Couture Week Dresses

Photo: Victor Virgile / Getty Images

Couture is for the very few, which means the fervor around the shows and the “trends” they might inspire can feel like a headscratcher. (How can a dress that will exist in just one or two copies become a trend?! Well, I’m sure the fast fashion villains are cooking up plushy lion heads mounted on polyester tube dresses as we speak…) In the Spring 2023 season, though, when the shows bring the glow of international wealth to chilly Paris, there is another possibility in mind: Oscar dresses.

Chanel, Armani, and Valentino are all major players in the celebrity dressing game, each of them having revolutionized the red carpet in their own way. Chanel conveys feminine French pleasures, and Valentino has made dressing up feel youthful, vivacious. As for Armani, he practically invented the system of red carpet dressing in the 1990s, and last year, I got a PR pitch stating that something like 30% of Oscar winners took hope their statues in Armani. Does the dress confer good luck, or does the brand simply have great taste? (Perhaps both: Michelle Yeoh, nominated for her role in Everything Everywhere All At Once, sat front row at this week’s show.)

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These shows, for the season that wrapped up Thursday evening, can turn us all into armchair personal stylists. You see the dress and start dreaming of the talent. (I’ll admit that when I saw that wild chainmail two piece set at Dior, I thought immediately of Anya Taylor-Joy, who was perched in the front row.) So let’s play fantasy red carpet league, Oscars edition!

Over at Armani Privé, the designer was feeling playful. Giorgio Armani is thought of as the beige, tasteful gown designer, and indeed he is that (and thank God for it!). But his Privé collections also show his subtle sense of whimsy; I still think about a black velvet cape dress from his Fall 2018 collection embellished with tiny gold beads in the shape of crossed arms. Imagine talking to her at a party—the urge to impress would be almost overwhelming!

The entirety of the Spring 2023 show was inspired by harlequins, who loom large in commedia dell’arte, Renaissance Italy’s answer to Tinseltown. The focus on beautiful jackets with great pants, which is always an Armani swoon point, here in a palette of pale sand pinks, jewel blues, and harlequin prints, remind us that this master of elegance knows how to make ’em laugh. But he does so with a mischievous smile rather than anything remotely meme-like, which is rare.

To that end, it would be refreshing to see women show up on the red carpet in a sequin-bow bustier under an organza clown collar and perfect swishy harlequin trousers sprayed with midnight blue beads. Or even the pale pink, turquoise, and black silk satin evening jacket and matching wrapped trousers.

But again! We must be realistic. Those are risky looks for the red carpet. And a long sleeve, milky pink column dress covered in slinky beads, with gorgeous beaded pink blooms at the neck and wrist, has “Oscar winner” written all over it. Same goes for a gown that begins, at the neck, with a tense crosshatch pattern that expands slowly down the body into full-scale harlequin diamonds. With little sequin bows on the shoulders! Wow. What a dress!

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I can’t end this piece without talking about Haider Ackermann’s extraordinary couture show for Jean Paul Gaultier, which was just as “pure” as he promised in our interview this past week. Tilda Swinton and Timothée Chalamet were in attendance, and I imagine almost everyone who tweets obsessively about high fashion is crossing all their fingers in hopes that the stars will show up at the Academy Awards in Ackermann’s Gaultier looks.

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Ackermann told me that he enjoys being quiet—“it suits me better.” His show was a testament to purity, quality, technical finesse, and connoisseurship, and the fact that it was so widely lauded makes me wonder if the connoisseur, someone hungry for information and joyfully snobbish about their vast grasp of culture and fashion, is the new influencer.

I wrote earlier this week about how wonderful it is that Paris Couture Week has space both for designers who whisper with their work and those who roar. Ackermann’s masterful show—made all the better by sauntering models who stopped at the end of the runway and gave major face—was a testament that those who insist on whispering may, in fact, roar the loudest. This collection was pure poetry.

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This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.