Yiqing Yin’s couture interpretations of the metamorphic phases of a moth’s four-stage lifecycle from egg to caterpillar to cocoon to adult form: Stitches of felt jersey and degradé silk patchwork sleeveless vest dress with sheer liquid organza bell skirt embroidered with white veins, a gray lurex jersey one shoulder side panel draped dress with circular fluffy wings attached to an off-white ribbon sleeve and corset dress, fur patches around the hips and white furs embroidered on transparent silk like falling snowflakes over Múm’s track, “Eternity Is The Wait Between Breaths.” Staged inside one of the basement spaces of the Palais de Tokyo, Yin did not allow her theme to dictate a literal imprint onto her newest collection. Rather, she employed the successive stages of the moth’s life to demonstrate her skills in research and experiments with fabrics, making the textiles come to life on the garments. “‘Moth’ was the theme. I am completely fascinated by the morphing process—from the caterpillar to the cocoon and to the adult—that is so complex and technological, yet so ephemeral and fleeting. Their intricate beauty and variety, colors and textures so rich, so delicately composed, yet so fragile. Paradoxically, they obsess and repulse me at the same time. I find they are very poetic and complex creatures, living in the night yet so relentlessly drawn to the light, drawn to the flames,” Yin says at her studio behind the Belleville quarter of Paris. Born in Beijing, Yin migrated to Paris with her family when she was four years old. Initially she wanted to become a sculptor. Instead, she graduated from the École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs—where she studied textiles—then attended courses from the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and the London College of Fashion. In 2010, she won the Grand Prix de la Création de la Ville de Paris and presented her collection, “The Dreamer,” at the Hyères Festival de Mode. A year after the Andam Prize, Yin launched her first couture collection. Couture simply offers the strict discipline of craftsmanship. When asked which couturier in the past has inspired her work today, the designer responds, “I am very inspired by the works of Madeleine Vionnet. She was an absolute genius in garment construction, and I find her process of work and aesthetics so very relevant with today’s sense of grace and sensuality, where clothes need to be evocative but conceived as to envelop the body and be a witness to its expression and nature, by ‘simply’ falling upon its curves effortlessly.” In couture, there’s a certain level of freedom of thought and creation, more so than in ready-to-wear. “For me,” notes Yin, “couture is by essence a platform for experimentation and innovation. As much as I love this uniquely rich heritage, I love even more taking the set boundaries to the next level, might it be technical or emotional. I welcome accidents and challenges as I find them to create very fertile grounds for imagination and discoveries.” Dior has been undergoing a profound metamorphosis not unlike that of a butterfly, since the arrival of the Belgian designer Raf Simons at the creative helm after his first couture show in July 2012. In that first outing, Simons demonstrated his profound comprehension of Dior’s DNA with sculptural lines and magnificent displays of wild colors as he enveloped the atelier’s skills in each garment, while showing the clothes in rooms enclosed with fresh wall-to-wall flowers from blue delphinium to yellow mimosa, following Mr. Dior’s obsession with his own Normandy garden. Couture has always been a distinct beast. In fact, it was Paris’ fashion until the advent of ready-to-wear designer clothing pioneers like Yves Saint Laurent in the mid 1960s. Couture’s essence resides in the details often intimate and not apparent at first sight: the inside of a jacket, the intricate handiwork of embroiderers making a fine sequined dress on silk tulle appear like wool tweed, or in the subtle and calculated drapery of a silk crepe dress gliding on a body in motion. To appreciate this level of fashion requires a vast understanding of culture and knowledge. Couture is culture as well as clothes. Inside a white, spacious prehistoric-like cave, Simons continued his journey evolving Dior from its past: delicately fostering modernity in the handmade clothing by seasoned atelier women: Black crepe dresses with a layer of black organza and a circular cutout motif revealing a white underskirt, or a black strapless sparkling dress with pink half-moon cut-outs miraculously done by les petites mains whose formidable skill complimented the garments rather than some high-brow concept guiding the collection. The floral motif silk coats worn with fluid pants or the navy Bar jacket now rendered in silk crepe or white cotton eyelets with embroidered semicircle folds coupled with a black corset top and slim fluid pants for a sporty effect. That’s Raf Simons’ imprint at Dior today. The nexus of couture is how to bring it forth and make it relevant to today’s world, this intricate handmade clothing that warrants substantial investment both from the manufacturer and the client. At Chanel’s Spring-Summer 2014 haute couture show, models lightly run down a circular staircase surrounded by the Sébastien Tellier orchestra. Each is adorned