The bar for haute couture is set unattainably high. Not just the resources required to afford the most luxurious frocks made to measure, but also the craftsmanship and painstaking attention to detail needed to create the most decorative and exquisite fashion in the world.
True, it may be a distraction to focus on clothes when the headlines between Davos leaders paying lip service to climate change this week, Trump’s ongoing impeachment proceedings in Washington and the ever spreading coronavirus in China are plenty to contend with. But designers often reflect the signs of the times in their collections, mirroring the mood of the zeitgeist. And if all else fails, a distraction bodes more than welcome.
Iris van Herpen
To be mesmerised by fashion is to see Dutch designer Iris van Herpen demonstrate her unrivalled technical prowess on the opening day of couture week. Her spring summer collection, ‘Sensory Seas,’ merged biology with fashion, using microscopic detailing and neuroanatomist Ramón y Cajal as key points of references. Translated into clothes, it was a swirl of laser cut organza and chiffon so delicately layered you’d be hesitant to think it was art, not dresses, but wearable these gowns are.
At Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri, the first female artistic director of the house, asked showgoers: “Would God be a feminist?” and “What if women ruled the world?” Held at the Musée Rodin, guests entered a showspace transformed into a goddess, The Female Divine, designed by artist Judy Chicago. The work asks to “reconsider the roles and power relationships that determine, through the lens of gender, the way we live together today.” The goddesses dominated the runway, too, in Greco-Roman inspired draping and twisting, applied to dresses, skirts and tailoring, each look worn with flat sandals. Because high heels are not required for female empowerment.
At Chanel, Virginie Viard is slowly coming into her own, shedding the mantle of her predecessor, Karl Lagerfeld. She dived into the formative years of the Maison’s founder, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, transforming Paris’s Grand Palais into the garden of the cloister where Chanel was sent as a young girl. Forced to wear a black and white austere uniform, which later became a code for the house, Viard referenced these halcyon days and proposed prim-collared coats, blouses and patent shoes with ankle socks. But simple descriptives belie the complexity of the embroidery, the fine layering of tulle that gave length and texture to a short skirt, of bouclé woven in its lightest forms, of a hand-crocheted peter pan collar on a woollen blazer.
Fashion made for dreams, erstwhile an extension of Valentino, this season gave way to a new expressions, even form. The dreamlike volumous gowns we’ve come to expect from designer Pierpaolo Piccioli explored new silhouettes this season. For a start there were trousers on at least four looks, and structured fishtails, Flamenco style ruffles, a dazzle of print and colour in reds, fuchsias and Yves Klein blue. There were peplums and cummerbunds, bows and caped coats that swathed but didn’t engulf. There was no ocean of organza this season - those enveloping dresses that have sparked a thousand copies. Instead Piccioli give us a hint of what else lies in his fertile imagination.
Jean Paul Gaultier
The announcement that Balenciaga is to return to Paris haute couture next season was bittersweet, as the métier bids goodbye to one of its greats, Jean Paul Gaultier, who is retiring after 50 years in the business. His swan song was a 250-look extravaganza that was a celebration of the designer’s joie de vivre and then some. A cast as diverse as its themes of theatre, nostalgia, showmanship, kitsch, and shock waves saw the opening look appear out of a coffin, Gaultier’s mock funeral implied. What followed was a representation of his greatest hits, all made from upcycled fabrics, old collections, on everything from his infamous sailor print to Madonna’s conical bra. Gaultier ended as he began, daring, passionate and with a sense of humour.
Images courtesy Chanel, Valentino, Iris van Herpen