I Bullshitted My Way to the Top of Paris Fashion Week
Pierre Klein, Cuggi, Lewis Vooton.
Like shit jewellery and "I <3 Kush" caps, knock-off brands are a staple of market stalls around the world. And on my many travels around these stalls, there's one brand I've come across more than any other: Georgio Peviani.
Google the name of this apparently Italian man and you'll find page after page of his denim jeans. But he doesn't exist, obviously. He's absolutely a knock-off. But who for? If it's Armani, Peviani isn't benefitting from the brand association; the logo looks nothing like Armani's. Whatever: people are buying his stuff nonetheless. He has a brand in his own right and is doing everything a designer should do. Apart from existing. There's a void where he should be.
I'm going to fill that void: become Georgio Peviani and help him fulfil his potential, by becoming the toast of an industry fake enough to be deceived by a fake man. I'm taking Georgio Peviani to Paris Fashion Week.
BECOMING GEORGIO PEVIANI
The first step: buying the domain to www.georgiopeviani.com.
Touchy, I know, but given the whole "this man doesn't actually exist" thing, I'm not expecting a rap at the door from a team of lawyers.
Within ten minutes of faffing about, I have something – something that says literally nothing, but looks good. That's what matters, right? Oh, and a new email, firstname.lastname@example.org, which brings me onto my next move.
As good as a passport. The final step is acquiring some of Georgio's products to show off, so I head to Brixton Market to pick out a few pairs of premier Peviani.
DAY ONE: GEORGIO HAS LANDED
I've never been to Paris before, so I cross the city on foot to get my bearings. Also, I've absolutely no idea where fashion week is taking place, so there's no point getting the Metro anywhere. I'm hoping I'll bump into someone wearing a very complex skirt and some of those Balenciaga lost property trainers and just follow them to the shows.
I've been following the resiliently distant shape of the Eiffel Tower for over an hour when, suddenly, a surge of colour spills down the steps of an old hotel: a show has just finished. I enter the swarm of 6ft people in bright yellow puffer jackets and hats that cost more than my rent; the bloggers with their heads down, thumbing into phones. The crowd is dispersing in a million different directions, slipping through my fingers, when I feel a tap on the shoulder.
"Bonjour, monsieur! J'adore vos vêtements!"
A man dressed head to toe in denim, holding his belt buckle like a prospector, is staring at me, expressionless. I hand him a card and ask what he made of the show. "I watched the show from here." He points at where he's standing.
I ask him, nonchalantly, if he knows where to head for fashion week. He pulls out a scruffy piece of paper covered in scribbled addresses. "Palais Brongniart." I look at his map of locations, making a note of Vivienne Westwood tomorrow, before, suddenly, his spine straightens. "Commes Des Garcons, the Russian embassy!" He taps his watch and opens his side bag, allowing me a peek of a Vladimir Lenin costume: "I must get changed!"
Before I can thank my guide, he's gone.
I get to Palais Brongniart and security shepherds me toward reception. "I'm sorry, monsieur, but we're going to need some identification and credentials." Without saying a word, I toss my card on the desk. The lady taps away at a laptop, speaking French rapidly with a colleague. After a hushed discussion, they return.
And I receive the badge and her apology with a huff.
While I expected that "summer holidays!" hue you find at film or music festivals, this is more like a networking event organised by Boxpark. Outside, I get chatting to somebody who looks to be enjoying themselves. I'll later learn she's renown for being one of the first digital influencers in the fashion industry, and is now a respected creative director.
"You don't know Peviani?" I ask. She shakes her head. "Let's just say streetwear is a religion, and Peviani constantly sins." She raises an eyebrow. "Peviani… as in you? That explains the photographer." I say VICE is doing a feature on me as a widely-sold but unknown anomaly.
We swap cards and she recommends a party I could go to in just over an hour that will be swamped with press. Peviani has levelled up.
I follow the absent patter, snarling at jokes in languages I don't understand. These people are beneath Peviani; he doesn't care for them. In the corner, however, I spot somebody striking.
