Paris Fashion Week has long held the status of the most traditional fashion week. But this season, even the most traditional week showed signs of evolution through bold calls for support for Ukraine on and off the catwalk — namely, through Balenciaga’s runway show and charity fundraising. It also tapped into innovative metaverse strategies by integrating digital design and NFTs.
The inauguration of the fall 2022 season at Paris Fashion Week started with the IFM masters of arts students’ graduate show where 13 students incorporated digital accessories they designed, showing them on a digital catwalk next to digitized versions of their physical pieces. It was made possible through a collaboration with metaverse developer Stage11. Digital design, which has been sweeping the catwalks from New York to London, has so far not been embraced by the younger fashion designer cohort, like students coming out of Central Saint Martins in London, as other topics like sustainability take pride of place. In the IFM show, the accessories were seamlessly integrated into high-end designs.
Other designers also integrated NFTs, including subversive New York brand Vaquera. It partnered with carbon-neutral social marketplace Bubblehouse, which runs on the Polygon blockchain. Talking about the collaboration, Bubblehouse business development manager Thibault Binier said there is still more to come. “We’re going to be doing membership [via the NFTs],” he said. “Vaquera is going to be able to provide access to future shows, presale access and exclusive pieces. As the brand grows and there are more and more collections, the value of this membership will go up. It’s a way for people to invest in the brand.”
The IFM graduate show also gave a lasting impression of how future designers may think about their collection. “This collaboration with Stage11 is altogether new, unique and highly relevant today, as the metaverse and digital designs become part of fashion’s future. This was a very stimulating experience for our students and our faculty,” Xavier Romatet, dean of IFM, said in a statement to the press. Olivier Ozoux, Stage11’s chief technology officer who mentored the students, also sees it as the start for a frictionless digital experience of the future, where students will design digital as well as physical garments. He said, “A lot of the students involved asked about what digital fashion means, with respect to the physical world and real issues in it, like sustainability, fairness and questions around ethics.”
Ethics were a key focus of the PFW shows, amid the war in Ukraine and the growing list of brands moving out of Russia, including French conglomerates LMVH and Richemont. The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode requested in a press release earlier in the week that attendees experience the shows “with solemnity, and in reflection of these dark hours.” Designers like Isabel Marant focused on bringing attention to raising funds for Ukrainian refugees. For her part, Marant stepped out at the end of her show in a jumper featuring the colors of the Ukrainian flag. In an Instagram post, she revealed the Isabel Marant Endowment Fund will donate to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and UNICEF to “support and [show] solidarity to the people of Ukraine.”
The most notable design tribute to the war in Ukraine was Demna Gvasalia’s collection for Balenciaga. The designer featured looks including leather rubbish bags, a coat made from EPHEA biomaterials and two separate looks combining the colors of the Ukrainian flag, worn by models who struggled through a blizzard on a circular wind tunnel catwalk. Gvasalia’s show notes recalled his time in Georgia when, at 12 years old, he and his family were among 250,000 Georgians forced from their home during the country’s civil war.
“The war in Ukraine has triggered the pain of a past trauma I have carried in me since 1993, when the same thing happened in my home country,” Gvasalia wrote. The only PFW designer to directly reference the war in a collection, Gvasalia also wrote that “fashion week feels like some kind of an absurdity,” and that to cancel the show would have meant “surrendering to the evil that has already hurt me so much for almost 30 years.”
With all fashion weeks, the events surrounding them are also key to the industry conversation. Ukrainian designer Lilia Litkovskaya, who is a keen advocate for Ukrainian fashion and has set up a fashion school in Kyiv, aimed to spread the word about the war and raise support for locals at Paris’ Tranoi trade show. Litkovskaya fled to Poland at the end of February. Meanwhile, Ukrainian NFT marketplace The FRNTAL called on the fashion community through an Instagram post yesterday to help by using the #UnchainUkraine hashtag across social channels. In addition, influencers and artists have contributed their NFT art to fund proceeds for humanitarian causes via FRNTAL. The project is launching after PFW ends.