It was the standout coup of Paris fashion week. Balenciaga secured a catwalk debut from Homer and Marge Simpson, accompanied by Bart, Lisa and Maggie. Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Justin Bieber joined Anna Wintour to applaud from the front row.
A fashion week crowd who arrived at the Théâtre du Châtelet expecting a catwalk show were entertained, instead, with a special 10-minute episode of The Simpsons in which the people of Springfield travelled to Paris to walk the Balenciaga runway.
The cartoon poked fun at the house’s outsize shoulder pads (Marge got stuck in a doorway in her dream gown) and costs (Homer almost fainted when he saw the dress’s $19,000 price tag). Homer developed a taste for snails in garlic butter, and took to wearing a single dangling earring and shoulder-robing his Puffa-style jacket.
Creative director Demna Gvasalia’s instinct that his guests would prefer an episode of The Simpsons to a traditional catwalk show was the boldest symbol of a tangible shift felt during this, the first Paris fashion week to return to a live format.
The red-roped elitism that fashion weeks all over the world have relied on to protect their status feels old-fashioned in an era that aspires to inclusivity. As society attempts to regroup and to bond after 18 months of distance and isolation, the more forward-thinking elements of fashion are working to mirror that mood.
At Valentino, each model walked a loop of an indoor venue packed with industry guests and then continued their route into the open air, where the catwalk extended around the cobblestoned streets of the Marais, so that Valentino fans and fashion students who had gathered to see guests and models arriving were served a front row view of the collection.
Similarly, the Chloé catwalk was staged on a bank of the Seine, positioned so that a neighbouring bridge provided a viewing platform for a large crowd of Parisians.
Balenciaga’s collaboration with The Simpsons, which teasingly parodied the design team as pouting, smoking, Emily-in-Paris French cliches, and showed Homer struggling to pronounce the brand name (“Is that Balenciagaga?”) was the most eye-catching example of an industry that is realising it could be time to ditch the pomp.
The episode was also a dream come true for Gvasalia, a Simpsons fan since his childhood in the former Soviet Union.
The cartoon was only half of the immersive pop-cultural experience that was the Balenciaga show. The screening was preceded by red carpet arrivals, in which guests including Cardi B, model Amber Valletta and photographer Juergen Teller were photographed by paparazzi in Balenciaga’s new collection as they crossed the red carpet outside the theatre in front of screaming crowds. The audience seated inside saw the clothes on a 20-minute livestream of red carpet arrivals instead of being shown them on a runway.
The clothes were the classics of modern Balenciaga, all XXL Puffa-style jackets and dagger-sharp shoulders. Cardi B wore a dress printed with gossip magazine covers. But this was less about new season clothes, and more about a whole new era of fashion as entertainment.