociallydistanced catwalk show for a small audience which she had planned to stage, designer Maria Grazia Chiuri took the opportunity to upgrade to a location which could not have accommodated a distanced physical show, but which could be used as a film set.
“This is an important place in French culture, and we were all very happy that Versailles agreed to support our creativity,” she said in a Zoom call before the show.
From Alice and her looking-glass to Snow White’s stepmother, fairytales are full of mirrors. In fables, as in life, mirrors are as much about delusion and insecurity as they are about beauty or truth.
“The mirror is about attraction, but also about repulsion,” said Chiuri, whose favourite fairytale, Beauty and the Beast, features a mirror which allows Beauty to glimpse the family she has left behind.
To put a dark twist on Versailles sparkle, the Italian artist Silvia Giambrone was commissioned to revisit her 2018 work Mirrors with a site-specific installation, The Hall of Shadows. Giambrone placed a huge brass mirror in front of each of the room’s 17 arched windows, the glass of each smeared with wax and spiked with acacia thorns, which threatened to pierce the models passing by.
Giambrone, whose work includes a performance-art film in which an embroidered collar is stitched on to her skin, drawing blood, has said that her art explores “the relationship between beauty and violence”. During the show, models in Dior bar jackets remade for Little Red Riding Hood and fairytale tulle gowns shared the space with a troupe of dancers in flesh bodysuits, led by the Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal.
If a blockbuster short film poking at the underbelly of our obsession with beauty and glamour seems prickly territory for a luxury house whose fortunes rest on clothes, makeup and fragrance, Chiuri is comfortable with the friction.
“We all know that there are things about fashion that aren’t good for us. Fairytales show us that these are part of being human. And in the end, what every fairytale teaches us is that what matters is love,” she said.
The surreal is bread and butter at the house of Schiaparelli, whose founder Elsa Schiaparelli collaborated with her friend Salvador Dalí on catwalk collections almost a century ago.
Under American creative director Daniel Roseberry, Schiaparelli has been enjoying a fashion moment since long before Paris fashion week. It began at President Biden’s inauguration, where Lady Gaga performed in a bespoke Schiaparelli gown featuring a giant gold dove holding an olive branch – a reference to Biden’s theme of unity – and sculptural gold ear-jackets designed to conceal her in-ear monitors.
A film showcasing Roseberry’s new Schiaparelli collection, released as part of Paris fashion week, opened with a model answering a phone sculpted in the shape of a giant gold ear in a nod to Dalí’s Lobster Telephone.