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Taking honest pictures at the spring 2021 shows in Milan and Paris was a lot about photographing absence and it is a hard task to shoot the lack of something.

Lack of shows on the schedule, lack of energy, lack of the usual sound-landscape of camera clicks, traffic and showgoers’ chatter. To some extent, all the elements were there this season, and there was enough of them to take photos in which everything looked surprisingly normal.

It was far from that, though.

Natalia Vodianova posing for photographers at the Dior show in Paris. Long lenses were essential this season.

Natalia Vodianova posing for photographers at the Dior show in Paris. Long lenses were essential this season.  Kuba Dabrowski/WWD

In Milan the situation was a bit easier. On one hand the Italian theater, of everyday life, where every gesture tends to be exaggerated, helped with providing visual representation for the pandemic — from contactless “air hugs” to the serious faces of security taking everyone’s temperature entering the shows. On the other hand, the brands that decided to do physical shows did their best to give us the feeling of pre- COVID-19 normality. Shows mostly took place in familiar spaces like Pinacoteca di Brera or Rotonda della Besana (only slightly rearranged to keep the social distancing between guests), catwalks were walked by a familiar cast of models. Nobody seemed to be rethinking the general idea of what a fashion show is, should be or might be.

It was all about keeping the traditional format and adjusting it to the new (hopefully temporary) circumstances. It felt comfortable, like coming back to school after holidays. The sad thing is that it also felt like an unsustainable illusion.

Temprature taking at Philosophy by Lorenzo Serafini in Milan. Security was supposed to stop people with temparature over 37,5C. I have not seen anybody denied access for that reason at any of the shows.

Temprature taking at Philosophy by Lorenzo Serafini in Milan. Security was supposed to stop people with temparature over 37,5C. I have not seen anybody denied access for that reason at any of the shows.  Kuba Dabrowski/WWD

Paris was a different story. With a number of shows from Asian and American brands and a huge presence of buyers from other continents, Paris Fashion Week is naturally a much more international affair than Milan. The lack of this multicultural element this season was clearly visible and nobody seemed to be pretending that things were as usual. Paris felt very local. It seemed like designers in order to make it happen had to dig deeper into the city, its character and life. Some happened in the spaces to which even the most experienced showgoers have never ventured (i.e., Koché in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont). The casting was often a mix of professional models, local kids and friends of the brand.

The very idea of the show as a physical event was questioned and reinterpreted.
At the Chloé show, models followed by super-tele “spy” cameras walked the regular streets while the footage was being projected in real time on a screen at the show venue. At the end they joined for an actual physical finale. This Parisian format felt unfamiliar, but honest and fresh. As a photographer I felt like I took far fewer photos than I usually would, but a lot of these images were of people, places and situations I’ve never seen before. It was challenging, but rewarding.

This season was strange. Almost normal and absolutely different. Looking into the future and clinging to the past. I hope this set of photos tells the story.

See Also:

They Are Wearing: Street Style at Paris Fashion Week Spring 2021

They Are Wearing: Street Style at Milan Fashion Week Spring 2021

Buyers Laud Ingenuity on Display During Paris Fashion Week

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