Champagne, caffeine and chaos: Fashion week descends on Paris

A model's hair is styled backstage at Prototypes
Low levels of sleep and high levels of caffeine are a staple for models on the fashion week circuit [Alexandra Mavros]

If you want to enter an alternate reality for six days, Paris Fashion Week is the place to do it.

When I board my Eurostar from St Pancras on a rainy Tuesday, I'm not sure what to expect from Menswear Spring/Summer 25.

The usual cohort of bleary-eyed commuters from London is this time interspersed with sunglass clad models and frazzled looking PR professionals, desperately trying to keep on top of their emails.

Emily Ratajkowski at Loewe at Paris Fashion Week
Model Emily Ratajkowski made an appearance at the Loewe show [Alexandra Mavros]

Paris is a changing city - despite being notorized for its art and romance, it has evolved over the decades into a savvy business hub, but one area it will always maintain its devotion to is being one of the greatest fashion scenes on the planet.

And Parisians take their commitment to the cause very seriously, as one stylist told me while surrounded by at least 15 Russian models: "It's a fashion week afterparty, of course we have to go in wearing sunglasses."

Louis Vuitton: Pharrell Williams takes over Unesco

Anna Wintour sits front row at the Louis Vuitton Menswear show
Anna Wintour sits front row at the Louis Vuitton Menswear show [Johanna Geron, Reuters]

Twice a year, designer brands from all backgrounds descend on the city and historic buildings are temporarily co-opted; all for the love of fashion.

One such building is the Unesco building, home to the unveiling of Louis Vuitton's new collection under the creative direction of Pharrell Williams.

As one of the most acclaimed luxury brands in the world, the anticipation at the show matches its surroundings.

Murmerings about star appearance echo the streets, as fans queue down the block, pressing against barriers and standing on tree trunks to catch a glimpse of the show's VIPs.

Pharrell Williams walks the Louis Vuitton PFW runway
Pharrell Williams was appointed Louis Vuitton's Men's Creative Director in 2023 [Reuters]

The front row includes Anna Wintour, Sabrina Carpenter, Burna Boy, Stormzy, Loyle Carner, Tems and Michael Fassbender.

The show celebrates athletic prowess, with reworked football jerseys throughout the designs and nods to the upcoming Olympic Games.

At the finale, Williams comes out looking jubilant, mobbed by a crowd of Louis Vuitton crew members wearing denim jackets emblazoned with “The World is Yours”.

Prototypes: Kanye West's favourite brand

If Louis Vuitton is a sophisticated older brother, Prototypes is its' rebellious younger sister.

Much like Louis Vuitton, Prototypes pulls its inspiration from the sports and a devotion to football which borders on religious.

The key difference here is that this younger sibling clearly spends her weekends deep in the Berlin clubbing scene. Prototypes is a brand that speaks to the alternative fashion movement.

Models backstage at the Prototypes show adapt to their face coverings
Models backstage at the Prototypes show adapt to their face coverings [Alexandra Mavros]

Since its launch in 2021, it has collected star studded fans such as Playboi Carti and Noah Cyrus. As I sit waiting for the show to start, I ask a journalist why the show is running an hour late?" She turns and says: "You didn't hear? Because Kanye's coming."

The controversial rapper has championed the brand since its inception. His public appearances with his wife, Bianca Censori, have caused a stir over the past few years and it has now been revealed that these looks have been the work of Prototypes designers.

This is no exception when the pair arrive at the Paris show: West's face was completely hidden in an outfit resembling a beekeeper, whilst Censori modeling a sheer nude bodysuit replete with pink hair.

 Kanye West and Bianca Censori attend the Prototypes Menswear Spring/Summer 2025 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on June 19, 2024 in Paris, France
Kanye West covered his face as he appeared with his wife Bianca Censori [Getty Images]
Model wearing tights backstage at the PFW prototypes show
Chaos reigns during finishing touches backstage at Paris Fashion Week [Alexandra Mavros]

Audience members are dressed equally alternatively - alongside Kanye, one front-rower is in full drag as a scantily clad, black-eyed, sexy demon.

