In the context of collections that take thousands of hours to create, to be produced for a select few customers with deep enough pockets to afford them—for most, it is the sheer emotion and awe evoked by these exquisite creations that have us riveted for those five days during Paris Haute Couture Week. This season was a particularly important one, with changing of guards signalling new era’s at Chanel and Fendi, and a timely reminder that, in our times of drop culture and ‘See-Now-Buy-Now’, the haute couture art-form is more relevant than ever.
Maria Grazia Chiuri’s first look for Dior sporting the message ‘Are Clothes Modern?’, the title of a 1947 essay by then MOMA curator Bernard Rudofsky, set an undertone of the tension between practicality and decoration. Stripping back to an almost all black collection, the eye was invited to focus on each form and texture, from the strong feminine lines of tailored suits to the embroidery and beading over mesh on lavish evening gowns. Another important inspiration for the collection was Caryatids, those statues of women that support structures in Ancient Greek architecture. The influence was seen in draping that was reminiscent of the style of tunics often worn by these figures. Women who withstand great weights of the world for hundreds of years—this and other feminist themes were also reflected in the darkly beautiful installation created by artist Penny Slinger inside Dior’s 30 Avenue Montaigne for the show.
In a much anticipated first haute couture outing for Virginie Viard for Chanel, the beginning of a new era after Karl Lagerfeld’s passing in February this year, there was a measured injection of the new into the Chanel house codes as we know it. Viard’s grand circular library lit by sunlight through the glass dome of the Grand Palais referenced Lagerfeld’s reputed collection of over 300,000 books, and also united Lagerfeld, Viard and Coco Chanel through their shared love of literature. Viard’s vision for Chanel was a more pared back and functional one. There were languid long coats, tweed suits with relaxed trousers and pyjama suits, most styled with black or two-toned flats. The neon orange two pieces suit on model Kaia Gerber was Viard’s touch
Fendi’s haute couture collection was also a tribute to Lagerfeld. Staged on the roof of the Temple of Venus in Rome, the Colosseum seen rising up in the background, the show was one of the most memorable events of the season. Lagerfeld worked 54 years at the house, and Silvia Venturi Fendi, now the sole creative director, showed 54 looks to mark those years. The collection was inspired by marble and mosaics, expressed in various ingenuitive uses of fur and silk to mimic the look of stone. Though fur was a mainstay of the collection, many looks included only touches, and others none at all, implying that even a house built on fur can contemplate change.
Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino unabashedly celebrated diversity and individuality. Stepping into his universe of audacious colours and billowing trapeze skirts and capes, the real world of boundaries and impossibilities seemed far away. Exotic folky themes permeated the collection in tasseled headpieces and tiers of woolen fringe, while full skirts gathered into gigantic bows and feathers. The mostly black models along with Lauren Hutton in the cast also sent a strong message on embracing diversity. In Piccioli’s world view, individuality and diversity are not something simply to be accepted, but are an inexhaustible source of inspiration.
For Givenchy, creative director Clare Waight Keller proposed a narrative of playful rebellion within the rigid confines of tradition, something more adventurous than her previous more considered collections. Imagine cool kids let loose in an opulent chateau, ripping down its great curtains for coats and taking residence in bird-like gowns that at once looked haphazardly strewn together and meticulously constructed.
The pull between practicality and decoration is perhaps moot in the context of a single Giambattista Valli gown that takes 300 hours of work by hand. That these pieces would grace the runway for only seconds was a motivation behind Valli departing from tradition and holding a static presentation for this collection of cloud-like pastel tulle at the Shangri La Hotel.
In contrast, Iris van Herpen’s collection could only be fully appreciated in motion. The designs were inspired by the wind-powered kinetic sculptures by artist Anthony Howe. With incorporation of stainless steel that formed structures for feather and silk, the ethereal looks were a disciplined chaos of lines and forms coming together in an undulating symmetry.
At Armani Privé, a massive 82 looks harked back to the house’s power suits of the 80’s which became Armani’s signature. These were reinvigorated with glittering layers of crystal beaded tulle that brought an airy weightlessness to the collection.
While many of the collections during this haute couture season delved deep into tradition, others subverted tradition and proposed a vision of the future. Always at the core was the artform that brings these near-impossible sartorial visions into the physical realm. We are reminded that, with a fast paced pret-a-porter cycle that conditions us to expect instant availability, haute couture remains the indispensable counterweight.
See our roundup of the best of Paris Haute Couture Week below.
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This Haute Couture season had so much to delight the senses. Our EIC @KennieBoy gives us his round up of the best of FW 2019-2020. New life at Virginie Viard’s first couture showing for @ChanelOfficial, one last show (for now) at @Dior’s 30 Avenue Montaigne and @Fendi took us by private jet to #Rome for Silvia Fendi’s collection honouring Karl Largerfeld. While @MaisonValentino gave us exotic ethnic delights, @Givenchyofficial brought out the nobel rebel. @Armani, @giambattistavalliparis and @ralphandrusso took us back to the tradition of high fashion, while @irisvanherpen went cyber modern and projected us into a hypnotic future. #pfw #parisfashionweek #hautecouture #paris