Lights Out at Paris Fashion Week

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While fashion is cyclical, some trends are easier to spot than other. Bows, for instance—oversized at Balmain’s Fall/Winter 2019 collection and neatly tucked behind tightly pulled back hair strands at Chanel—are a statement staple, while other runways enlivened in the renaissance of plaid and tartan. Once seemingly banished to college dormitory decor and the fuel behind Berlin paint parties, blacklight was trending in the most uncommon ways this season in Paris. You just had to know where to look for it.

Winner of the 2017 LVMH Prize, Marine Serre was the first to show off her take on UV light. Tucked into the cavernous, underground wine cellars of Issy les Moulineau, the designer’s Fall/Winter 2019 runway show, used explosive bursts of the light as a means for transformation. Serre’s models (who she deemed as the last survivors of of ecological apocalypse), were propelled through clouds of extraterrestrial greens and florescent pinks, as their protective uniforms of radiation-colored puffers and faux fur-lined coats gleamed in the blacklight aura.

Never to be missed, thanks in part to its well-welcomed hard start time, Saint Laurent saw its strongest collection under Anthony Vaccarello’s tenure yet. In his third year leading the fashion house, it seems the designer has finally scrubbed off the Coachella-going remnants of former artistic director Hedi Slimane and focused on what he does best: beautiful eveningwear oozing with sex appeal. First an homage to Paris‘ most iconic women (in many of the early looks we saw Betty Catroux, Catherine Deneuve, and even Carine), the Fall/Winter 2019 collection succeed in Vaccarello’s couture-esque cocktail dresses that followed: fabulously naughty minis that referenced the house’s eponym but still were fresh in structure, cut, and length.

After—in the time where other designers would resend girls down the line for the finale—Vaccarello revealed a second catwalk behind the original set’s mirrored walls. Blacklight bathed each model as she stormed down the surprise runway in a ready-to-wear meets haute couture moment, a nod to YSL’s own seminal Spring/Summer 1971 collection Libération (also referred to as Quarante), which was inspired by 1940s wartime fashion.

Later in the week, ambient blacklight atmospheres greeted guests at both Sacai, Courrèges, Off-White and Balenciaga—the latter two clear departures from both brand’s elaborate set creations in the past. Last season, Virgil Abloh turned an industrial garage far in Paris‘ 11th arrondissement into an actual track field for his marathon-themed Spring line. For Fall/Winter 2019, an enormous arena was decorated by a simple checkerboard floor, which was not in fact the Louis Vuitton Damier print but rather a symbol of the derby race car culture the designer grew up around.

Lit by blacklight, the squares contrasted bright whites and purple shadows, creating a sense of fashion laser tag in the large space. As the show began, the regular lights turned on and Abloh’s usual cast of Hadids, top models, and surprises like Karlie Kloss, took to the race car flag-floor in giant A-line puffers and and asymmetrical full-body dresses that highlighted pops of ligament.

Similarly this season, Demna Gvasalia chose a more minimal environment to show his collection for Balenciaga compared to the digital tunnel he commissioned the artist Jon Rafman create last October. In a blacked out auditorium this Sunday, overhead lights strobed between overwhelming blacklight purple, blood-covered red, and a warm, almost-orange juice yellow, allowing some pieces to quite literally glow. The clothes themselves were in all senses of the phrase ready-to-wear, with looks ranging from shoulder-emphasized suits (Gvasalia, strength of course), straight leg denim, and printed party dresses paired with affected-leather booties.

Off the runway too, designers were literally looking at their work in different lights. John Galliano, who offered a brilliant if not restrained fashion collection for Maison Margiela this season, debuted a twist on the house’s 5AC bag in a textile that reacts to UV rays and changes color. Shortlisted for this year’s LVMH Prize, Kunihiko Morinaga of Anrealag similarly uses photochromic material that darkens when exposed. For the competition’s seasonal showcase, the Tokyo-based designer displayed how a quick blast from his UV-light torch can transform his fashion pieces from transparent to black in the blink of an eye. Even the shoemaker Roger Vivier, now into its second season under Gherardo Fello, created a blacklight room as part of its transportive Fall/Winter 2019 fashion presentation called Daydream Hotel.

So why this sudden obsession with the after hours? Are we simply running out of things to wear in the light of the day that we must look to other places for use? Or are the ’80s back, blacklight, spandex, and all? It’s hard to tell for sure, but just to be sure we’ll keep the lights off and an eye out.

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