in handmade snakeskin and tweed sneakers crafted by Massaro. It becomes clear that Karl Lagerfeld is delivering Chanel yet again to the crisps of the 21st century by breaking the rigid boundary that links couture to contemporary culture. For couture, this means the rigor and expertise of crafts and tailoring have to blend meaningfully with the fast-moving lives of the customers. How to make modern an embroidered dress with duck, ostrich and cock feathers—done with the experts at Lemarié and coupled with iridescent green and blue lurex fringes and black tulle silk skirts embroidered with sparkling black sequins—is a complicated task, but one at which Lagerfeld excels. The classical Chanel suit is transformed into a corset-rigged dress and cropped jacket exposing the midriff in pale pastel shades of metallic tweeds. Evening ensembles are reduced to bare bones, like the black silk tulle spaghetti-strapped tank bra with corseted skirt embroidered with plastic pieces, mica flecks and fine glass beads, all handcrafted by the experts at the Chanel ateliers. Sneakers functionally replace pumps for the current global couture customer constantly on the move. Lagerfeld’s Chanel show liberates couture from the confines of the high glass tower with deliberate efforts to interweave freedom into the clothes; one of Coco Chanel’s premises in using men’s tweed and underwear fabrics in the 1920s to liberate women from the stiff fashion that encumbered their bodies and their movements. Also injecting couture with functionality is designer Bouchra Jarrar. After a decade as studio head at Balenciaga—and a brief excursion at Christian Lacroix—Jarrar opened her own business in 2010 and was finally inducted in December 2013 to a full and permanent member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture: An exclusive club of couturiers in Paris, she is the first woman admitted in over 30 years. Her insistence that couture be wearable and clean—or, as the French say, sobre—is earning her the currency of providing no-nonsense, but rigorously crafted daytime clothing, rather than extravagant and over-embroidered ball gowns destined for the red carpet. Launching in a time of economic crisis, Jarrar is finding a niche business with her garments whose cuts adhere strictly to the linear flow of a woman’s body. Marco Zanini, over at Schiaparelli, shows his first couture for the fashion mainstay—purchased by the Tod’s Group in 2007—with 19 looks that manage to avoid the campy trap of the house’s Surrealist heritage (the lobster dress and shoe hat of ’37, the tear dress of ’38), while still paying homage to the vivid colors from the prints like a strapless shocking pink-and-white star print dress, and the mix of a white men’s jacket with feathers embroidered in the lining, worn with a gray strapless dress. The new Schiaparelli mission seems one of providing luxurious choices for potential couture clients (a light gray short sleeve dress with elaborate floral embroidery, for instance), rather than creating any artistic firestorms. The Valentino show was a clear ode to Italy’s spectacular traditional opera, opening with a near-transparent white organza dress featuring hand-painted music notes from Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. This opera provided Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli the narrative platform in order to push the Valentino atelier to new heights and tighten the duo’s grip on the future of couture at the Roman fashion house. Aida, a Verdi opera that premiered in Cairo in 1871, inspires a gold tussah silk dress with fringes and printed with lions and giraffes, while Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen (1692) prompts the gray cashmere cape with cheetahs in vegetation scene and Marcassite silk dress with lions in the forest. The cape required 300 hours of atelier handiwork and the encrustation on the dress needed 950 hours. Couture is finding its groove leading fashion again because seasoned couturiers—along with newcomers—are transforming and modernizing the art of handmade clothes. Touting craftsmanship alone surely won’t save couture; crafts must be at the service of creative designers who can command the vicissitudes of fashion with their visions. Raf Simons and Yiqing Yin—as well as designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Bouchra Jarrar, Marco Zanini, and the Valentino duo—are making couture relevant to a new generation and global clientele adapt to the fast pace of fashion, rejuvenating and modifying couture’s adages to the exigencies of the now.
Photographer: Thierry le Gouès for jr-associee.com, Paris. Style Director: Long Nguyen. Models: August and Feng Qi Wen for city-models.com, Paris, and Liu Xu for marilynagency.com, Paris. Hair: Nabil Harlow for b-agency.com. Makeup: Carole Lasnier for b-agency.com.
Beauty notes: Poudre Universelle Libre Natural Finish Loose Powder in clair, Lumière Facettes Quadra Eye Shadow in Quadrille, Les 4 Ombres Quadra Eye Shadow in Variation, Ombres Contraste Duo in Rose Majeur, Le Crayon Yeux Precision Eye Definer in noir, Le Crayon Khôl in noir and marine, Le Volume de Chanel Mascara in noir, Rouge Coco Shine in Sourire and Candeur, and Le Vernis Nail Lacquer in Ballerina by Chanel. Crème for Style, Grandiose Hair Plumping Mousse, and Voluminsta Mist for Volume by Oribe.