Fall-Winter 2015-16 Haute Couture

by Long Nguyen

“I want to take the time necessary to find my own style rather than submit to the current cycle of having to do so many collections per year.”

So says Yacine Aouadi, the French-Algerian designer from the Northern suburbs of Marseille who moved to Paris a decade ago to study at Studio Berçot. Aouadi joined Balmain after his graduation, working with Christophe Decarnin then with the then-current designer Olivier Rousteing. Early this year, he set out to launch his own line, Aouadi.

“I am launching with haute couture because I have always had a strong affinity for traditional craftsmanship, and I love the fact that each garment is unique and made for a specific person,” says the designer, standing next to a model wearing a black double-face asymmetrical long dress and a trompe d’oeil tattoo-embroidered sheer tulle top.

The 13 all-black looks represent Aouadi’s quest for a modern and urban silhouette less fussy with overwrought decorations, as is often the case with couture.

Some of the most arresting looks include a double cashmere coat-dress with handmade buttons, and subtle tubular beading around the neck paired with black cycling shorts, and also a wool jacket with a jeweled neck and midriff level tulle-embroidery of tattoo patterns, paired with a cigarette wool ankle pant. The large neon green and orange zippers provided contrast to the delicate and flawless handiwork on the tulle of his decidedly sophisticated collection, which is grounded in the desire to find a new voice for couture and for a diverse cast of women who are the current audience.

“I wanted a realistic but exclusive collection created with customers in mind, clothes that are made with the savoir faire of traditional métier d’arts craftsmanship and is less about marketing which has dominated current fashion,” Aouadi says, reminding me of what Alexandre Vauthier and Bouchra Jarrar told me a few years ago when they started showing couture.

The ability to know precisely who the customer is and cater specifically to his or her taste is an art of its own. In haute couture, the hand labor and craft skills required for each garment distinguishes the clothes from anything else available; as far as detail goes, couture has no competition. Craft triumphed this fall, as the single element binding the collections of the big fashion houses, uniting seasoned designers and first-timers risking it all to build a brand.

Vauthier’s authoritative signature sleek micro-dress shapes this season felt more natural on the body, and less extroverted. A white wool wrap dress with a belt made of metal and red leather, a black one-shoulder asymmetrical cape dress, and a deep-v caftan with flared sleeves added depth to the elaborately constructed collection; and as an ode to the uniqueness of couture, the alligator embroidered dress that closed the show required more than 380,000 sequins and 90,000 miniature crystals.

On the other runway, Bouchra Jarrar’s perfecto jacket in soft lamb leather, and her woven tweed gilet coupled with a perfectly cut crêpe (or wool) cigarette trouser has been the designer’s foundation of daywear couture since she started in 2010. Her typically highly crafted, and no-nonsense clothes composed of exquisite fabrics distinguish her couture from the current infatuation with fast fashion.

It’s hard to fault a designer like Jarrar, who is so confident in her sartorial codes, that at times, it’s difficult to see an evolution. With looks such as a long bias-cut silk Charmeuse dress with a back leather strap, and a beaded biker with a short skirt and a sheer silk overlay, Jarrar moves the needle of her ethos forward slightly by adding bits of adornments, but never too much to overwhelm the flawless cut of the garments. Her vests and wrap tops embroidered elaborately with feathers and textural beadings—such as an ivory-feathered midriff vest with ivory satin skirt under a pleated sheer silk long skirt, or a wool sleeveless long coat with black bra and ice grey satin pants—veered towards exposing the erotic side she showed in previous seasons.

Impeccable imperfection, tough ethereal, elevated deconstruction and softness are rarely words used to describe any of the Atelier Versace collections; yet the double-layered raw-edge chiffon dresses—some with straps made of metallic floral petals, others cinched with strips of chain mail before flowing to the floor—ushered a revolution in the Versace aesthetics, which tend to veer towards hard, sexy silhouettes. A pale green half-embroidered lace dress and a brown frayed chiffon wrap, around a beaded tulle underdress paired with thigh-high patent leather boots, testified to the softer side of the deconstructed Versace women, but it is the work of the Milan atelier that made the garments so exquisite and special in a category of their own.