The runway begins and the moody, experimental collection blurs the boundaries between ready to wear and only for runway.

Looks vary from dark, moody streetwear to dystopian face coverings and hoods that carried an air of protest - suitable for the last few months France has had.

A model backstage at the Prototypes show during Paris Fashion Week
The atmosphere backstage at Prototypes is quietly chaotic [Alexandra Mavros]

Quiet luxury: System & HOMME PLISSÉ ISSEY MIYAKE

By contrast, the shows at both System and HOMME PLISSÉ ISSEY MIYAKE are dreamy and soothing.

System, a Korean brand known for its clean lines and modest layers, set stage at a construction site with high ceilings and mist machines.

The theme of HOMME PLISSÉ ISSEY MIYAKE is 'Up, Up, and Away!' and the open air runway is ethereal, colourful and sophisticated.

The sophistication is what people expect, as I overhear on the way to the show: "There won't be celebrities at Issey. It's a very elegant brand."

Models pose for the camera backstage at System
Louis Vuitton, Dior, Hermes, Rick Owens, Loewe, Kenzo and Dries Van Noten all introduce new collections in Paris [Alexandra Mavros]

A$AP Rocky's fashion week debut

A real highlight of the week is A$AP Rocky's off-calendar show. The rapper's creative agency AWGE host a show named "American Sabotage", which pushes the boat out even further, filling a French mansion with political posters and rap music.

Designs make pointed references to political discontent and social unrest. In a turn of events that is so ironic that it feels choreographed, despite being asked to arrive at 7pm, guests line the streets waiting to enter for almost an hour.

Being fashion week, many have chosen their outfits based on fashion over function and resultantly, are now standing around on the street in oversized jackets, head-dresses and impractically high heels.

As it's also mid-June, the sweat is kicking in and people are getting restless.

Tensions rise as a series of immaculately-clad punters show up, walk straight past the agitated queue and insist they are VIPs and should be let straight in. They are overheard saying: "Surely I don't need to queue... right?" as they confidently skip the crowds.

In true Parisian form, they are told the same thing as everyone else and sent straight to the back of the line, which now wraps around the block, past everyone they overtook.

The cherry on top of this deliciously entertaining cake happens when the "l’éboueurs" (bin-men) arrive and the smell of refuse that has been standing in the heat all day wafts through the queue.

When guests are finally let in, the show makes up for the blip tenfold, offering guests a multi-sensory experience, packed with glamour, activism, an impeccable soundtrack and politically charged cakes.

Model wearing a shirt saying 'Don't be dumb' at A$AP Rocky's PFW show
A 'political satire': A$AP Rocky unveils his new collection for AWGE: 'American Sabotage' [Alexandra Mavros]

The second ever runway show from 032c magazine

Berlin-based culture magazine 032c invites guests to experience fashion week through the eyes of its co-founder Maria Koch. Koch transports the audience to an underground, glam-rock New York club in the nineties, under flashing lights and heavy bass lines.

Models with slicked back hair, sunglasses and heavy eye makeup donned leather, structured lines and sequins - crossing the lines between Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, David Bowie, and Neo from the Matrix.

The star studded runway line-up includes: Stella Maxwell, Yasmin Wijnaldum, Alex Consani and Gabbriette Bechtel, who recently announced her engagement to the 1975's Matty Healy at a Charli XCX chow.

 Models walk finale of the runway during the 032C Menswear Spring/Summer 2025 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on June 20, 2024 in Paris, France
Sunglasses were an accessory of several looks in the 032c show [Getty Images]

Dries Van Noten's last ever show

The crown jewel of this season's fashion week is, no doubt, Dries Van Noten's final show. The designer's first show took place in 1991 and after 33 years of gradually becoming everyone's favourite, he announced this Menswear week would be his last.

Much of the chatter during the final days centred around how grand the final show would be, who would be in attendance, and whether there would be a dry eye in the house by the end.

