Revival on the catwalk: Paris Haute Couture Week has been arguably one of the most exciting moments in the fashion calendar we've seen in a long time. For although the Covid-19 pandemic continues to cause restrictions internationally, thanks to the local easing of the Corona situation, the latest collections of high tailoring were presented in Paris in even more physical shows than we have had on the agenda in the last 18 months.
Sweeping dresses and elaborate suits were the classics at Christian Dior, Chanel and Balenciaga, while contemporary couture took centre stage at Schiaparelli and Iris Van Herpen. One of the highlights of Paris Couture Week was Balenciaga's return to couture tailoring: the brand's first couture presentation in over 50 years. And the New York fashion label Pyer Moss, under Kerby Jean-Raymond became the first black designer since 1988 to be invited by the Chambre Syndicale to show its latest couture collection in Paris. Also unveiled was Jean Paul Gaultier's collaboration with Sacai, which fashion fans have been waiting for since it was first announced in March 2020.
In the following we summarized the fashion highlights of the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week directly from the catwalk. Enter the dream worlds of the autumn/winter 2021 haute couture collections with us:
Chanel's Autumn/Winter 2021 couture collection was presented not in the usual space of the Grand Palais (currently under renovation), but at the Palais Galliera, the city of Paris' fashion museum, a perfect venue for a Chanel show as it is currently hosting an exhibition on the house's founder, Gabrielle Chanel - who, as always, was a key inspiration for the collection. Inspired by impressionist portraits and the iconography of Gabrielle Chanel, Creative Director Virginie Viard presented a haute couture collection of lavish evening wear. Impressionist works by Berthe Morisot, Marie Laurencin and Édouard Manet served as the inspiration for the dresses and skirts that look like paintings. In addition to classic tweed dresses, the show ended, as usual for couture, with a bridal look, this time worn by actress and Chanel muse Margaret Qualley, who tossed her bridal bouquet into the crowd just how it should be. Like the central theme of fashion week, Creative Director Virgine Viard drew on the past while presenting a picturesque glimpse in soft romance into a post-pandemic future.
Kim Jones' second couture collection for Fendi was presented digitally as a massive fashion film, directed by Luca Guadagnino, starring supermodel Kate Moss was dedicated to the eternal beauty of Rome. As with many others this season, antiquity and historicism were the main inspirations for Fendi. Kim Jones describes the collection as a contemporary connection between eras, cultures and aesthetics. This compounding of eras, a clash of old and new - the past with the present, as a leitmotif of the eternal beauty of Rome and its composite history are the protagonists of this haute couture show. It is a collection in which nothing is as it seems. Inspired by Hellenistic motifs, Creative Director Kim Jones launched a swirling collection of delicate embroidery, lace and silhouettes that modelled the models like ancient marble. Highlights of the show included sheer, panelled gowns and draped designs.
Surrealist fashion house Schiaparelli is ready to step into the ring. Into the bullring, to be precise. The French-Italian fashion house Schiaparelli presented their Autumn/Winter 2021 haute couture collection under the name "The Matador" in the form of a B2B presentation with individual appointments press and buyers. Daniel Roseberry's presentation of "The Matador" was a collection that honours Elsa Schiaparelli's vision but is not in thrall to it. His fourth couture collection is a nod to his own inner struggle to rebel against nostalgia and simple beauty. Sometimes, however, you have to rebel against the very thing you want in order to truly understand it. Schiaparelli is a pioneer when it comes to exaggerated romanticism and expanding the concept of what can be beautiful. The inclusion of anatomical references is also key in the house's vocabulary in this collection. Oversized and exaggerated silhouettes are once again the guiding principles of this collection.
Balenciaga caused raising eyebrows when the brand announced its first haute couture collection under Creative Director Demna Gvasalia, 53 years after the house's founding designer Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his couture business in 1968. The 40-year-old Georgian designer, who has been designing ready-to-wear for Balenciaga for six years, presented a simply more modern collection of 63 looks for his couture debut for Balenciaga. Only rarely jeans and T-shirts have made their way onto the couture catwalk, but Balenciaga showcased a distinctly modern take on high fashion, mixing casual pieces with formal wear and Demna's signature super-oversized designs. The collection, a mix of men's and women's bespoke pieces, paid worthy tribute to Balenciaga's revered couture history and included many direct references to founder Cristóbal Balenciaga, including his initials C.B. hand-embroidered on silk ties, poplin shirts and leather gloves. Other looks directly referenced pieces from Balenciaga couture history, demonstrating Demna's multi-faceted vision for Balenciaga. At the same show, newly signed model Ella Emhoff (stepdaughter of US Vice President Kamala Harris) made her own debut, walking for the first time at Paris Fashion Week.
Just a couple of weeks after Dior showed their Cruise 2021 collection, the French fashion house already returned to the runway at Paris Couture Week. The return to in-person shows after three seasons of Dior presenting exclusively by video led Creative Director Maria Chiuri to re-engage with "being present" through an awareness of the tactility of handmade textiles and that invisible chain of people in the fashion industry without which haute couture could not exist. Maria Grazia Chiuri drew inspiration from the remarkable embroidered walls of the Sala dei Ricami in Rome's Palazzo Colonna, celebrating craftsmanship. In addition to intricate embroidery and beautiful details in the collection, Dior collaborated with artist Eva Jospin, who was responsible for the show's stunning embroidered set.
