This luscious, imaginary garden transports many in the audience away from the tense atmosphere of heightened security, where police and military forces armed with machine guns in full battle-ready regalia are omnipresent.
Couture has the ability to be a parallel to the real world. The displays of clothes—ostentatious to the point of being dismissed as unrealistic—have lead many houses to talk up the daywear portion (read: more commercial), as the principle raison d’être outside of preserving heritage and craftsmanship.
But there’s more to couture than just the physical garments. Two of Paris’ biggest houses present their shows inside self-contained artificial and temporary domes: Chanel in the glass arboretum and Dior inside a mirrored scaffolding tent. These houses are fabricating a world-within-a-world. There isn’t a doubt that Chanel is at the pinnacle of the preservation and expansion of artisanal craftsmanship, with the house ownership of the various Paris handicraft ateliers: the embroiderer Lesage, the hat-maker Michel, or the metal-jeweler Goossens.
A fashion show is also about proposing a wardrobe for women. At Chanel, couture is a serious and evolving business that strives to cater to new clients worldwide—often by taking the collection to them directly through the brand’s global network of stores. The new proportion this time is a cropped, midriff- exposed jacket over a below-the-knee skirt and flat boots (either in embroidered cotton tweed or in metallic wool tweed) worn with long, silver leather belts. The ski-knit cap embellished with grey plumes adds a street-style touch to this collection destined for a younger clientele, offering them a modality to dress.
Under the white tents in the gardens of the Musée Rodin on the Rive Gauche—on the other side of the Seine River that divides Paris—Dior has created a bi-level octagonal steel scaffolding stage with ceiling mirrors, pink carpeting, and stairways crisscrossing the pathways around the series of grey chairs, a perfect space-age setting for creating another vision of couture.
“There is a sense of the ’50s romance, with the experimentation of the ’60s, and the liberation of the ’70s, in the collection—both in its materialization and attitude,” says Dior Creative Director Raf Simons.
Bringing forward Dior’s aesthetics rooted in the gold decade of the ’50s, without abandoning the house’s iconic heritage has been Simons’ singular goal since his first Dior couture show with the company in July 2012. The influence of the archives seemed dominant in the first few seasons.
Now, in this collection the past and present intertwine in an embroidered lace dress under a plastic transparent coat with floral blossom print, and thigh-high vinyl leather boots. Or in the multi-color silk knit bodysuit and the ’50s New Look full flare skirt shape—that comes in bright orange wool—and a top with simple shells. The iconic Bar jackets, so fecund an icon, were nowhere to be found. The kaleidoscope of this show is what Simons intends to do, to disorient.
“Somewhere you cannot quite place where you are, or which period of time you are in.” he says.
At Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli weave diverse segments of art history into a collection full of poetry and emotion. Chiuri and Piccioli are designers with a romantic vision—a rare breed these days—who embrace how art or literature from the past can enliven and inform fashion’s present. The journey through time begins as a narration of the Russian émigré painter Marc Chagall—with embroidered peasant dresses and a Cossack sleeveless velvet vest with a red chiffon dress—and moves through his art pieces like his 1947 “La Résurrection au Bord du Fleuve,” rendered as flowing long sleeve dress in sage organza and pomegranate guipure, and ends with a midnight blue, strapless with gold stars and embroidered gold letters of the last verse from Dante’s Paradiso from the Divine Comedy. In between there were verses from Dolce Stil Novo or a line by Pier Paolo Pasolini inscribed on a white tulle cloud hand-painted lamé dress—“Tutto il mio folle amore, lo soffia il cielo.” The Roman atelier expertly sew together this symbolic journey as seen in a rough linen floor-length skirt of hearts and words requiring over 500,000 points of embroidery and 2,500 hours to complete.
Jean-Paul Gaultier initiates another journey after closing his 38-year-old ready-to-wear—citing both “commercial constraints” and “the frenetic pace of collections” as hampering creativity—to concentrate on haute couture, fragrances, and special projects. The soundtrack blasts Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.” The show—named “’61 Façons de se dire OUI”—is Gaultier’s ode to marriage, with all the humor the designer is known for: a long white maxi floor-length smoking with lace hot shorts and a blouse called La Marié en Short, a white jumpsuit with half a black long smoking coat called Marriage Mixte, or Naomi Campbell in a tulle white floral corset dress called C’est le Bouquet. The many hybrid combinations of tailoring or asymmetric assembly of jacket-dress in mixtures of tulle, denim, silk, leather, and crêpe are part of Gaultier’s design language—now, hopefully, he will deploy them to write a new chapter.
Instead of invoking great art or history, Donatella Versace prefers to stick with what she knows best—designing her Atelier collection around the curvature of the female body. That means the interplay of exposure and cover-up, as in the one-shoulder silk wool dress with transparent tulle curving around the body like waves, the white backless flared jumpsuit worn by Karlie Kloss, or the jet-black beaded long dress that wrapped around Kasia Struss. In a departure for Versace, embroideries are kept to a minimum, only dispensed when necessary, and often only on part of a dress—like a small moon crust crystal etched on a strapless white dress.
This couture season encompasses many other voyages. At Maison Margiela, John Galliano infused new spirit into the house: his romantic ideals and command cutting skills and the house’s deconstructionist heritage, humor, and appetite for recycling—as embodied in the long wool coat with black painted toy soldiers embroidered along the side to the floor.
At Yiqing Yin, the designer restarts her couture after a season’s absence—“a turning point”—with a grown up collection, with dresses like the sapphire blue silk long gown with crystal belts halter strap, or the charcoal short dress with front metal zip—a far cry from her first season collection—named “The Dreamer”—in March 2011.
Fashion, as Raf Simons reminds us, is a continuum where ideas are built upon other ideas and bygone epochs can help to construct the present and the future. Designers must tend to the couture garden with fresh ideas. Without constant innovation, couture—just like flowers—will be lifeless. They should keep in mind the symbolic gesture of model Baptiste Giabiconi, watering the faux-plants with a large green leather padded Chanel bucket, in his straw hats, short knickers, and espadrilles.
Photographer: Nicolas Wagner at NicolasWagner.com.
Style director: Long Nguyen.
Model: Anna Gushina for IMGModels.com, Paris.
Hair: Quentin Guyen at QuentinGuyen.com.
Makeup: Louise Wittlich at LouiseWittlich.com.
Photography Assistant: Ynes Garroujou.
Special thanks to Sébastien Brostin at ChardeauMazaret.com Real Estate, Paris.
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