“The original inspiration came from Flemish Masters and their approach to painting,” says Raf Simons, Dior Artistic Director, “It’s the tension between the decrying of luxury and the embracing of it; the mastery of crafts and the beauty of artistic gesture; the reality and the unreality; you can’t have one without the other,” his collection amalgamates diverse elements of modern art, fashion history, and craft into each garment.

Hybridization, or the bridging of different cultures and experiences has been the hallmark of Raf Simons’ work since his arrival at Dior in 2012. The exceptional demonstration of the atelier handiwork—shone through the beaded flower panel dresses with side closures exposing flesh—espoused the new sensual decadence of the Dior woman. The real technical ingenuity in this collection is the combination of the skills of the tailleur and the flou ateliers—normally a separate entity within the house, but now united to create both fluid and constructed forms in a single garment—using the intricate pleating systems of the flou—usually reserved for dresses—as the inner lining of reversible capes.

Wearing a classic Chanel suit in deep fuchsia with crystal trim and a bright red blouse, Lexi Boling opened the Chanel Haute Couture show as she stepped down the staircase to the double casino tables where Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, and Stella Tennant were already deep in their card games. Appearing to be made of wool silk with a Chanel quilted pattern, the actual fabric was not, in fact, any regular material. Using selective laser sintering—an additive manufacturing technique that uses a laser to sinter powder materials like metal and plastic in a 3-D model—this one-piece jacket was molded without sewing.

Created in 1954, the iconic jacket has been updated with the intersectionality of new technology and traditional methodology, bringing couture to a new frontier. Traditional workmanship, however, dominates the Chanel collection. A seafoam silk dress with intertwining folds, an asymmetrical skirt dress in white lace with gold and silver silicone fringes testifies to the wizardry of the handiwork of the atelier and the Parisian métiers d’arts maisons like Lesage and Michel who serve the entire couture industry in Paris.

In 2015, couture is simply antithetical and subversive to the current fashion zeitgeist where the obsession is instant gratification. In the age of Instagram, couture is super slow-mo fashion; imagine 1,600 hours at minimum spent on a dress made by hand by specially trained craftsmen utilizing skills that were deemed obsolete and on the verge of extinction two decades ago. It is this appreciation for the critical skills of the atelier handicraft that make couture more relevant now than ever, not just the supposed onslaught of new wealthy and younger clients around the world. Couture isn’t just the clothes but the selling of a culture and a knowledge that employs the most sumptuous materials and techniques. Craft is the central narrative of heritage in the service of fashion’s future.

Photographer: Felipe Barbosa for dca-management.com, Paris.

Style Director: Long Nguyen.

Models: Gigi Jeon for city-models.com, Paris and Taylah Roberts for Imgmodels.com, Paris.

Hair: Stéphane Bodin for mariefrance-thavonekham.com, Paris.

Makeup: Christina Vila at Christina-vila.com. Photography Assistant: Rafael Medeiros.

Beauty notes: CHANEL Sublimage La Crème, Perfection Lumière Velvet in 10 and 30 Beige, Poudre Universelle Libre in Translucent, Les 4 Ombres Multi Effect Eyeshadow Quadra in Riviera and Camelia, Le Volume de Chanel Waterproof Mascara in Black, Le Crayon Yeux in Black and Teak, Rouge Coco in Roussy and Olga, Rouge Allure in Extatique and Fougueuse, and Le Vernis Nail Color in Ballerina and Paradiso. ORIBE Original Pomade, Rough Luxury Molding Wax, Surfcomber Tousled Texture Mousse, Thick Dry Finishing Spray, and Dry Texturizing Spray.