As expected, the Belgian designer does not disappoint. I arrive at the venue on the outskirts of Paris, where usually quiet industrial streets are now filled with blacked out taxis and supercars.

We move towards the vast warehouse that stands before us and I am reminded of a funeral procession. The atmosphere is palpable, as another journalist tells me: "It's Dries Van Noten's final show. Are you ready to cry?"

As I enter the venue, I'm mesmerised by the sheer scale of it. In the centre of the room, which has ceilings that easily stand at three storeys tall, from floor to ceiling stands a huge cube.

Upon it, huge images of various runway shows over the years are projected. I am transfixed by his use of colour, movement and the joy on the faces of the models.

Images of Dries Van Noten's runways are displayed on a huge block in the centre of the room at the pre-show cocktail party
Images of Dries Van Noten's runways are displayed on a huge block in the centre of the room at the pre-show cocktail party [Georgia Bell]

This is a clear legacy show and the guest list at the cocktail dinner is living proof. As I overhear when I walk in: "Oh my god. That's Diane Von Furstenburg. In the same room as Martin Margiela and Venus Williams. I think my head is about to explode."

I walk through and scan the crowd around me and soon enough, my head too feels about ready to explode.

After Dries' generously warms up his guests on champagne, entrees and industry chatter, the lights dim and one of the huge curtains surrounding the back opened.

Voices of the thousands of attendees reduced to a hush and the room moved like a magnet towards the opening.

As I step through the entrance what stands before me blows my mind. The runway is like nothing I have ever seen: it is at least half a mile long and stands proudly, covered in aluminium taffetta.

The sheer distance of it obscures faces into pin pricks and the warehouse that houses it could easily house enough livestock to feed a small country.

Belgian fashion Designer Dries Van Noten greets the audience at the end of the presentation of his Spring/Summer 2025 Menswear Collection during Paris Fashion Wee
Van Noten stands at the end of his enormous runway [EPA]

As the show starts, a booming voiceover transports the audience to Van Noten's imagination.

The monologue muses about time, age, love and change.

The models Van Noten has selected mark the passage of time, some have been with the label since its early shows in the 1990s, such as Alain Goussin.

The designer is usually known to have models come down the runway playfully, sometimes even running or on bicycles. This time, they walk calmly and reflectively.

The looks include efferverscent coats and suits, large distressed bags and gender neutral shorts.

Some designs have a distinctly Japanese style, using a technique called "suminagishi", which layers ink onto water which is absorbed by the fabric and dates back 1,000 years.

Using this technique, Van Noten seamlessly combines shapes of flowers and fire - akin to the Japanese word for fireworks "hanabi".

The collection plays with soft, pastel tones and the occasional pop of Metallics - perhaps to symbolise Van Noten's transition into his golden years.

In a final press release, Van Noten comments: "This is my 219th show; like the previous ones it looks ahead. Tonight is many things, but it is not a grand finale."

Van Noten writes: "I think about how Marcelo Mastroianni once spoke of a paradoxical “Nostalgia del futuro,” beyond the lost paradises imagined by Proust, and how we continue to pursue our dreams knowing that, at some point, we can look back on them with love."

In their wake, models kick up the runway's foil, sending remnants swirling into the atmosphere, like the legacy left behind by Van Noten's career.

Designer Dries Van Noten walks towards giant disco ball paris fashion week
Dries Van Noten unveils a giant disco ball on his final farewell to fashion week [ Andre Pain, EPA]

On the grand finale, David Bowie's "Sound and Vision" plays out and I'm left stuck on the lyric: “Nothing to read. Nothing to say”, which seems to remark on Van Noten’s certainty that this is the right time to step away.

Ever humble, the designer keeps his goodbye on the runway brief, before revealing his last surprise for his guests: an enormous 1300kg two-storey rotating disco ball has been hidden behind curtains inside the centre of the cocktail room. Guests are invited to stay for the afterparty, as Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" accompanies bubbling champagne bottles being popped.

Much like Dries Van Noten's last hurrah, Paris Fashion Week ends on a high and leaves us wanting more.