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Realists and dreamers compete at Haute Couture Week in Paris

By Jule Scott


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Valentino Couture Spring 2024 Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

The legitimacy of couture and its often ostentatious excess on show can occasionally attract scorn, especially in times when the couturier's work is far removed from many a person's reality. So much of what is shown at couture weeks nowadays, with celebrity front rows meticulously documented and shared by the millions on social media, seems to be spectacle without substance. So much so, that it’s easy to forget that the often times larger than life clothes that take hundreds of hours to make are ultimately meant to speak to the select few real life customers who can afford them.

While the select few who can afford said five-figure-dresses need to be seduced by what they see on a catwalk and be able to wear the creations, the rest of the world is at least invited to dream – and this season some designers have dared to dream big.

Realities and dreams rooted in the archives

At Dior, creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri struck a balance between the two extremes of the season, not quite dreaming but also not entirely rooted in most people's version of reality. For those who associate couture with a “the bigger, the better ''-mentality, the collection might have come up a little short, but good things come to those who wait. This is not to say that the first half of Dior’s couture collection, which saw the designer explore both plain cotton and moiré fabric, was the least disappointing, but there was a sense of restraint that is more than just a little unusual for couture – even though it came in the form of reinterpretation of Christian Dior’s 1952 La Cigal dress.

Dior Couture Spring 2024 Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

Likewise, Pierpaolo Piccioli took Haute Couture back to its origins with his spring 2024 collection, fittingly titled “Le Salon”. Models aptly strolled through rooms adorned with a singular line of seats, reminiscent of couture shows of the past, while for once, it seemed like the Italian designer was practising his version of restraint. In the world of Valentino, that still means plenty of volume and colour, though the much adored PP Pink and Valentino Red took a back seat to aqua, arctic blue, pale grey, pastel green and chartreuse coloured hues.

Daywear, such as an anorak, was sparingly intermixed throughout the collection and yet given a couture-esque look, not least due to the juxtaposition with big ball gown-skirts and otherworldly volume. While there was plenty of newness on the runway, proposing an effortless take on couture that was a feast for the eyes, compared to his couturier colleagues – and his own previous explorations – it was grounded in reality.

Valentino Couture Spring 2024 Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

Couture is usually not the reality for Simone Rocha who ventured into the highest echelon of fashion for the first time as a guest at Jean Paul Gaultier. There the Irish designer created a dialogue between her own twisted, sensual take on girlhood and Gaultier's legacy, subverting both his iconic conical bra and Breton top in the process. Kylie Jenner wearing a piece of the collection in the front row might have captivated most of the attention of the crowds on social media, but a closer look at the collection is equally, if not arguably more, captivating.

Every distinctive element of Jean Paul Gaultier's signature style found its place: Cones metamorphosed into thorny roses, striped jerseys embellished with bows and layers upon layers of tulle and satin were artfully combined to both conceal and reveal models' physiques. Rochas couture-debut in many ways felt like a fever dream of girlhood, its innocence, its rage and its power, all neatly wrapped up in a bow.

Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2024 Couture Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

Somewhere between fever dream, nightmare and creative genius was the couture-alien-baby that turned into this year's sensation at Schiaparelli. Of course, it would not be a Schiaparelli show if creative director Daniel Roseberry would not pull the newest viral fashion moment out of his hat like a mad hatter. Although this year's take was a little more demure than the hyper-realistic lion head of seasons past.

Partially inspired by his American roots, by the label's founder Elsa Schiaparelli and her uncle Giovanni and by director Ridley Scott’s film Alien from 1979, Roseberry created a collection that was a surreal mix of Martians, Cowboys and – once all the distractions were discarded for just a moment – almost austere but certainly luxurious black tie gowns and garments with a futuristic appeal, similar to those presented by Kim Jones at Fendi. Jones credited former Fendi designer Karl Lagerfeld as the source of inspiration for his futuristic take on couture that mainly centred around simplicity, organic geometry, and technical precision.

Schiaparelli Couture Spring 2024 Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight
Fendi Couture Spring 2024 Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

Technical precision, or rather technical perfection, was seen at Alaïa. Technically showing off-schedule, as is the norm for the brand and its creative director Pieter Mulier, the brand's spring/fall 2024 collection was not meant to be a couture collection and yet turned into a masterclass of wearable couture. The collection and it’s starting point, a single yarn of merino wool and the idea of a circle, were transformed into garments with triumphant textures and impossible shapes that nonetheless imbued simplicity and sex appeal, all while posing the question of how some garments could possibly drape on a models' physique like that. The answer, in the case of a black and white spiral-formed dress that resembled a snap bracelet, was a special type of 3D-printing.

Alaia Spring/Fall 2024 Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

A return to form for fashion’s fallen dreamer

A question much harder, and perhaps impossible to answer, comes with the figure of John Galliano at Maison Margiela. Galliano has long stepped out of the shadows of the house's founder Martin Margiela and his spring 2024 couture collection demonstrated his singular creative voice. The voice that made him one of the most lauded designers in the 90s and a voice that, to most of the fashion world, seemingly speaks louder than any past misgivings. For his latest Margiela collection, the British designer invited guests into a vault beneath the Pont Alexandre III bridge, creating the illusion of a decaying nightclub and with that, before the show even started, evoking memories of his glory days at Dior. Days so often still referenced in fashion schools and on mood boards alike.

There was no need for a glimpse of the collection to understand that Galliano was well and truly unearthing what once was at the core of his fashion theatre. Where the runway had been his stage and the models, his actors, brought his romantic, erotic and oftentimes historic visions to life. The collection itself was masterful: from extreme corsetry that modified and changed the body to delicate lace dresses that teetered on the edge between erotic and innocent, and, perhaps most importantly, for the first time since he took up the helm at Margiela in 2014, he showed absolutely no restraint. Galliano presented fashion with one of the most conceptual and undoubtedly most emotionally laden couture, or as Margiela calls them, artisanal collections, of the past decade. For fashion's most infamous, complicated and seemingly forgiven ‘enfant terrible’ it was a return to form as he presented a collection that dreamt big and is sure to inspire others to follow his lead.

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