French designer Yves Saint-Laurent poses at his office at La Boetie street in Paris on September 22, 1961. – AFP

It has been a year since Saint Laurent broke away from the traditional fashion calendar, and with its latest collection again presented as an online film Wednesday, many wonder if the old schedules will ever return. The pandemic accelerated an existing trend of major fashion houses questioning whether the punishing rhythm of endless fashion weeks and midseason shows was good for creativity or the climate. Saint Laurent was first to take the leap, announcing in April 2020 that it would skip Paris fashion week that year. And it has not returned, with its latest winter collection again delivered as an online short film outside of any normal timetable.

Set in stunning but barren landscapes of black volcanic rock, ice floes and sheer rock faces, it looked designed to emphasize its distance from the usual champagne-and-celebrity settings of the fashion world. One might wonder whether the models, many in tiny miniskirts and skimpy bodysuits, had enough clothes, or indeed a high enough body-mass index, to survive for long in the Arctic conditions, but stepping out of the comfort zone was precisely the point.

“I want Saint Laurent to be more light and playful, but… it’s not just about going out to bars and parties,” designer Anthony Vaccarello told Vogue ahead of the release. “Life can’t just be when it’s bad we are all in black and pajamas and when it’s good we are in slutty dresses.” Nor should the moody vibe of the video be taken too literally, he added: “Fashion should be something you don’t take too seriously. Especially now, when nothing is really necessary. It’s good to laugh about life.”

‘Hacking’
Other big names agree that new approaches are needed. Already before the pandemic, Celine’s Hedi Slimane told Le Monde in January 2020: “The notion of the calendar seems obsolete… These days, creating a sense of event and rarity seems more essential than an obligatory exercise at a fixed time,” adding that the whole idea of fall/winter and spring/summer seasons was “archaic”. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele followed Saint Laurent’s lead in May 2020, saying he would reduce his shows from five to two per year.

In keeping with Michele’s efforts to give an “anti-establishment” veneer to the fabled fashion house, he made a huge splash earlier this month with a 100th anniversary show for Gucci-again outside the usual calendar-that knowingly ripped off styles from his friend, Balenciaga stylist Demna Gvasalia (he called it “hacking”). The new-found sense of freedom is “a sign that fashion is not finished and will never finish-independently of any fashion week. Fashion is a representation of life and can self-manage.” Michele told industry magazine WWD.

Growth market
None of this is hurting the bottom line. Sales recovered and even surpassed pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of this year. Asia remains the primary motor, with LVMH up 86 percent over the past year in the region, while Kering rose 83 percent. No surprise then that Michele will present his latest collection in Shanghai in the coming weeks, just as Beluti did for its men’s pret-a-porter earlier this month. It’s a growth market, Berluti’s recently departed artistic director Kris Van Assche told AFP-plus it’s the only one where live audiences are possible at the moment.

The company’s CEO Antoine Arnault has just announced that it, too, will set its own calendar from now on. Without great fanfare, that is what Celine (also part of LVMH) has already done, launching its two most recent collections with online films that fell outside the usual calendars. But not everyone is convinced that fashion weeks should be cast aside so easily. Pascal Morand, head of France’s Federation of Haute Couture and Fashion, hopes for a return to previous times. “If everyone exits the system, everyone loses,” he told AFP during the Paris fashion week in January. “In the current context, there should be some guard-rails, some elements (like the official calendar) that define credibility.” – AFP