Just when attending fashion shows in Paris seems staid - the Carrousel du Louvre on the rue de Rivoli, the same sea of faces in the front row, Davé and other regular restaurants - a mild rewiring happens that turns the system on its head. Two years ago, who would have ever predicted that Celine would become the new piping-hot label and that the entire fashion flock would be travelling to the edgy area of Bercy to see Sonia Rykiel, Valentino and Hermès?
Thanks to the British designer Phoebe Philo, formerly at Chloé, Celine has truly jazzed up its bourgeois image and is outshining Balenciaga, Balmain and Givenchy as the hip, wearable fashion house. Celine is this season's happy news. But seeing the collections in Bercy is bad news. As opposed to being central and near the Louvre, many key shows were at the Halle Freyssinet on the Boulevard Vincent Auriol. "Bercy is our daily nightmare," says Virginie Mouzat, Le Figaro newspaper's critic. "I'm baffled," admits The New York Times's Guy Trebay. "The place is like a garage and the area is the sort of place where you get mugged."
With the financial climate - many fashion editors and journalists are on limited budgets, staying at cheaper hotels and sharing taxis as opposed to having chauffeur-driven cars - it is presumed that the Halle Freyssinet must be cheaper. However, Didier Grumbach, the president of the Chambre Syndicale, the organisation that creates Paris's fashion schedule, claims otherwise. "It's absolutely not a question of money," he says. "It's about finding a space which suits the designers and where you can seat 2,000 people safely in Paris. With the internet and relatively new territories like China and Russia, we have to deal with many more people than before."
The good news is that come October, Halle Freyssinet will have proper amenities - "We're aware that the venue is unsophisticated," Grumbach says - and that key shows will be central. Still, not all the designers went further afield. Giambattista Valli and Nina Ricci's Peter Copping showed on the Place Vendôme; Chloé, Victor & Rolf and Karl Lagerfeld chose the Tuileries gardens, Givenchy's Riccardo Tischi transformed the Lycée Carnot in the 17th arrondissement, whereas both Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel flexed their financial muscles by unveiling their collections in the impressive Grand Palais.
Anna Wintour left early. But with or without her, the front row was groundhog-day predictable, filled with the likes of American Vogue's Grace Coddington, the International Herald Tribune's Suzy Menkes, French Vogue's Carine Roitfeld and Emmanuelle Alt, the New York Times critic Cathy Horyn, Italian Vogue's Carla Sozzani and Numero magazine's Babette Dijan. Black and further shades of black designer clothes seemed the norm. On the other hand, in-demand front-row fashionista fixtures, seated a few spaces down, pushed the present trend for grown-up, sporty clothes in classic colours. The fashion muse Astrid Muñoz hid her normally exposed limbs under a Giambattista Valli grey Shetland wool double-breasted trouser suit while MTV's "It-girl", Alexia Chung, was spotted in her signature platform clogs sporting a well-cut camel coat.
Grumbles aside about Bercy, it was actually a fun season. Merci - the barn-like boutique on Boulevard Beaumarchais - has joined Colette, Marie Luisa and Mona as another important Paris address. Fashion hang outs continue to be the bar at the Meurice, restaurants Cibus, Anahi, Davé, Caviar Kaspar and Le Castiglione whereas Mathi's and Le Montana remain the best places after dinner. And far from being recession-riddled, party-wise, Paris was rocking. Gareth Pugh, the British goth designer, joined forces with the DJ team PonyStep and provided bop-until-you-drop music at Le Baron.
Balenciaga's Nicolas Ghesquière invited models and friends to Le Montana and Copping threw a party at the Ritz's Salon d'Eté. But none was quite as extravagant as Victor & Rolf's party in the Meurice, celebrating the fifth anniversary of their international hit perfume, Flowerbomb. A thousand people were squashed into the ballroom and treated to a private concert by Grace Jones. Not only did she sing her greatest hits such as Slave to the Rhythm, she stripped down to a leotard and later told fans that she was the Lady Gaga of her time.
The following night, the furniture designer Vincent Darré invited le tout Paris to his shop Maison Darré - on rue Mont Thabor - to launch Olympia Le Tan's new line of minaudières called Boîtes de Nuit. Both Dior's Victoire de Castellane and Suzy Menkes ordered bags. On March 6, Max Mara's chief executive, Luigi Maramotti, gave a cosy dinner at Caviar Kaspar where photographers such as Mario Sorrenti and Gilles Bensimon ate caviar-covered baked potatoes with their favourite editors such as Roitfeld.
Then Sunday night saw the brand new Turkish Vogue's international launch party in the Crillon Hotel's ballroom, where Seda Dominic greeted fellow Vogue editors-in-chief, fashion designers and a slew of party girls, many wearing Balmain, Givenchy and tottering in sky-high Christian Louboutin sandals.