In This Fantasy, There Is No Fantasy | Featuring Haute-Couture Spring/Summer 2018

by Long Nguyen

 Fashion Credits: ELIE SAAB HAUTE COUTURE dress and head cap.

Fashion Credits: ELIE SAAB HAUTE COUTURE dress and head cap.


“J’aime ceux qui restent beaux et éternels, ceux qui ne sont pas pertubés par les détails, des ornaments ou des couleurs qui les veillissent  prématurément.  Ceux qui sont les plus simples et les plus dificiles à realizer!” ("I like when they are beautiful and timeless, not cluttered with details, ornaments, and colors that prematurely age them. The simplest ones are the most difficult to create!”) are the first words inscribe on a white wall on the right side of the entrance to the “Azzedine Alaïa Je suis couturier” exhibition curated by Olivier Saillard at the heart and soul of Alaïa – the building complex on the rue de Moussy/rue de la Verrerie in the Marais that is home to his apartment, atelier, store, small hotel, gallery, archive storage, showroom, and off course the iconic kitchen.

Opened with a preview for the designer’s friends and family on the eve of the spring/summer haute couture shows, this exhibition serves as a memorial to Mr. Alaïa who passed mid-November 2017.  These 41 dresses in nearly all in black and white save for a handful red, an acqua blue and black spanned four decades of Alaīa’s work from a pair of white stretch silk – a sleeveless Grecian draped, folded and belted short at the waist and a long dress slightly flared at the helm studded with metal eyelets both from summer 1981 – to the long black gown consisting of a knit top with crystal beads waist onto a tulle and velvet with laser cut leather and metal pieces gown from fall 2017 that Naomie Campbell closed the final show last July.

 VIKTOR & ROLF COUTURE dress and CHANEL FINE JEWELRY necklace.

VIKTOR & ROLF COUTURE dress and CHANEL FINE JEWELRY necklace.


Alaïa highlighted the elegance of the body’s curvatures with masterful handiwork in a manner that merged traditional savoir-faire and modern techniques.  Once these were the dresses that the ‘couturier’ himself sculpted on the bodies of many of the supermodels that first wore them.  Only by looking very closely at a black lamb leather dress with tiny perforated holes that looked like some kind of embroidered pattern from afar, I can practically feel the hands of the atelier worker and most often Alaïa himself making the precision of the cuts that formed a tiny opening on the leather.  Sliced at each opening to form a pattern along the trim of the dress, these perforations seemed freshly cut despite the dress’ actual years.  The timeless quality of craft and in design omnipresent Alaïa’s clothes should be a marker for haute couture.

 GIVENCHY HAUTE COUTURE coat, bodysuit, and skirt.

GIVENCHY HAUTE COUTURE coat, bodysuit, and skirt.

The spring/summer 2018 haute couture season is marked by how designers at many of Paris’ storied fashion houses now grand institutions and corporate megaliths deploy the essence of couture craftsmanship in search of defining new meanings for a category of fashion often deemed antiquated in the mobile digital era of fast consumption.  How and can these traditional handmade clothes still find resonance today amidst the rapidly changing fashion landscape?

 GAULTIER PARIS dress.

GAULTIER PARIS dress.


“Because haute couture is a dream of fashion. It’s a place where there are no limits in pushing boundaries and experimenting with technique, material, and form,” was the mantra stated in the printed booklet at Dior where white plasters sculptures of large lips, torsos, eyes, and hands hung above the black and white checkerboard floor illuminating a surrealist theme. Draped light ivory muslin covered the tent in the garden of the Musée Rodin where the models wore clothes that were both rich in imagination and lauded with precise craftsmanship by the house ateliers.

 GIAMBATTISTA VALLI HAUTE COUTURE top and shorts.

GIAMBATTISTA VALLI HAUTE COUTURE top and shorts.


