Nov 4th, 2019, 12:50 PM

Paris Fashion Week: Behind the Velvet Rope

By Aastha Jani
Image shows light beams from the ground, outside Saint Laurent show at Trocadero Gardens
Saint Laurent, PFW'19 - Trocadero Gardens
Beyond the barriers that separate glamour from gritty ambition, a culture of creativity thrives.

Fashion undeniably serves different purposes for different people. To some, it is the expression of their identity, an integral part of who they are; to others, it is merely an industry. However, there is widespread agreement that fashion is an integral part of appearance and expression in the world today. Whether you like it or not, you will probably be judged for how you dress.

The fashion aristocracy, as I like to call it, gathers at Fashion Week. Some of the largest events in designer season take place in Milan, New York, and Paris, arguably the fashion capitals of the world. The world’s biggest designers, Saint Laurent, Commes des Garçons and Louis Vuitton, showcase their collections at these events. This year, Paris Fashion Week took place between September 28 and October 1. 

I should preface this by saying that I know very little about fashion... This makes me both the best and the worst authority on fashion as seen from the outside. 

As I was intrigued by the possibility of immersing myself in a new culture and a new form of expression, I decided to catch as many shows as I could. I should preface this by saying that I know very little about fashion: I am in awe of the artistry but remain rather clueless with regards to its symbolism. This makes me both the best and the worst authority on fashion as seen from the outside.

Black limousines, buses, and paparazzi came and went as Fashion Week commenced on a cloudy Monday in September. Our adventure began with an impulsive decision to attend the Rokh show at Palais de Tokyo.  That day felt like an undeniable quest for the glamorous lifestyle we are often told to desire, as a group of teenagers who crave a taste of the creative and chaotic world of fashion. The red velvet rope denied entry into a world that was so close yet so far.

The "Off-White" show at the Louvre. Image credit: Aastha Jani. 

Our dissatisfaction led us to try again. A few days later we found ourselves greeted by a massive stage and light set up at the Trocadero Gardens. I first noticed the Saint Laurent signs on my bus ride home, and I knew that it was worth a shot. It felt surreal to be able to take a bus to one of the biggest designer shows of the season. We joined the hundreds of people soaked in the rain to catch a glimpse of the grandeur of the Saint Laurent show. We and many others gaped wondrously at the lights and music, caught in awe of the sparkling Eiffel Tower, and the beauty of the clothes we were looking at through our zoomed iPhone cameras. Saint Laurent was a show accessible to a crowd of dreamers, it was open to the world to experience the grandeur.

What hit me most was the diversity in that crowd – people from all over the world, eyes wide in wonder, screaming when Naomi Campbell walked the finale on the Saint Laurent runway. There was a palpable sense of astonishment, a culture of unity that established itself as a proxy to the designer world, inaccessible to most, yet a community in itself. To be quite honest, I thought that was it. That felt like the experience I was craving and possibly the most I would get from the outside.

But when we went back to the schedule, it was almost as if the shows were calling out to us. Another day that week, a friend of mine who had seen that I went to Saint Laurent traced the Off-White show to Centre Pompidou – a modern art museum in the Marais, possibly the most fitting location for a streetwear brand to show off its collection. We were far from getting into this one but waiting outside was a whole other world. It felt like I had been transported to a haven of creativity and expression, where everyone was so genuinely themselves. Young creatives hoping to get a photograph to sell, filmmakers documenting the crowd, and me, a writer trying to soak in the experience.

There was a palpable sense of astonishment, a culture of unity that established itself as a proxy to the designer world, inaccessible to most, yet a community in itself.

The people waiting outside the Off-White "Meteor Shower" were a fashion show in themselves. The sheer talent that was waiting in the rain inspired this piece: smoke blowing from their cigarettes, lights flashing from their cameras, posing to be discovered. They were different from any of the other crowds. They did not want a glimpse of the inside - they wanted to be on the inside. And honestly, they deserve that recognition for their effort. I was only out there to soak in the culture, but I discovered there is a whole other dedication required to assimilate oneself in the quest for discovery.

The Off-White entrance was beaming with personality and confidence, people I will never see again who impressed with their outfits, the clothes that they designed, and the lengths they would go to for one shot. A whole undiscovered culture of creativity prevails outside these shows. It was the best part of Fashion Week. 

The people I experienced would never compare to the thousand-dollar shoes and belts. There is no true price of creativity, which we tend to forget as a culture. In the quest for the most expensive shoes, the most beautiful diamond rings, we sacrifice the idea that fashion stems from art and creativity rather than capitalism. Supporting fashion is indeed quite expensive, but support doesn’t have to mean buying every designer brand: it could be the hoards of people waiting to support a streetwear brand that began as the brainchild of one individual. Fashion is revolutionary, both on the inside and on the outside.

Fashion aficionados spotted in front of the Pompidou Museum were a show in themselves. Image credit: Aastha Jani. 

The final show we tried to attend was Louis Vuitton at the Musée du Louvre. The entrance to the museum was surrounded by hundreds of people screaming to see their favorite celebrities strut into the iconic pyramid. We watched that show, along with hundreds of others, streamed live on Instagram right outside where it was happening. It was hilarious to consider the effort we put in given that we did not get in, but it felt like an adventure nonetheless.

I spent most of Fashion Week with my friends, pursuing exclusive shows to no avail. But at the end I realized that the collective experience of the fashion industry from the “outside” – both figuratively and literally – is something unique in itself. I have never had the opportunity to run after celebrities and shows, to experience the Louvre being closed for a designer brand, or the Eiffel Tower sparkle for 15 minutes for a fashion show finale. 

But Fashion Week is beautiful because it is not the fashion that people pursue. Everyone aims for different things and the diversity of dreams is evident in the contrast between those behind the barriers at each show. From the “outside,” the culture of fashion is experiential and collectivistic. It is creative and challenging. That is what dragged me back to shows I could not enter, the essence of fashion from behind the velvet rope.