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Iris van Herpen and Ulyana Sergeenko shine on the first day of digital couture

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

6 Jul 2020

Fashion

Paris online couture week began on Monday, a three-day digital event showcasing the Autumn Winter 2020 couture collections. At first glance, the calendar looks similar to any other season: Iris van Herpen, Dior and Schiaparelli on day one, Chanel, Stéphane Rolland and Alexandre Vauthier on day two, Maison Margiela, Viktor & Rolf and Valentino on the final day.

The only difference being the collections are shown via video, of which the President of the French Fashion Federation Ralph Toledano said: “design should be expressed at its best, no matter the circumstances.”

“Paris’ vocation and duty is to shine on, to refuse to let its light go out, even if only for one season, even in the face of a terrible pandemic. At the Fédération, we challenged ourselves to invent a new model which could live up to our mission.”

An absence of couture customers in Paris

But as Paris aims to show the world its designers and fashion houses are open for business, there is a new digital skillset to be quickly acquired and mastered. And while new audiences will be reached via channels other than traditional physical presentations, haute couture houses depend on real-life showings and multiple customer fittings to sell made-to-measure garments.

Exploring new ways to present collections may not be commercially viable for brands who rely on clients to purchase after the show. With European travel embargoed to Americans, and social distancing keeping the global elite at home, there is a marked absence of couture customers in Paris this season.

“Even if the commercial role of fashion week isn’t necessarily fulfilled, it’s about reasserting the continuity of the cultural functions of Paris Fashion Week,” Institut Français de la Mode professor Benjamin Simmenauer, who’s overseeing the event’s digital content, told Vogue Business.

A digital schedule

Submission guidelines for the official haute couture calendar was mostly left to the designers’ discretion, bar the length of any video not exceed 20 minutes.

Iris van Herpen choreographed and filmed just one single dress, worn by Dutch actress Carice van Houten in a short film called Transmotion. The light-as-air gown is constructed with van Herpen’s signature plissé, delicately layered with branch-like anatomical arms, appliquéd with laser cut black duchesse on polyester.

Van Herpen told Vogue: “Working on this project felt like a new start. We have to surrender to the fact that things are in a state of change. I really don’t want to hold on too rigidly to the structure I’ve known before.”

“The most important lesson to me is to be flexible and to be open for change, and to use that space also to create a wider perspective. I think the fashion system will change, and this is a part of it.”

Designer Ulyana Sergeenko presented a film to celebrate the craftsmanship of the Krestetskaya Stitch, the handcraft of the embroidery to make her collections. Narrated by a seamstress, Sergeenko takes the viewer into her Moscow atelier to witness her processes, from sketching the designs to applying the beading, embroidery and patterns, all done by hand. The video ends with a thoughtful text: “The collection wouldn’t see the light without the devotion and determination of each team member.”

Credit: Iris van Herpen