Maria Grazia Chiuri displayed a restraint in her approach to the 1920’s surrealism theme and the artist Leonor Fini who had exhibited in Mr. Dior art gallery with only a few of the obvious elements from that cultural era manifested on the garments.  Here the breastplate like its white plaster version hanging above the audience made it onto the clothes in a long slight sheet chiffon dress with silvery gradient embroidery of the torso silhouette edged onto the tulle fabrics.  There on one white coat or a long sleeveless sheath embroidered with black beads embroidery was what could have been a sketch from Dalí or Miró depicting a chaotic scene assembling the outlines of images of tears drops, wolves and even a large lobster.  

  IRIS VAN HERPEN dress and DIOR FINE JEWELRY earrings.

 IRIS VAN HERPEN dress and DIOR FINE JEWELRY earrings.


For Dior, the boundaries of fashion could have been pushed further forward with more experiments with technique, material and form - the base of haute couture and what differentiate these unique clothes on the models who walked and the customers who special order these clothes.  While the tailored white and dark navy pantsuits and the variations of the tuxedo vest worn with black tulle skirts seemed more in tune with the wardrobe demands of younger women today, the shape of a few of the dresses like a black and white checker long dress with matching feather cape felt destined for an older clientele than the current millennial generation Dior is espousing with great focus.  

  ALEXANDRE VAUTHIER HAUTE COUTURE jacket and pants.

 ALEXANDRE VAUTHIER HAUTE COUTURE jacket and pants.


Dior’s rival Chanel recreated an elaborate replica of the Jardin des Tuileries first commissioned by Catherine de Medici along the Seine River at the Palais Royal in 1559 as the setting for a show where a lighter mood and much lesser embellishment made the clothes cling onto the body of the models like a second skin.  But this Chanel gardens isn’t all about flowers although the floral leitmotif is seen throughout the collection – on sparking ankle boots and on subtle embroideries permeating throughout but mostly reflected in the color palette – greens, pinks, rose, lilac, and light yellows.  The opening sequence of updated classics tweeds suiting came in the lighter fabrics and a few worn not with a long skirt but with tight matching running shorts in all white.

 SCHIAPARELLI HAUTE COUTURE jacket and shorts CHANEL FINE JEWELRY necklace.

SCHIAPARELLI HAUTE COUTURE jacket and shorts CHANEL FINE JEWELRY necklace.


The series of blue, green and black pleated chiffon two pieces or long tiered light pink dresses offered a clean alternative between the more daywear suiting and the evening dresses are much less ornamented but each garment is a product of the meticulous handiwork of the multiple ateliers with their specialties.  A standout look is a light pink silk satin strapless short dress with organza embroidered overlay – a look that demonstrated both the slim fit and the loose elements all combined into one dress.  Such legèreté and an airy lightness in spirit are often very difficult to achieve in couture.  

 MAISON MARGIELA ARTISANAL BY JOHN GALLIANO coat, dress, and bustier.

MAISON MARGIELA ARTISANAL BY JOHN GALLIANO coat, dress, and bustier.


Sounds of crickets can be heard in the background in the darkened rooms on the first floor of the Archives National with slightly opened blinds on the large frame windows allowing a sliver of white moonlight pierced through the slightly opened blind in the middle of a late calm summer night.  The moon cycle - full moon to small crest - is reflected in the different circular adornments on back of coats or embroidered in black circles on a white strapless long dress. Such was the atmosphere for Clare Waight Keller’s debut haute couture show for Givenchy, a brand that last had a runway couture show nearly six years ago under a different creative director.  

 Left to right: VALENTINO HAUTE COUTURE coat, shirt, and pants, and PHILIP TREACY FOR VALENTINO hat. VALENTINO HAUTE COUTURE dress.

Left to right: VALENTINO HAUTE COUTURE coat, shirt, and pants, and PHILIP TREACY FOR VALENTINO hat. VALENTINO HAUTE COUTURE dress.


