Toilet show is light relief at Paris fashion week

Paris fashion week shows tend to be held at the city's most opulent addresses, grand chandeliered salons dripping with marble and gilt.

Toilet show is light relief at Paris fashion week
Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

But new brand Sirloin gave tradition the bum's rush by presenting its debut collection this weekend in one of the French capital's most well-appointed public toilets.

Designers Mao Usami and Alve Lagercrantz said their odd choice of venue was meant to play tribute to “a place that allows the trivial, silly yet brilliant questions and ideas in life to flow free”.

They said it was time to bring the smallest room out of the closet, as models revealed the designers' autumn-winter collection by opening the mahogany cubicle doors of the historic Madeleine public toilets in central Paris.

The pair are not the only ones to have toyed with convention.

Saint Laurent held its catwalk show on a building site on Tuesday night, while French designer Delphine Delafon staged hers Saturday as a Sicilian wake-cum-funeral with 15 models in widow's reeds silently mourning over a man's body.

“The king is dead,” the designer said in her notes to the show, “Long live the queens!”

Usami, who has worked for Louis Vuitton and Dries Van Noten, told AFP that toilets were the world's great refuges.

They are the place where you go to hide “when you are pretending you are working, but you are just escaping and having a break,” she said.

“We encourage everyone to accept their own twisted thoughts and strangest habits. The worse, the better!”

The award-winning Shanghai-based couple, who are Japanese and Swedish, said they built their collection from the underwear out, “merging lingerie with ready-to-wear” suits and streetwear.

Invitations to the show came with a vanity pack of folded toilet paper, and a picture of graffiti scrawled on the inside of a toilet door, “We don't have to be deadly serious.”

The designers insisted, however, that the venue was not a stunt, saying the collection “focuses on the intellectual questions that every Sirloin girl would ask herself during their brief moments in the toilet”.

Fashion's most senior couple, Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler, were also up to high jinks in their show.

The flamboyant Austrian, who has taken the reins of the label from the British “queen of punk”, sent the 75-year-old out as one of his models, followed a few moments later by a male model with a phallus drawn on his crotch.

Both gestures drew cheers and laughter from fashionistas.

Westwood had earlier told AFP that Kronthaler – 25 years her junior – was “the world's greatest designer”.



Paris exhibition celebrates 100 years of French Vogue

A new exhibition in Paris will tell the story of 100 years of French Vogue - from the post-war 'New Look' of Christian Dior through the sexual liberation of the 1960s to the dangling-cigarette waifs of the 2000s.

French Vogue celebrates 100 years
French Vogue celebrates 100 years. Photo: Thomas Olva/AFP

But as well as celebrating the magazine’s storied history, the exhibit comes at a time of turbulence for the publication.

Just last month, it was confirmed that its editor of 10 years, Emmanuelle Alt, was out and wouldn’t be replaced.

She was not alone.

Looking to cut costs, owner Conde Nast International has axed editors across Europe over the past year, and put international Vogue editions under the direct control of global editorial director, Anna Wintour, in New York.

New York-based Anna Wintour now has overall control of French Vogue. Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Like much of the media industry, Vogue is struggling with tumbling sales and ad revenue in the digital era.

But the latest twist is also part of the endless push and pull between New York and Paris going back to its early days.

“The whole history of French Vogue is one of back-and-forth with Conde Nast in New York – growing more independent for a while, then being reined back in,” said Sylvie Lecallier, curator of the new exhibition, “Vogue Paris 1920-2020″, which opened this weekend after a year’s delay due to the pandemic.

The Paris edition was often the loftier, more bohemian sibling to its more hard-nosed New York version.

But it was also the hotbed in which much of 20th century style and womenhood came to be defined.

“Paris was the place to hunt out talent and content and bring it to New York,” said Lecallier.

The exhibition charts the evolution from art deco drawings of the 1920s through the erotic image-making of photographers like Helmut Newton in the 1960s and 1970s.

Its last peak was under editor Carine Roitfeld in the 2000s, who brought back a provocative Gallic identity by ridding the newsroom of foreign staff and becoming a fashion icon in her own right.

Her successor, Alt, was a quieter presence, though she still oversaw key moments including its first transgender cover star, Brazilian Valentina Sampaio, in 2017.

But internet culture has created “a perfect storm” for Vogue, says media expert Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis.

“The first 80 years of Vogue’s life, it had the market to itself, it was the bible for fashion,” McCabe told AFP.

“But online today, there are so many other ways to get your information. Influencers, Instagram, YouTube — everyone’s a threat.”

In a world where new fashion trends can blow up around the world in seconds, it has become much harder for a monthly magazine to set the pace.

“It’s not that they can’t survive for another 100 years — but they will be differently sized,” McCabe said.

Vogue has tried to branch out into different areas, including events.

“I used to work for a magazine, and today I work for a brand,” Alt said on the eve of French Vogue’s 1,000th issue in 2019.

But the big money was always in print, and Vogue Paris sales are dropping steadily from 98,345 in 2017 to 81,962 to 2020, according to data site ACPM.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the new top job in Paris, redefined as “head of editorial content”, went to Eugenie Trochu, who was key to building the magazine’s online presence.

She declared herself “thrilled to be part of Vogue’s international transformation”.

For the curator of the exhibition, it is ironic timing.

“We had no idea it would end like this when we started work on the exhibition,” said Lecallier.

“Who knows where it will go from here.”

The exhibition Vogue Paris 1920-2020 is at the Palais Galliera in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. The gallery is open 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday and is closed on Mondays. Tickets for the exhibition are €14 (€12 for concessions and under 18s go free) and must be reserved online in advance.