BRITISH VOGUE – Zayn Malik’s arrival at Paris Fashion Week was not without incident. At about 8:30pm on Friday evening, a slow-moving car ran over his toes. Malik was exiting Kenzo’s autumn/winter 2024 show at the Bibliothèque Nationale, where a small army of Directioners had mobilised, precipitating a minor roadblock. That would have been enough to send anyone – particularly those of an introverted disposition – back into relative isolation. But there he was: on Saturday’s front rows, seemingly content with being perceived in public for the first time in five years. “My foot is fine!! Thanks to my incredibly well-made shoes,” Malik later explained on Instagram, captioning a photo of his tyre-marked Kenzo sneakers. It is the most deft use of the Paid Partnership tag I have ever seen.
Paris Fashion Week (which is perhaps the most accurate barometer of who and what is considered to be culturally relevant), fulfils a secondary purpose: to launch and relaunch the careers of its attendees. It is a place to see and be seen, and perhaps even, make a cameo in a brand’s TikTok video. It tracks, then, that Malik should choose the white heat of the men’s shows to re-emerge from a period of seclusion. Just as his new film – in which he voices a pair of animated bumblebees – debuts at the Sundance Film Festival, and less than a week after he released a single in Urdu with the Pakistani pop trio Aur. “It’s a busy time so you have to take care of yourself,” the musician, who has sometimes chafed against the demands of fame, says, sitting in a luxe suite at the Bulgari Hotel. “So I brought my mum with me. It’s always nice to have things that remind you of home when you’re away.” A moment, please, for product placement: “And, of course, I’m always drinking Mixoloshe,” he adds. “It keeps me young!”
Malik’s comeback reached its apotheosis when he arrived at Valentino’s Le Ciel autumn/winter 2024 show in a suit bearing the words, “We’re So Old, We Have Become Young Again”, which is a phrase that first appeared in Hanya Yanagihara’s 736-page invocation of human suffering A Little Life, but could just as feasibly have been plucked from One Direction’s teenybopper songbook. (Specific enough to inspire yearning, broad enough for anyone to insert themselves into.) “Funnily enough, the first fashion show I ever attended was Valentino nine years ago,” Malik says. “But I think, over the years, my knowledge of fashion has expanded. I have a lot more appreciation for it. Pierpaolo is incredible and Valentino never misses in my opinion.” At some point between our conversation and his arrival at the brand’s Monnaie de Paris step and repeat, Malik’s quiff was razed into a handsome short back and sides – a bit like when a bride gets a haircut midway through her wedding day.
And judging from Malik’s hastily-taken photos from the front row – squint and you might be able to distinguish a series of crystalline worker jackets from Pierpaolo Piccioli’s laser-cut Acanthus leaf coats – it was a collection that stirred due levels of anticipation. “There were so many great looks, but at the top of my wishlist were the long, cut-out coats,” Malik says. “Valentino always has class, it executes that edginess and luxury combination the best. When I was younger, I used to save up all my wages from the pizza shop I worked at so that I could afford to buy a new pair of trainers or a tracksuit. I was only able to get one piece every couple of weeks and it probably would have taken me a lifetime to buy a Valentino outfit! So I feel blessed and lucky that I get to wear the brand.” But there might have been another explanation for Malik’s spontaneous, erm, runway shots. “I was excited to see Lamar Johnson, who I was sitting next to. I didn’t want to bother him, but I’m a fan of his work! He’s such a great actor.”
All of this is to say: Zayn Malik is back. The sensitive and brooding boy band-survivor restored and ready to reclaim his title as a global heartthrob. Among the photos he shared with Vogue – which continue to point towards a certain camera shyness despite his fame – one image in particular paints a timeless portrait. In it, Malik is sitting in the backseat of a chauffeur-driven car as a blur of bystanders scrape their iPhones against the windows. He looks a little apprehensive. And so, I wonder how Malik manages to step outside of all this toe-crushing furore, now 14 years in the game. “The museums in Paris are full of beautiful art and talented artists,” he says, with all the earnestness that first saw him two-step into the hearts of millions of Directioners around the world. “I would highly recommend going to a few and viewing different works of art. It’s very inspiring!”