Is it right to hold on to Paris fashion week while in Ukraine, people are dying from the Russian attacks? E&M author Ona Marina de Vilallonga is exploring signs of solidarity and empathy in the world of fashion.

Fashion month for a fashion enthusiast and long time industry follower, is the time of the year in which designers feed us with inspiration satisfying a need for novelty. Milan, Paris, London and Copenhagen are the ideal backdrop for the best fashion creatives’ newest works of art.

After two years of pandemic, the anticipation for this year’s new collections were expected with a general sense of fervor and commotion. A sense of fervor that was tarnished when the world was presented with the brutal attack that Russian President Vladimir Putin launched on Ukraine on February 24th. Pictures of endless lines of cars and families fleeing the country along with families camping out in subway stations started to fill covers of important newspapers and every social media channel.

On March 1st, Ralph Toledano, president of Paris Fashion Week’s organizing body, the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), issued a statement asking for the attendees of the event to “experience the shows of the coming days with solemnity, and in reflection of these dark hours.”

From March 1st on, as a fashion focused social media user, I was presented with a very uncomfortable contrast between what was happening in Paris and the harsh images of the barbaric damage done to the country of Ukraine and its civilians. All of the glitz and the glamor of the shows, influencers and celebrities and parties felt  out of tune with a war in Europe.

Fashion is a trillion-dollar industry that depends heavily on fashion week as its main vehicle. So would it be right to expect the designers to shut all of the shows down after having invested important amounts of money and time into their work?

Gestures of solidarity

If responding to such an atrocity as an individual during our day to day is challenging, the appropriate response as an organization is also complicated. Overall, the event was characterized by a general sense of collective consciousness of the current context.

Several gestures of solidarity were shown throughout the week such as the statement released by the mononymous creative director of luxury house Balenciaga, Demna, ahead of his collection reveal, stating that “Fashion feels like some sort of absurdity,” he wrote in a note to guests, adding that he had considered canceling the event altogether.

Eventually deciding to go on with the show, Demna continued to create a sense of awareness with strong symbolic gestures. In addition to creating a raw and gloomy atmosphere during the show, the Ukrainian flag was draped on guests’ seats and the designer recited a poem in Ukrainian by one of the country’s treasured poets Oleksandr Oles. In his note, Demna said “I realized canceling the show would mean giving in, surrendering to the evil that has already hurt me so much for almost 30 years. I decided I could no longer sacrifice parts of me to that senseless, heartless war of ego,” he concluded.

The end of the Nanushka presentation was marked by three models standing on a pedestal with their eyes closed revealing blue and yellow eye makeup while a string quartet played the Ukrainian national anthem in addition to releasing a statement mentioning charitable organizations and how they were donating revenue from its e-commerce to offer support to Ukrainians.

Pierre Piccolo, Valentino’s creative leader who presented a radical monochrome proposal that allowed the design’s silhouette to be the focal point of the show, read a statement to the audience right before the show. “It was a hard week, it was a hard moment. We reacted the only way we know – by working. We reacted by not feeling paralyzed by war, trying to remember that the privilege of our freedom is now bigger than ever. Our thoughts go to those who are suffering, we see you, we feel you, we love you.” He concluded his remarks by saying “love is the answer, always.”

In addition to showing solidarity during each collection, Hermes and Cartier owner Richemont have also made the decision to close stores in Russia. The luxury powerhouse LVMH with 14 luxury fashion houses in its portfolio, including Louis Vuitton and Loewe also ceased operations and announced a donation of  five point five million dollars to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Even though, overall, the brands took a respectful approach, a residue of the harshness of the reality of our society permeates through my iphone screen. Models walking down the runway in Paris while Ukraine’s capital, three hours of flight from Paris, is bombarded. An unfortunate reminder of the heavy contrasts that characterize our current society nowadays.  Hopefully, it pervades the fashion industry shifting its future towards responsibility and representation and less towards a false sense of fantasy and escapism.

Feature photo by Karina Tess, Unsplash

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    Hi, I'm Ona Marina. I'm a Marketing grad but have always been fascinated by the world of fashion and its different intersections with politics, art and sustainability. You will find me assisting stylists around the world or working on my own brand.

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