The clothes contrasted of the rigid structure of menswear tailoring and the fluidity of a soft dress like a black tailored coat with white and blue feather lining worn with a sparkling deep v-neck silver long dress belted above the waist or the black long coat cut away at the front to reveal a white silk satin three-tier flare dress. The black strapless lace and tulle corset and slim black pants or the white strapless flowing long dress made the point for couture clothes that are less ornamented.  The simple black turtleneck paired with a long black multicolor violet to red to blue ruffle skirt to prove the point that couture clothes do not have to be all about heavy-handed embroideries.  A sleeveless long jacket and leather pants and blue patented leather coat and lurex sweater were a few men’s evening rocker looks that suggested a new way for men to dress up at night instead of the traditional tuxedo.  

Keller delivered both the poetic that give couture a soul and the hardware of crafting bold and imaginative clothes that can capture an audience and perhaps also a new customer base for a house long known for its couture heritage.

 ARMANI PRIVÉ bustier and shorts

ARMANI PRIVÉ bustier and shorts


At Maison Margiela, the clothes now have a digital and a physical reality.  John Galliano continued his excursions into the current state of rapid dressing and relaxed glamor for an exceptional artisanal show that embraced the irony of the digital era.  A note printed on transparent paper was included with the invitation that asked the audience to use the flash mode when taking pictures from their seats, well some were actually sculptures by the artist Jessi Reaves who used the house vintage fabrics to make these fusion ‘sofa’ pieces.

Galliano brought the digital disruptions where designers aimed to maximize the visual of the clothes for the small mobile screen to haute couture where his remixes of deconstructed and overlapped of garments to create novel shapes embracing both sports elements like PVC coats and ski anoraks disrupted the traditional notion of couture.  A fused black nylon trench and cotton polka dots dress became a part trench zipped onto the side of the dress and a comingling of sleeves with the black nylon fabrics transformed into a holographic silvery multicolor reflective mirror when a picture is taken with a flash aimed directly at the ‘dress’.   The designer surely honors the couture tradition of innovation and making extremely complex clothes that don’t always how they appear.  Yet in the middle of the explosive creative spectacle was a simple marvel – a black satin loose suit cut on the bias that is a Galliano trademark.

 DIOR HAUTE COUTURE dress and DIOR, FINE JEWELRY necklace and earrings.

DIOR HAUTE COUTURE dress and DIOR, FINE JEWELRY necklace and earrings.


“A typical haute couture, read in present times, made of bows, of glamour … of emotions … of refined materials such as taffetas and moiré, of lace and of intarsia. An haute couture of present times, that contemplate daytime, the chinos, and the trench, made of pieces assembled during immediate and solemn dressings. A personal and perceived haute couture, intimately presented, as it used to be done,” was how the manifesto described the Valentino show that advocated the essential ingredients of couture coupled with the liberty to explore and experiment.

Pierpaolo Piccioli exhibited a sense of total freedom with the loose silhouettes, easy and ultra luxurious clothes in vibrant colors that demonstrated an innate understanding of how modern women approach fashion. The show made no references to the Valentino’s heritage or DNA and instead dedicated each look to specific atelier hand in Rome. One can just feel the weightlessness of the round ruffle dress with layers sliding along the model’s body as each ruffle swayed and glided in different directions or the luxurious ease of a camel long coat worn with a green silk satin corset, white tank, and brown cigarette pants.  Yet plenty of fantasy garments abound such as a series of floral coats and dresses or separates of fancy tees and loose pants or the more extravagant black organza with large embroidery of multicolor petals.

Anchored in the present moment using the tools and crafts of couture, Piccioli espoused the couture ethos inherent in Alaïa’s work by deploying the essential crafts of couture and created a collection that can stand the test of time and offered younger women a way of dressing which is not the case with many of the shows this week.  Valentino was the best show of this spring 2018 couture season.


Written by Long Nguyen
Photographer: Thierry Le Gouès at DCA Management, Paris.
Style Director: Long Nguyen.
Models: Dahee Chung at MP, Paris and Jiaqi Xu and Qin Lei at M Management, Paris.
Hair: Tobias Sagner.
Makeup: Kenny Campbell at Airport, Paris.
Photography Assistant: Jihed Guasmi Mitterrand.
Digital Photography Assistant: Emmanuel Lafay.
Location: Studio Zéro, Paris.


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