Paris is the legendary world capital of fashion, having enjoyed such lofty status since the 18th century courts of Louis XIV and the appearance of the first celebrity designer Charles Frederick Worth. From inception, France’s skilled artisans have shown their work in one way or another, beginning with couture salon shows popularized in the 1950s and, later, organizing under the umbrella of Fashion Week in 1973.
Over the past 70 years, Paris presentations have gone from intimate gatherings in the designers’ own salons – where patrons could interact with the models and even touch the clothes – to immense and expensively staged industry-facing events. The scenes outside of the Paris Fashion Week shows today – with its cadre of stylish celebrities and influencers posing for a bank of photographers – pale in contrast to the quietly attended affairs of yesteryear.
In our throwback gallery below, Savoir Flair introduces you to the evolution of Paris Fashion Week over the decades, from the days before the front row was packed with celebrities to the decade in which the supermodel and the celebrity designer reached their peak.
The front row looked a lot different back in the 1950s. Instead of celebrities, it was populated with veteran editors and clients.
Back in the 1950s, many designers – like Jacques Fath – staged static presentations in their salons instead of catwalk shows at Paris Fashion Week.
A model wearing a 1951 design inside Elsa Schiaparelli’s salon of Louise Chéruit at 21 Place Vendôme, which she cheekily called the “Schiap Shop”.
Back then, a Paris Fashion Week show was a much more hands-on experience, although models were warned to not let patrons feel beneath the clothes to see how they were constructed.
Designers were much more hands on back then, too. Here is Pierre Balmain in 1951, giving his model the once-over before she walks the runway.
Although Paris Fashion Week’s after-parties of today are a raucous affair, the most exciting fêtes back in the 1950s involved candlelit dinners and an evening of ballroom dancing.
The 1960s saw a distinct move towards more liberated designs, including the mini dress, shown here in 1967 at the Hyperbole show in Paris.
Paco Rabanne was one of the city’s most avant-garde designers in the 1960s, ushering in futurism with the use of plastic sheeting and strange, wonderful volumes.
The 1960s is when “It” girls started getting international recognition. While London claimed the most – from Jean Shrimpton and Mary Quant to Twiggy and Marianne Faithful – Paris had the inimitable fashion icon Catherine Deneuve.
André Courrèges helped define the Space Age of fashion in the 1960s, creating the very first go-go boot in a gleaming silver finish.
Bill Gibb might not be remembered by many today, but in 1970, he was named the designer of the year and made extraordinary full-skirted looks that made him the talk of Paris.
Kenzo Takada of the eponymous brand Kenzo has been a fixture on the Paris Fashion Week scene since 1961, although his brand is now run by Carol Lim and Humberto Leon. Here he is in 1978, staging one of the most buzzed-about shows in Paris, which was held in a literal circus tent.
No designer during the 1970s in Paris was more famous or more beloved than Yves Saint Laurent. Here is a vivid printed look from his 1979 YSL ‘Rive Gauche’ collection.
Where Bianca Jagger went, so did the party. Fortunately, she was a fixture in the front row at Yves Saint Laurent and a devotee of his legendary after-parties.
Cher was always ahead of her time. Here, she is wearing a sequin and feather gown to a Paris Fashion Week party that looks like it has just stepped off the Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2017 runway.
Sonia Rykiel rose to fame in the 1970s due to her comfortable-knitwear approach to high fashion.
In the 1970s, American designers started showing in Paris for the first time. Halston captured audiences with his forward-thinking modernity. Here is Angelica Huston walking in his show in 1972.
Before he was at Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld designed for Chloé, redefining the house with a bohemian aesthetic. Here is a swimwear look from his Spring/Summer 1974 collection.
Many Italian designers found it impossible to break into the Paris Fashion Week scene, but Valentino was among the first, showing his first collection at PFW in 1975. He attracted tons of celebrities to his label, like Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, who are pictured here at a Valentino after-party.
When it came to couture in the 1980s, Christian Lacroix topped the list. Here is a look from his Fall 1988 couture presentation.
Claude Montana’s sensible designs refined some of the more dramatic elements of the 1980s into wearable looks. Here is a shot of models strolling post-show in 1981.
Sonia Rykiel continued to break ground on the Paris fashion scene with collections that were fashionable, but political. Here, she riffs on Arab culture with references to One Thousand and One Nights.
In 1984, Yves Saint Laurent occupied top billing and was among the first to show diverse model casting on his runway.
1983 signifies the first year that Karl Lagerfeld joined Chanel, thereby becoming Yves Saint Laurent’s biggest rival on the Paris fashion scene. Here’s a look from his first collection for the brand.
It was a toss-up between who threw the better after-party: Yves Saint Laurent or Karl Lagerfeld. Here, you can see Saint Laurent dancing at Club 78 in Paris after a show with Diana Ross. He was frequently in the company of other “It” girls like Bianca Jagger and Jerry Hall.
Speaking of supermodels: long before there was Kendall, there was Kate Moss. She was – and possibly still is – one of the world’s most famous models, and her sizzling romance with Johnny Depp in 1990 helped heat up Paris Fashion Week.
Extravagant staging grew to new heights under the direction of John Galliano at Dior. His spoof on ancient Egypt for Fall/Winter 1997 was a huge crowd-pleaser.
A young Karl Lagerfeld walks the finale for Chanel’s 1993 show flanked by supermodels Helena Christensen and Cindy Crawford.
Supermodels of the 90s were like royalty, and two of the queens were Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, pictured here after walking the Paris runways in 1990.
Yves Saint Laurent appears at his 1993 show with Lucie de la Falaise, the daughter of his longtime muse Loulou de la Falaise.
The iconic 90s grunge movement, which started in Seattle and was co-opted by Marc Jacobs for the New York catwalks, eventually reached Paris by way of Jean Paul Gaultier’s 1998 show.