For Parisians, the Samaritaine was perpetually under renovation. It was one of the first department stores built in Paris back in 1870, in the era of Paris’ modernisation by Georges-Eugène Haussmann. This iconic building was acquired by LVMH in 2001, and in 2005, its 15-year renovation began. However, just weeks before its grand reopening earlier this year, France was locked down due to the pandemic. To close this Paris Fashion Week, we were at last invited inside, where the Louis Vuitton Spring Summer 2021 show was held.  

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Photo: Louis Vuitton

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This was perhaps the most fully realised ‘phygital’ shows we experienced this season. The set was designed to give a full and unique experience to virtual viewers as well as physical guests. Though the runway itself was only on the top floor of the department store, the building’s interior, including the floors below the runway, were covered in green screens. While the green screens created a graphic contrast to showcase the looks, they were not primarily for the guests’ benefit. Instead it’s meant for viewers at home, where the green screens were replaced by scenes from the 1987 Wim Wenders movie Wings of Desire. The film followed angels in Berlin who observed and comforted humans, but remained invisible to them. The angel’s longing to belong to the physical world was a parallel for us to draw. But the fully 360-degree digital experience created with 360 cameras placed at many intervals along the runway (“virtual seats”) meant that the show was replicated as realistically (and virtually) possible, for viewers behind their computer screens. 

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If the show format was on the pulse, so was the opening look featuring a sweater printed with the word “vote” that reflected a message that has become a rallying cry for one end of a polarised political landscape on Planet America. The ‘80s oversized shape, a signature of Nicolas Ghesquière, is back again, but in a more street-ready version than the previous season. There were large dad sweaters tucked into basketball shorts, boxy blazers and coats worn as dresses, and tailored sequin sets that were more ‘80s sci-fi than disco. The bulky tops were balanced out by roomy pants cinched at the waist with haphazard knotting of thick belts. Colour was injected in the form of printed T-shirts and dresses that resembled giant candy bar wrappers that were patch-worked together. 

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As with other collections we saw this season, there was blurring of the genders. At Louis Vuitton, it did not just take inspiration from menswear, but they were designed to be unisex. The collection was modelled by men as well as women on the runway, and the same cuts were styled in similar ways on both genders. If there is one thing to take away from all the challenges that have come our way this year, it’s that this is our opportunity to reassess our binary preconceptions. 

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All images and animation by Beige Pill Productions unless stated otherwise