Viktor & Rolf:
The world is obsessed with the royals, perhaps even more than with fashion. But ever since Oprah Winfrey's interview with Duchess Meghan Markle and Prince Harry of Sussex, at the latest, the façade of precisely these royals has been crumbling, at least of the British one. That's why Dutch design duo Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren were inspired by this new generation of royals and their attempt to maintain a human reality behind the façade of this institution for their Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2021 collection in Paris. They address the ambiguity of 'keeping up appearances', regardless of what is actually happening behind the scenes. Known for over-the-top couture creations, the designs are brimming with glitz and glamour. The looks each consist of a dress, a coat and a sash, all embellished with Swarovski crystals. In a interplay of fairy tale and cartoon, medieval codes are taken to extremes by plastic tiaras and crowns and ironic sashes. From prom queen to drag queen within 16 looks of pure camp - a self-irony of our times that we can also only expect from Viktor & Rolf.
Giorgio Armani Privé:
There has been no shortage of colour in the collections presented so far this couture season, which was also evident at Giorgio Armani, who sent a sea of pink, purple and green down the catwalk in front of a live audience.
The designer played with textures and colours. No more fitting title than "Shine" could have better summed up Giorgio Armani Privé's Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2021 collection. With shimmering fabrics and lots of sequins, tulle and chiffon, Giorgio Armani provided a sensory overload of the highest level.
Mercurial silk organza, so flowing and shiny that it moved like a hologram, characterized this collection. Armani worked it into trousers and dresses, adding his signature filtrage layers of sheer fabric. Following his approach on the state of the fashion industry at the beginning of the Corona pandemic, he incorporated 15 garments from past collections into the current haute couture collection to be a prime example of consistency and timelessness in fashion. We are already undoubtedly sure that we will see some of these gorgeous gowns on the red carpet very soon.
A particularly impactful event in the history of Paris couture shows was the presentation of New York fashion brand Pyer Moss under Creative Director Kerby Jean-Raymond. Kerby Jean-Raymond was the first black American designer since Patrick Kelly in 1988 to be invited by the Chambre Syndicale to show his latest Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2021 collection for Pyrer Moss as part of the official couture programme. At the historic Villa Lewaro in New York, the home of African-America's first self-made millionaire Madam C.J. Walker, Elaine Brown, an activist and the former chairperson of the Black Panther Party, delivered an opening monologue. In this setting, Pyer Moss showed a collection as the closing show of Couture Week as a tribute to black inventors of our time. Camp aesthetics aside, which polarised some couture purists, it was a bold and confident commemoration of the often still underappreciated contributions of Black pioneers of the last century who helped to truly shape American progress and the world beyond. An oversized ice cream cone, a life-size peanut butter glass and a human traffic light are just a selection of 25 inventions and ideas by Black viosnaires that Pyer Moss sent down the Paris haute couture catwalk.
John Galliano literally threw the catwalk tradition to the wind with his presentation at Maison Margiela. A short horror film on Ireland's cliffs by French filmmaker Olivier Dahan, inspired by the stories and characters Margiela Creative Director John Galliano created to reinvigorate his collections, at least according to the lengthy intro documentary, replaced a classic catwalk presentation.
The short fashion film is about a 19th century fishing village, a ghost ship, a sailor's shack and a crown that conjures up a supernatural plague. There were dances in traditional folklore, shirts, underwear, animal masks and rituals, strobe-like effects and a blood moon. Some of it beautiful, some of it aberrant. Much of it was hard to understand, but in impressive designs by John Galliano. The textile inclination towards craftsmanship was particularly striking: crocheted fabrics, jackets and dresses made from deadstock and upcycled fabrics and painstaking textile finishing experiments. Was it couture or was it costume? Like all dresses, a bit of both. It was, as John Galliano said in his introduction, about "fear, the power of nature, and how helpless we are in the face of it." It may have been fiction, but there's no arguing about the veracity of the concept.
Jean Paul Gaultier:
France's avant-la-lettre visionary Jean Paul Gaultier handed over the creative reins this couture season to Sacai designer Chitose Abe, who as part of a new design approach of collaborating with a different designer each season, deeply explored the archives of the iconic brand to reveal her own interpretation of Gaultier. Her collection is the first in this ongoing series of guest designers to collaborate with the house after Jean Paul Gaultier announced his retirement in January 2020. Chitose Abe of Sacai thus got her first opportunity to work with haute couture, bringing her own signature to Gaultier's archive by adding her own modern twist to his most iconic pieces. She expressed this couture approach most notably in her reinterpretation of Gaultier's iconic blue and white Maleot jumper, which she reimagined with aspects of deconstruction and fusion of different garments. Elsewhere, she redefined Gaultier's unforgettable cone bra as a cobalt blue jumpsuit with a bustier alongside a sea of ruffles. To close the presentation in Paris, collaborative designer Chitose Abe wore a T-shirt embroidered with a message that ran throughout the collection and could hardly sum up Jean Paul Gaultier better: Enfants Terribles.