Fashion week is back, baby! After more than a year of mostly digital runway shows, Paris Couture Week made its return in July with live audiences, celebrity-studded front rows, and plenty of street style. There was a lot to look forward to: Balenciaga bringing back its couture collections, Pyer Moss’ debut, and, after several delays, Sacai presented its collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier.
There were several more moments that got the industry buzzing over the course of the week and beyond, whether it was a celebrity cameo on the runway or a highly anticipated first collection or two (or three). If fashion week is going to continue to be this newsworthy for the rest of 2021, then we’re in for quite the ride.
Read more about the can’t-miss fashion moments from Paris Couture Week Fall 2021, below.
Alaïa Couture 2022: A New Legacy In Paris
After the death of legendary couturier Azzedine Alaïa in 2017, his namesake maison welcomed Pieter Mulier, longtime right-hand man to Raf Simons, to take his place, in 2021. His official debut, a Spring 2022 collection, kicked off the start of Paris Couture Week, adding even more excitement surrounding the following few days. While Mulier refused to refer to archives for his design process, he did turn to what he knew of the brand and his favorite eras of the designer. Fashion critics Cathy Horyn and Vanessa Friedman were pleased, though not blown away. But redefining a legacy like Alaïa doesn’t happen overnight.
Schiaparelli Couture Fall 2021: Levi’s Denim Is Couture-Approved
It’s been two years since Daniel Roseberry took the reins at Schiaparelli, and so far his work has quickly become a celebrity favorite. (Lady Gaga at Biden’s Inauguration; Beyoncé at the Grammys; Bella Hadid and Tilda Swinton at Cannes.) For the Texas-born designer’s latest couture collection, he turned to fashion nostalgia and the matador uniform for inspiration. The result was a hodgepodge of casual couture (upcycled Levi’s denim!) and extravagance that we’ll likely see on the red carpet very soon.
Dior Couture Fall 2021: The Celebrity-Studded Front Row Returns
What’s a couture show without celebrities sitting front row? After 18 months of no physical runway, Dior made sure plenty of famous faces were in attendance for its IRL return to Paris Couture Week. Cara Delevingne, Florence Pugh, Suki Waterhouse, and Jennifer Lawrence were just some of the names that showed designer Maria Grazia Chiuri their support, as they witnessed the new tweed-heavy collection.
Chanel Couture Fall 2021: Margaret Qualley Plays A Bride
A couture show would not be complete without its bridal finale, and Creative Director Virginie Viard enlisted actress Margaret Qualley to take on the special role, wearing a high-neck, long-sleeve gown with a pillbox hat featuring a bow and a short polka-dot veil. Her look was complete with a colorful bouquet that, in typical wedding party fashion, she threw to the audience at the end of the show. (It was caught by InStyle’s Editor-in-Chief Laura Brown.)
Balenciaga Couture Fall 2021: Demna Gvasalia Brings Back Couture
Demna Gvasalia debuted Balenciaga’s return to couture, 53 years after Cristóbal Balenciaga shuttered the business. The creative director hosted the runway show in a replica space modeled after the late founder’s Paris salon, and presented a collection that pushed forward the concept of couture. One memorable look included a black turtleneck, jeans, and a gray zip-up hoodie. Oh, and Ella Emhoff made her couture debut, as well.
Jean Paul Gaultier Couture Fall 2021: Sacai’s Collaboration Finally Arrives
Since the announcement that Chitose Abe of Sacai would be presenting her vision of Jean Paul Gaultier couture in March 2020, the Japanese designer’s collection faced several delays due to the global pandemic. Finally, after more than a year, the collaboration made it onto the runway, and Sacai’s signature elements were prevalent throughout every look, complementing JPG’s timeless details, like his iconic cone bra on a corset paired with a pinstripe skirt suit.
Viktor & Rolf Couture Fall 2021: Royalcore Gets The Runway Treatment
Viktor & Rolf have mastered the memeification of Couture Week. Having made waves on the internet with a previous collection that featured elaborate ballroom gowns with Instagram-worthy messages, the design duo are back at it again. Inspired by the royal family’s wardrobe (or royalcore, as the internet aesthetes call it), the collection was a maximal take on what you’d see on The Crown or in Marie Antoinette with some looks boasting sashes with tongue-in-cheek commentary, like “A royal pain in the ass.”
Pyer Moss Couture Fall 2021: Making American Fashion History
After a delayed debut due to inclement weather, Pyer Moss’ Couture Week debut, by way of New York, took place two days later, at the Irvington-based estate of Madam CJ Walker, a beauty mogul and America’s first female self-made millionaire. The highly anticipated event welcomed Kerby Jean-Raymond as the first Black U.S. fashion designer on the official couture calendar in its more than 150-year history.
Jean-Raymond enlisted Elaine Brown, the only woman to have led the Black Panther Party, to open the show with a speech, and rapper 22GZ to perform, along with dancers, singers, and a drum and strings ensemble. The collection was inspired by Black inventions, and Jean-Raymond detailed each item specifically to its ‘90s-era aesthetic and his memories of growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn: The cell phone is boxy with an antenna and attached to a black gown, and an AC unit, which served as a prop for a model’s yellow dress look, resembled those that dot the windows of city apartment buildings.
One look sent down the runway paid tribute to Walker with hundreds of hair rollers cascading down the model like a royal cape. A checkerboard suit, worn by Aoki Lee Simmons (her catwalk debut, as well), boasted 3-D chess pieces, and a set of curtains draped around a model’s face. Couture also took the form of a traffic light, a peanut butter jar, and a refrigerator with letter magnets that spelled out, “But who invented Black trauma?” Some praised the collection as camp, others called it surreal or couldn’t see beyond the literal references. What was truly at play, though, was the witnessing of American fashion history in the making.