"I need to see you in these."
German menswear model Jean takes the Peviani trousers and disappears behind a curtain.
"I really love them. It's so populist. You designed this?"
I nod. Everybody is glaring. Jean lets on to an event that sounds far more suited to Peviani's tastes than this, and as he truly can't bear these squares any longer, he heads out into the Parisian night.
Through the narrow alleys near Bonne-Nouvelle station, I happen upon a huddle outside an inconspicuous door, throbbing with Balearic beat.
Inside, I'm met by a slender Italian guy. "Mickey," he smiles. "Georgio."
Mickey launches into a flurry of Italian. I nod, making Italian sounds, quickly requesting that we speak English so my photographer can understand. Turns out he's not only the designer of this collection, but also highly from Italy. I let him know I'm a designer too, and all of a sudden I'm being carted around the party.
People look confused, and it dawns on me that I've fallen into the only task more impossible than convincing fashion people I'm a fashion designer: trying to convince Italians that I – man with head made of ham, voice-box forged on the outskirts of Birmingham – am Italian.
Eventually I'm led to an industry buyer from Milan. Somebody who has the power to put Georgio on every butt in Bologne. "Georgio Peviani." She stops and closes her eyes, taking a deep breath through her nose. "The way you pronounce your name, Peviani, makes me want to cry." Bad start.
Name pronunciation aside, I ask if she'd buy my wares.
"Would I buy this? It depends on the clients. But remember: Milan couture is different. It is haute couture." She's crushing me. "However, I love the structure here; I love the shapes." She looks closer. "I can see you've done your research with this button – it's very beautiful. I love these initials too."
I hand over a card, finish my drink and make for the exit. Day one: success.
DAY TWO: AIMING FOR THE STARS
I wake up early and switch on the news. I can't see Peviani anywhere – it's all Rick Owens. I need to go bigger. Working up an appetite, I email every fashion PR office here. Something else appears on the news and I smell opportunity: Getty Images have banned the "touching up" of images. If the world wants more un-edited flesh, I'm going to give it to them.
Today needs to start on a big win: finding a way into the Vivienne Westwood show.
Security is tight. All the paps are flocking around this person.
After striking a pose, I follow her toward the door, half pretending to link arms. I take a deep breath and clutch onto my Peviani name tag. Don't let me down now, Georgio.
We're in! I peer across the front row of A-list names – the editor of Vogue, model Arizona Muse – before discreetly placing Georgio cards on each of their seats. I spy an opportunity.
I'm not exactly sure who that is, but if he's on the front row he's got to be important.
The show kicks off.
I hang back as the room empties. It becomes a mess of naked models and Westwood's staff sipping bubbles. I get chatting to a guy dressed in a Thatcher-esque power suit and ask about the team's plans for later. "Alexa Chung's," he replies. "You got the invite handy?" He holds it out on his phone and forwards it over.
Outside, flashes spark in my face. People think I'm a big deal, and I'm beginning to believe it myself. Around the corner, I'm stopped by a group of women dressed like love interests from Miami Vice.
Influencers, flown in from Brazil, especially to report on the hot new things at Paris Fashion Week. And baby, it looks as though Raquel Minelli – she of 627,000 Instagram followers – has taken a shine to Peviani's threads.
Peviani, being broadcast to this influencer's followers all over the globe, via an Instagram story. I can barely believe it; the dream is happening. With the digital world in my hands, I have an after party to conquer.
This place is filled with the coolest kids the fashion industry has to hand. I need to blend in, seamlessly.
"Mark my words," I say to a man I've just met, crossing my Iceland frozen chicken legs, folding my dolphin fin knees, "the next ten years are going to be all about PunkyFish and Peviani. PunkyFish, Peviani: the new Cavalli and Kors."
The guy purses his lips. This is the vibe of the party.
All of a sudden, somebody flings themselves onto the bouncy castle, and every head in my vicinity turns. It's Alexa Chung. I realise that to be a true icon, all eyes must be on you. I need to amp things up.
Stepping off the bouncy castle, I notice the perfect chance to make my mark.
