PARIS HAUTE COUTURE FALL/WINTER 2016-17
Inside the L’Oratoire du Louvre—a historic Protestant church once the Royal Chapel of the Louvre Palace under Louis XIII—the Japanese musician Kazuka Nagaya bent his body forward to the cement, his right hand gripping a small steel rod lightly touching the set of bowls aligned in two rows on the floor, producing the high-pitch sounds of Zen Buddhist monasteries. At one end stood a model, moving her hands in slow motion while wearing a bioluminescent dress made from a thousand hand-blown glass bubbles and molded in transparent silicone. Not far behind her, another model gestured similarly with a massive cocoon-shaped short dress, with folded petals of iridescent pearl-coated, laser-cut fabric, hand-stitched onto black cotton and tulle; the wavy folding patterns of the dress reflecting Iris van Herpen’s exploration of the study of cymatics, the visualization of sound waves as complex geometric patterns.
The marriage of innovative fabrics with traditional handicraft has been a central focus of van Herpen’s exigencies for experimentation ever since her début in July 2007 and has since shaped the ongoing debate about the relevance of haute couture in the digital era.
While Karl Lagerfeld experimented with 3D printing last fall—using selective laser sintering to melt the plastic materials and mold three dimensional tweed grids into a classic Chanel skirt suit, which was then hand-embroidered—this season the designer put the unique craftsmanship skills of the house atelier in full display, having it literally serve as the backdrop and as a reminder of what is really special about haute couture at the Grand Palais. Guests walked past white cutting tables filled with sketches, fabrics, work sheets, half-completed embroideries and beading materials, toiles, and dress forms with partially-draped half done dresses or parts of jackets: all the accouterments of the Chanel atelier normally situated at the rue Cambon headquarter in plain view, demonstrating the arduous process of creating a couture garment.
Sitting in front of a section of Madame Jacqueline’s temporary tailleur atelier—where the specialization is in structured clothes as opposed to the flou atelier where the expertise lies in fluid constructions—I distinguished her team petites mains’ work in the multitude of manifestations of the Chanel classic skirt suit; now enlivened as a rigid wide-leg short pant suit, or a short-sleeve tiered skirt suit with subtle floral embroidery. Not to be outdone, the flou atelier shone with a long, white, short-sleeve dress embroidered in intricate floral and geometric patterns, with layers of paillettes and glass beads.
Over the past decade Chanel has purchased multiple heritage specialty artisans including the embroiderer Lesage and Montex, the milliner Michel, the flower and feathers specialists Lemarié and Guillet, the silversmith Goosens, and the glove-maker Causse—modernizing their business structure to assure their survival, not just for haute couture but for preserving these skills for the fashion industry as a whole.
In the age of Insta-fashion, these one-of-a-kind couture clothes, that require so much time to make, still stun; the uniqueness and influence extending beyond the particular garments made for the specific clients. Veteran designers to new couturiers like Giambattista Valli, Aouadi, and Francesco Scognamiglio, all deploy traditional craftsmanship to create these innovative and creative fall/winter collections.
Since their first show at the Sorbonne in January 2009, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli have always delved into the arts to imbue their Valentino collections with a sense of grandeur, history, and perhaps a raison d’être. Embarking from the starting point of the Elizabethan Era and the proposition that the world is a stage where individuals represent themselves through emotions, passions and drive, and that clothes reflect ‘the impulse of the soul,’ the design team crafted looks such as an austere slim black jacquard pants with a white cotton blouse with attached bows, a cropped black jacket, and a black crêpe dress requiring 320 hours of merlons handiwork. A charnel tulle-train dress embroidered with rows of white pearls, a black tulle chainmail dress and vest with bronze leather applications are certainly great couture garments from the Rome atelier but much more exquisite when set against the backdrop of Shakespearean drama.
At Dior, the caretaker design team of Lucie Mercier and Serge Ruffieux used the house heritage 1947 New Look of a rigid cropped a-line jacket over a long skirt as a metaphor for the slight transformation of the Dior silhouette, in the toned down show, featuring loose-fitted a-line jackets with flowing skirts, and short sleeve v-neck dresses, a few with gold embroidery. The emphasis being on the atelier’s work in crafting these clothes for clients, the lightness and fluidity of the collection, however, not conveying this message effectively.
