Fashion, fun and Fomo as Paris comes out to play

Paris comes out to play with fashion, fun, and Fomo.

When I arrive at the Shangri-La Hotel in Paris, there is already a crowd waiting behind a velvet rope to get in, and paparazzi clustered on the sidewalk. I’m here to see a fashion show put on by Koché, an independent French brand known for its androgynous, streetwear-meets-couture vibe. The mood is festive. The sun is shining. Everyone looks beautiful or, should I say, very cool without trying.

Nature is healing at Paris Fashion Week. It feels like the first real edition to be held since Covid-19 shut down the world some 18 months ago. No more compromises. No more fear, since vaccines and masks are required. About a third of the 97 shows will be live, including all the biggest names, while the rest will stick with streamed videos.

In a gilded salon with chandeliers overhead, rows of upholstered gold chairs have been set up to line the catwalk. Soon, the impossibly tall models come out wearing the creations of designer Christelle Kocher — a shimmering sequinned pink minidress, a perfectly cinched green-and-gold brocaded trenchcoat, a midnight blue cape fringed with feathers.

It 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 made Koché’s show then a bit chaotic. Professional models were interspersed with amateurs and the designs more casual, almost punk-inspired. I watched the spectacle from a park bench.

Kocher says she made the clothes more elaborate this year to showcase the craftsmanship that she and her team could finally do properly now that they were no longer working over Zoom. “I wanted the setting to feel calm, soft and poetic, like the salons where couture was shown to clients in the past,” she tells me after the show. When I ask how she felt this week, now that she can show to a big audience again, she says she is “really moved. It was beautiful. People are so happy to be together.” 

Returning to in-person shows is no small thing for the city that incubated the modern global luxury goods industry. Event planners, florists, restaurants, high-end hotels, drivers — all benefit from the glitz. Sonia Papet, the concierge at the five-star Le Bristol hotel, is struggling to keep up with requests for restaurant reservations. “It has been great to see all our regulars again. But they all want to go to the same places at the same time!” she tells me.

The return to the before times does have one disadvantage for me. In the pandemic, none of the high-flying editors, influencers, celebrities and buyers who usually come from the US and Asia could attend. So local correspondents like me got seats to the few in-person shows.

Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Kenzo, Dior, Chloé: I enjoyed them last year as a traveller who got a surprise bump-up from economy to first class — with wonder and the certainty that this was not going to happen again. This year, now that many of the real VIPs are back, I’ve scored only a handful of invitations.


But it is impossible to be grumpy about it. Paris has been its spectacular old self since the return from the summer holidays. With vaccination rates now among the highest in Europe and few remaining Covid-19 restrictions in effect, Parisians have finally been able to do all the things that make living in this very dense, loud, expensive city worth it.

This of course means different things to different people. For me, it has meant going out to dinners with friends — a basic pleasure that was impossible from roughly November to June because of a 6pm curfew. I’ve also gone back to fighting for a table at La Palette, a café favoured by the beautiful people in Saint Germain, before retreating to a less cool back-up plan.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Lionel Messi (left) scores during the Champions League match against Manchester City on September 28
Paris Saint-Germain’s Lionel Messi (left) scores during the Champions League match against Manchester City on September 28 © Yoan Valat/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

For others, it means reviving the tradition of weekend protests, lately against President Emmanuel Macron’s vaccine passport requirements. Those are fading now, but I can’t help but welcome them as part of a return to normal.

Another thing I’ve appreciated is how creativity and daring have staged a comeback in the capital. Lionel Messi now plays for Paris Saint-Germain — the ultimate luxury status symbol for a team owned by Qatar. His first goal on Tuesday night against Manchester City was a thing of insane beauty.

Another visible symbol of Parisian audacity is the Arc de Triomphe, which for the past few weeks has been wrapped in 25,000 sq metres of silvery blue plastic fabric held in place with red cords. The artwork was the long-held dream of the Bulgarian conceptual artist known as Christo, who died in 2020. His nephew had to battle bird conservationists and Covid-19 delays to get the project over the line.