I introduce myself, and Alexa repeats my name back to me (admittedly, with a lot of prompting, but still).
Georgio Peviani is quite literally on the tongue of one of the most influential people in the fashion industry.
Hours pass, drinks flow. Things get hazy. Peviani mixes with the trendsetters and trailblazers of modern Paris. I'm left with little more than the memories of balconies, bars and the rising sun of–
DAY THREE: THE EMPEROR'S NEW DRESS
I wake up, late, with a head like a kicked-in toilet and an inbox full of emails. An invitation to Lutz Huelle; a suggested coffee date from designer Esther Maud; a seat at the Masha Ma show at YOYO Palais de Tokyo. But there is one that I just can't believe.
I've cracked the influencers, the hip and the stars, but this is a private viewing of the brand new collection of one of Paris' most prestigious designers, Véronique Leroy. It's an opportunity to access the impenetrable upper echelons of the capital's scene.
I arrive at the address and an older lady with a slender face and dusty long blonde hair meets me. "Georgio!" We kiss both cheeks. With her black netted dress and white tights, she looks like an illustration from a Pink Panther book.
We enter a beautiful 17th century Parisian flat – the kind of place that looks bare without a thick cloud of cigarette smoke. An older South-East Asian gentleman and a younger lady, both in full Prada suits, study catalogues. Two 6ft models are there to try on anything we want to see them in. I have no idea what I'm doing.
I sip coffee, manically, and yell out looks from the board.
This is OK, but what would an icon do?
"This dress – it's stunning! How much?"
"I'd like to try it on. I've got an awards ceremony soon and I want to make an impact. I'm the Young Thug of fashion." The woman tries to hide confusion, before disappearing off behind a curtain. After ten minutes of going back and forth, voila:
I'm floating around a Parisian flat, surrounded by millionaires, wearing a dress worth more than all my clothes combined. The senior seller whispers, "You look lovely."
I feel as though I've reached a higher plane of privilege. Georgio is now a man whose name and Casper the Friendly Ghost legs will be vaguely remembered by designers, influencers and fashion fans worldwide. He is a man who, as far as Paris is concerned, exists.
I'm ready to leave him here.
END OF DAYS: WHO IS GEORGIO PEVIANI?
After spending three days living as Georgio, I'd found a lot of answers to a lot of questions, yet there's one that's consistently evaded me: who, really, is Georgio Peviani?
Back home in London, I decide to do what I'd normally do: google it. Three pages in, I see something – a trademark, taken out in 1996, which expired last year, and an Aldgate address underneath it. Bingo.
Tucked away off Whitechapel Road is my apparent target: Denim World. I enter, and see in front of me a treasure trove of dungarees, combat jackets, jeans and jorts. Looking closer, every single item is Georgio Peviani. I approach the counter. "Does Georgio Peviani work here?" I ask, and they split off, leaving one – who looks like the patriarch – shaking his head. "Oh, but you sell a lot of his stuff?" He looks perplexed. "Well, yes. That's because I made him up 30-odd years ago."
Adam left Zambia and arrived in Britain in 1982. He's been working in clothing ever since.
At some point in the early-90s he came up with the name Georgio Peviani, and liked it. Why? To him, it "sounded nice; sounded Italian". His favourite designer is Armani. Adam refers to the 1990s and early-2000s as "the peak of Peviani", and it's no surprise: at their height, they were selling 35,000 Georgio Peviani pieces a week, worldwide. They still sell all over the world.
"The thing I love about the brand is every Tom, Dick and Harry can afford it. It's not like Armani, where only certain elite people can afford them," he says. "It's been very successful for us. It's been what's kept this family and this business going all these years."
I begin to explain my fascination with Georgio, and then tell Adam my Paris story. He keels over with laughter. As we continue talking, something dawns on me: I'm no longer Georgio Peviani. I never was, really, but now I know who is. "You're Georgio Peviani, aren't you, Adam?"
Adam bursts into laughter. His colleagues join in, and I follow.
"I'm as close as you'll ever find."
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