“I was inspired by the multicultural and religious mix of the Spanish Andalusia region,” said Yacine Aouadi, “where many cultures blend for centuries.” His third collection, ‘Cordoue’ consists of 13 looks, reflecting the ecclesiastical and cultural blend of church-mosque and Spanish-Moor architecture. Aouadi continues to experiment in his handiwork with the concept of reversibility, such as one look, where the back of a strapless wool dress is folded back to reveal an inner corset in lamb leather beaded with black and white pearls, or a purple spaghetti-strap dress with folded and pressed fabric petals alternating on the front and reversed in the inside and back of dress. The platinum sequins embroidered onto a black skirt were subjected to high temperatures, nearly melting them to form metallic asterisk shapes. Aouadi needs to apply his newly acquired knowledge and fondness of workmanship to broaden his sartorial aperture and create the kind of clothes that a potential client may want to own in order to move his hobby into firm business grounding.
“Une Étude” was Giorgio Armani’s theme this season for his Armani Privé haute couture collection that included a booklet of his sketches along with fabric colors, allowing his customers to select their design and color when they make appointments. Armani Privé is a collection focused on the customer, and a pioneer of daywear couture since the debut show in Paris in January 2005. This season, rather than a specific theme—like lilac last season or Japan a few years before—the collection is all about the precise cut of a silvery cigarette pant, single-breasted jackets in black silk crêpe, houndstooth, or silk jacquard, and coats in geometric ottoman fabrics. A more simplified eveningwear selection was shown this season as well, this one devoid of complicated design elements, including a long black velvet dress with a deep v-neck, outlined with sparkling crystal trim.
Alexandre Vauthier knows his women customers and how their wardrobe choices directly reflect who they are. He has a penchant for cutting dresses slightly shorter than expected, sometimes with slits cutting straight up to the pelvic bones. This collection felt softer and sportier than those of the past, with a beaded military pant paired with a boxy white shirt, and a gray sweatshirt with a gold-beaded micro-skirt, probably a nod to a different customer base for this now seven-year-old brand. Surely the green military elements rendered the collection more sporty, and allowed for customers to mix the fox-lined olive cotton coat with their own clothes, or to wear the light brown leather jumpsuit by itself. Vauthier’s trademarks, however, were still there in the black crochet tee, the high-waisted undergarments, the sparkling tights with a tailored black wool jacket draped over the shoulder, and the black one-sleeve side-slit dress with a big leather bow at the waist.
Elsewhere Jean-Paul Gaultier renounced his propensity for hyper-thematic shows—which often obscure his brilliant couture clothes—this time opting for the simple reference of wood grain surfaces translated into sumptuous belted coats, slim-fitted cat suits, and long dresses in lace and silk complete with faux fur hats. Gaultier’s signature tailoring was in full display throughout with a black single-breasted metallic striped pantsuit, and a wood-print knee-length coat.
Donatella Versace explored new attitudes in her Atelier collection last season with extreme sporty cuts; this season she continues in that vein, with an emphasis on draping and less ornamentation. A light pink cashmere coat with lime green lining worn with a sheath dress opened the show, clearly anchoring the collection in daywear couture rather than just special occasion clothes with perhaps the intention of broadening the market for this collection. A pink satin swath of fabric folded in a zigzag pattern over a black one-sleeve wool dress, and multicolored pastel fabrics intertwined on a black corset dress showed the sophisticated draping work of the Atelier collection.
The haute couture season ended with the high voltage announcement that Maria Grazia Chiuri will be Dior’s next creative director, while her longtime collaborator, Pierpaolo Piccioli will helm Valentino single-handedly. Chiuri will certainly guide Dior on a new creative course—something that has been missing since Raf Simons’ sudden departure last October. It will also be interesting to see how Valentino’s lyrical haute couture will evolve under Piccioli. Separately they will surely invigorate haute couture come next January.