There is always quiet chatter among editors about how lonely Paris can feel. No one seems to want to say this unless you bring it up first, but for whatever reason, the city can really make you feel not just alone, but abandoned. Every season, like clockwork, I arrive, unpack, eat something and then in the depths of the quiet and my loneliness, I ask, “What now?”
Until, of course, the shows. Which are like friends. You sit down, the lights dim, the music starts, the models walk and suddenly, you’re back in your favorite company. When the shows are good, they remind you why you do this. When they’re great, they remind you you’re alive.
But then, after the shows, the wave of loneliness comes back and you can’t wait for it to break. You’re among all these people who you know but don’t know and you watch as they interact and mosey towards the same cars while you, on the sideline, navigate the city by foot in shoes that you loved in New York but now hate in Paris.
You go back to your hotel room and realize that no matter how many showers you take here, you’re still dirty. No matter how many hours you sleep, you’re still tired. And no matter how well you can integrate, you’ll never actually belong. But you have the shows! And you love the shows, so you rally through the dark thoughts. Then it ends. When you recall the trip once you’re back in your comfort zone, you forget what was bad, even say, “Who am I kidding? That wasn’t bad,” and book flights for the next season under the premise that Paris is still the romantic city you love.
And it is romantic, only now it’s kind of different because no one knows what the fuck is going on with fashion. Designers are removing themselves from the traditional fashion week calendars. Magazines are folding like shirts at a laundromat. Buyers are asking for shorter lead times and writers — who are we writing for? All of this impacts the magic of the show. The magic that makes you feel like a kid again, still processing the depth of possibility against the hard rules and boundaries of reality. That’s why the sartorial fairy tales resonate like they do; why a collection inspired by German finger puppets (Acne) feels so refreshing. Why we crave feathers (Sonia Rykiel) and full, pearly pink ensembles (Nina Ricci). Why we marvel at a fake rocket (Chanel) being launched in the middle of Paris!
When it gets too serious, or convoluted and self-conscious, all of that is lost. The editors wonder what they’re pulling for, the buyers scratch their heads. And I begin a self-indulgent think piece, titled “I Don’t Like Paris.” By the way, I know this has little to do with Paris.
It used to be that a designer would show a collection and receive a review that legitimately impacted the success of his season, but does that even exist anymore? We have become such opinionated creatures. We don’t want the ideals of another imparted upon ourselves. To hell with that! We don’t want stores to tell us what we like. We know what we like. We have access and brains and thus can determine by ourselves what does or does not make a collection great or worthy of purchase.
But then again, we need the arbiters of taste; these are the people (Céline, Balenciaga) who inform our taste whether we see it or not. If we don’t see it, it means they’re doing their job correctly, manipulating us to believe we have original ideas. But these arbiters are on the decline because magic takes time. When you don’t “get” a Marc Jacobs or Prada or Marni collection at first, it’s because you’re not supposed to. They have to marinate. They don’t deal in clothes; they’re stories, the sum of several lives, the political motivations we ascribe to or reject. They’re always a little off or out there when we first see them because it’s still too soon to really see them. You need time. To process, to argue, to meddle. But once you do see? You can’t unsee. Céline and Balenciaga are sparkling proofs of this concept.
The thing is, we don’t care about preserving time anymore. Now it seems like all we do is kill it or beat it or race against it and because of this, Paris is losing its magic. At least for me. The shows that were once friends are now just shows, and I’m sitting there wondering, “now what?”
Does this ever happen to you?
Photo by Christian Vierig via Getty Images.