Paris Fashion Week’s biggest star wasn’t in the front row, but walking the catwalk. Cher, pop legend and new face (and elbow) of Balmain’s new handbag line, walked into the show’s finale wearing a silver spandex bodysuit, black platform boots and cheekbones that Comte could cut.

The show took place at the Stade Jean-Boin stadium in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, chosen for its capacity rather than its location. The audience was almost 8,000 people, members of creative director Olivier Rousteing’s so-called Balmain Army, who bought tickets with a donation to Red. The event was called a festival rather than a show for good reason. They also served refreshments.

Democracy – and food – is not the norm at Paris Fashion Week where closed doors, champagne and front-row scrabbles are par for the course. But Rusting’s commercial success – he’s entering his second decade at the label – is largely based on giving people what they want. And this season, that means over 100 different looks, including dresses woven from straw and raffia, bustiers made from sustainably harvested chestnut bark, Renaissance imagery and, of course, Cher.

Rousteing’s collection, which veered from glittering ready-to-wear to couture, addressed his fear of “a dystopian future”, the recent outbreak of drought and wildfires in France. “I’m sure I wasn’t the only one asking fundamental questions about the possible dystopian future that awaits us,” he said. Balmain isn’t a label known for subtlety – the final look was a silk dress covered in flames – but the feeling was there.

One designer adept at addressing climate change through her clothes is Gabriela Hirst, creative director of French label Chloé, whose legendary “Chloé Girl” customer will also be doom-dressing for spring 2023.

After last season’s “chapter” on rewilding, a relatively tame show that featured melting icebergs on totes and pretty knits, Hearst’s focus turned to phasing out fossil fuels and fusion energy. The collection was inspired by both the function and shape of the tokamak, a complex machine specifically designed to harness the energy of fusion.

On the catwalk itself, the clothes were more wearable than tech, with sweeping coats and hats made from raw silk and linen, complete with blink-and-you-miss hardware fastenings. Trousers were wide, suit jackets were heavy, and crocheted dresses were floor-skimming. Proof that the Y2k trend isn’t going anywhere? Rev trousers, as Hirst called them in her notes, were finished with eyelets. Like the rest of Paris, there was plenty of leather – from biker jackets to babydoll dresses to vests. Everything came in white, black, or red, except for the bright fuchsia suit inspired by the color created by plasma fusion. For durability, Hurst’s leathers came from French farms and all other materials were 100% traceable.

Showcasing collections from the Pavillon Vendôme, a 19th-century event center (and former home of the poet, Baudelaire), the staging itself was almost too dystopian. The Tron-esque light installation looked impressive but meant that the clothes could be seen on half of the catwalk, leaving the audience in the dark at times. Yet, as fashion plays into global understanding of climate change, perhaps this was the point.

This article was amended on 29 September 2022 to correct the spelling of Olivier Rousteing’s surname.

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