The effect is hypnotising. A familiar monument is made new. Even the usual mayhem of cars, bikes and buses circling around Place de l’Étoile is being paused at weekends.

The Arc de Triomphe, wrapped in fabric — a posthumous project by the late conceptual artist Christo
The Arc de Triomphe, wrapped in fabric — a posthumous project by the late conceptual artist Christo © Corbis/ Getty Images

I had an unfamiliar feeling recently — “FOMO”. When the pandemic was at its worst, we were spared the feeling that we were missing out on fun experiences. There simply were not any to be had.

Since I lived alone, I could not fall back on the family cocoon for companionship. All that was left was work. And plumbing the depths of Netflix and Amazon Prime. A fog of isolation settled in. Sometime during the second (or was it third?) lockdown, I vowed that if the pandemic ever ended, then I would never again turn down a social invitation.

A friend called me last week to invite me to the reopening of the Rex Club, one of the city’s best-known dance spots, which had been closed since Covid-19 hit. Laurent Garnier, a legendary French DJ and the club’s spiritual founder, was playing on Sunday. “Come on, it’ll be fun,” said my friend.

Nightclubs in France have suffered from government’s decision to keep them closed longer than any other businesses during the pandemic. They were allowed to reopen in July as long as they respected crowd-size caps and checked people’s vaccination status, but the Rex decided to wait until now.

Tucked in the basement of the Grand Rex, an extravagant Art Deco movie theatre, the Rex is a tad grungy. The bar is sticky. It gets absurdly hot in there. But the Rex is beloved by fans of techno and electronic music for having incubated many “French Touch” DJs, the local iteration of house in the 1990s. In my twenties I used to go there a lot.

But those nights felt like another life, and I had work the next day, so I politely said no, having completely forgotten my promise.

Only to regret it the next day. My friend posted a video of the crowded dance floor. People whooped with joy and jumped up and down as the beat picked up. Even Laurent Garnier had a massive smile on his face.


Another friend texted me to propose a last-minute outing to the theatre. She had tickets to one of the season’s most talked-about shows, an intense drama called Maman, which stars French singer and movie actress Vanessa Paradis in her first theatrical performance. It is playing at one of my favourite theatres in Paris, the Théâtre Edouard VI, nestled in a pedestrian-only round plaza on the right bank.

“It’s a ticket for a strapontin tomorrow night,” she tells me, referring to the foldable seats stuck on the edge of the aisles. “Do you mind?”

This time I did not hesitate. It would be the first time I’d set foot in a theatre since the pandemic began.

Vanessa Paradis on stage in ‘Maman’ at the Théâtre Edouard VI in Paris
Vanessa Paradis on stage in ‘Maman’ at the Théâtre Edouard VI in Paris © Claude Gassian

Sitting in the dark in the sold-out performance as the play began, I felt a twinge of discomfort. It was not the tiny seat, or being in a crowded room with strangers. It was the pace of the play. After so much Netflix bingeing and social media scrolling, I was not used to listening to theatrical dialogue. Everything was distracting me — audience members shifting in their seats, exhaling loudly, fiddling with their phones.

I took a few deep breaths to settle myself down.

Jeanne, played by Paradis, and her very clueless husband sat at the dinner table as she tried to tell him about a life-changing thing that just happened to her. The conversation was awkward and angry as the husband realises that Jeanne has suddenly become a stranger.

With only three characters, the play centred on Jeanne, who was in every scene. Paradis, a former child star and former partner of Johnny Depp, had shed the ingénue schtick she usually had in movies for something deeper and more disturbing.

Slowly, I was drawn in. The occasional noise from a creaking seat or sneeze was just a reminder that we were having a collective experience, not a solitary one. I can still do that.

A few hours later, I was one of the first on my feet to applaud the performers.

Leila Abboud is the FT’s Paris correspondent

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