The taxi drivers were striking a few hours before the Chanel Haute Couture show, burning tires on the periphérique near Porte Maillot, blockading entry points to the city, and clashing violently with police in protest of Uber. Simultaneously, air traffic controllers, civil servants, and teachers were striking across France. Amidst the tense state of emergency, the instructions for guests to the Chanel show at the Grand Palais were that each guest must use a specific entrance according to the assigned seat section, and their identification was matched to their invitation and the door list.
Kicking off the show, Baptiste Giabiconi signaled open the front door of a wood plank house enclosed within the Grand Palais. A meditative moment of calm descended before the door opened, and a classical concerto blasted from the speakers as model after model paced around the lush garden surrounding the house. They wore cropped jackets with long skirts for daywear, and soft languid dresses in a lean silhouette falling just above the knee for evening.
Under Karl Lagerfeld’s direction, the Chanel ateliers demonstrated technical wizardry and unmatched craftsmanship. Argentinian model Mica Arganaraz opened with a beige linen puff-sleeved cropped jacket, with matching above-the-ankle skirt and cork platform shoes, then wore a solo wedding look; a hooded baseball jacket and a strapless dress with a short back train of raw organic cotton embroidered on tulle with miniature fine carved wood chips, mini pearls, and beads.
At the Dior show, the giant mirrored tent in the gardens of the Musée Rodin served as a reminder of the continuity of the house since the abrupt departure of Creative Director Raf Simons last October.
Lacking a designer, the house opted for the guidance of studio heads Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux, both of whom took a bow at the end of the show with their principal assistants. The collection was based around the Dior heritage and the reworking of the Bar silhouette, with an attempt at making couture more streetwise and commercial. That Bar jacket—now in white wool with floral embroidery and long flared sleeves, accompanied by a below- the-knee black skirt—was an ode to the past, while a black silk version was there to woo a younger global customer.
Missing from the show—despite the impressive surrounding reflective mirrored walls—was the sense of grandeur and awe that only couture can afford.
Since launching his first couture collection in 2011, Giambattista Valli has held his own road with a focused aesthetic and an eye to business. Staged at the Carreau du Temple, Valli was inspired by Paris’ famous gardens.
Armed with the craftsmanship of his atelier and his fervent imagination, Valli created a vivid tableau of smart dresses. White silk crêpe with ruffle trim with floral bouquet paillette embroidery on the shoulder and front thigh or floral macramé and crystal flowers, the grey silk printed lily shift with paillette bustier and black draped macramé, and a mini mousseline cape mixed the modern 1960s mini cocktail with 19th century Empire shapes—all a part of Valli’s signature aesthetic.
“I was born with feminine strength to overcome obstacles and take nothing for granted,” urged the Portuguese musician Violet over the loudspeakers at the Atelier Versace show, as Yasmin Wijnaldum—in a white cropped zippered jacket with yellow utility cords, sports bra, and ski pants— stomped down the runway. Donatella Versace has distilled elements of athletics in constructing her clothes to endow women with the power of fashion in these perilous times.
In her own quiet manner, Yiqing Yin’s long silk dress with leather harness, short LED-wrapped dress, and metal mesh dress, balanced the designer’s extremely complex couture garments with her more commercial impulses.
Blooming Ashes—the title of Yin’s show—is based on the notion of metamorphosis: of creating a new object by merging different elements and processes together. Her bustier made of laser-cut leather strings with a leather and silk wrap dress is a perfect combination of wearable and experimental.
Two thin gold lines running up a pair of silk gabardine pants worn with a sleeveless gold-zippered velvet and silk brocade biker brought a whiff of military uniform to Bouchra Jarrar’s confident show.
On the soundtrack was an excerpt of Marcel Proust’s final volume of À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, Le Temps Retrouvé. Jarrar’s sailor garb—here a midnight blue cropped jacket with gold ribbon trim and buttons— was rendered feminine and refined with a Chantilly lace blouse and a long gold silk vest.
Yacine Aouadi’s second thirteen piece collection—Saison Des Amours Aux Rayons X at the Petit Palais—featured the intricate workmanship that embody the designer. Hybrids of materials and techniques highlighted slim elongated silhouettes like embroidered pink flamingoes on organza or silicon lace enmeshed in a short sleeve sheath dress. In future seasons the designer will have to expand the scope of his work with a more diverse choice of garments for women to buy, while still bearing his hallmark handiwork and embellishment.
Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli at Valentino took the Delphos gown— an early 20th century pleated silk shift dress weighted by glass beads—as an influence in their modern and timeless collection. Freedom expressed in a dress meant a garment that floated yet clung to the body, allowing for movement without constriction.
The models walked barefoot along rose petals with gold snakes in their tresses, and a green velvet dress with golden handmade peacocks leant an air of timelessness, yet the collection felt decidedly current with floaty pleated chiffon shifts that brushed the rose petals on the wooden floor; a reflection of our ultimate desire to move and think freely.
Fashion is never divorced from the environment and the world we live in. Designers use the language of clothes— especially when speaking couture— and craft a response in the form of an inspirational show that counters the darkness around us. The human touch intrinsic in each of these couture garments is a form of resistance, a stand against the pervasiveness of technology and the super fast pace of life today. Imagine the 2,200 hours of meticulous handiwork it took to make that Valentino chiffon plissé dress with gold butterfly and petal motif; that’s close to an eternity in a world that is a click away from instant gratification.
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