In a few days many collections are shown and the variety of creative viewpoints is dazzling, from traditional to avant-garde, and from romantic and ethereal, to sexy and aggressive.
So, when it comes to summing things up, where do we look? The first thing to do is to look at women in 2016, and relate this to the diversity of looks and themes. This makes it clear why we can have Alexandre Vauthier showing fast paced, sexy, urban couture and Alexis Mabille showing boudoir lace, and romantic ball gowns. Both designers have a customer but this might suggest it is not the same woman, or I would question, maybe it is the same women but in 2016 she leads many different lives.
The key to being well dressed is being appropriate and I suspect clients at couture, who have always been smart, and who often buy far fewer clothes than the high street customer, likes the idea of a soft floral dress for Provence, a Proustian Ball gown for an opera gala, a slashed lace slip dress for New York.
The idea of dressing at only one house, of only having one look seems oddly outdated, especially for working women many roles make up the working week, from boardroom to travel, to site visit, to cocktail. The couture customer requires her clothes to work hard at this price level, clients are introduced to couture and usually if they come unprepared are then educated by the vendeuse and the fitters as to why they are spending this money and what it entails in terms of craft and time and heritage. No one buys a couture piece in a hurry or on a whim!
The second strong element this season was nature, from roses to vegetables. Schiaparelli used vegetables, shell fish, fruit and the harvest, including wheat and straw and twine, as a key creative focus. Valentino’s nymphs also embraced leaves and scattered petals in their path as bare foot they strolled through the salons, whilst Julien Fournié conjured up tropical blossoms and huge leaves. Zuhair Murad flung handfuls of flowers across virtually the entire collection, and Yiqing Yin used country rope as the start for entwined bodices. The original Christian Dior New Look was actually called Corolle after the flower and this season’s collection featured stiffened flower and petal like ruffles and folds hinting at this heritage. So, the idea of nature can take so many forms, be it the soft petal like bell shapes at Ilja, the flowers in the lace at Alexis Mabille, or literally the bouquet of brilliant red roses held by the model wearing black and white at Stephane Rolland. Couture loves everything about nature even to the Elie Saab runway this season which was earth, or the tiny jewelled potato at Schiaparelli.
The white plates soared up to the ceiling, the printed carpet featured radishes and the programme notes told us about the menu. Bertrand Guyon offered a truly delicious dish of crystal embroidered fruits, vegetables, and even a succulent lobster on neat tailoring and ethereal dresses. The lightness of touch meant that indigestion was avoided with dresses whipped into delicate mousses and drifting harmonies of colour. Search out the pieces which will no doubt be worn as key statements by the clients in a collection with wit, charm and a joyful celebration of the culinary and couture arts. The glorious workmanship clearly trumpeted “couture” in cutlery prints, salad embroideries and extraordinary macramé using fine string threads, raffia and even wheat. Enchanting and witty and a perfect match for the heritage of the house.
The forms and volumes at Dice Kayek demonstrated exactly why couture exists. The atmospheric collection was a statement of soft rounded silhouettes and billowing proportions. There was a hint of military swagger in the buttoning and frock coat inspirations. The beading and embellishment, using birds as a motif, spoke of the cultural heritage of the designers and added to the overall feel of the collection which was dramatic, confident in execution and showed all the skills of the workrooms off; from the bold scissored shapes to the Beau Brummell style dandy pleating on many of the tops. The colour was limited but the deep powder and blue, iridescent indigo and midnight added to the impact of the show.
In a collection which sharply divided the audience, the studio team, many of whom have been associated for some time with both the house of Dior and Raf Simons, continued to modernise the house. With a nod at deconstructionism and yet still referencing the strong heritage of the house strict tailoring was contrasted with off the shoulder and sexy layers of soft pieces. Strong pattern cutting was in evidence with darting, seaming and piecing to create shapes from long line jackets to fit and flare dresses thought to stiff ruffles and folds. As ever the skills of the haute couture workrooms both tailoring and flou (softly sewn) were a feature of the collection. Embroidery was scattered across everything from brocade style patterns to Jewel like encrustations strategically placed.
On entering the space to see the collection and seeing the pieces suspended in space instantly reflected the influence of nature and marine life. Floating like sea anemones, or jelly fish or drifting like birds or vegetation the Aouadi collection was exquisite in close up which this installation allowed. Tiny bubbles of crin with droplets of water, ruffles like coral edges, beading and lace cascading as though escaping from the garment. The predominantly slim silhouettes in transparent layers were carefully layered or constructed to be sheer yet wearable. The palette of soft flesh and neutral shades emphasised the detailing and the technical control evident throughout the presentation and the pieces.
After last season’s sombre and dramatic collection Julien Fournié embraced colour, pattern and the tropical isles of fantasy. Exotic blooms, shimmering sparkle and vibrant decoration characterized a collection which contained many of Fournie’s signatures but at full volume. Stand outs included the high waisted dress with plum, shocking pink and hot orange, the Parma violet dress with swags of Chinese yellow beading and the flame orange encrusted degradee beading on deep violet blue. The full skirted ball gowns recalled belle of the ball styles from the 1850’s in the deep south. Heroines waltzing across the plantation without a care in the world.
It is a simple fact that creating fashion which relies on construction can create heavy structures. Great to look at but not great to wear. Ilja deftly solves this problem with light as air folds, loops and panels of fabric, rarely resorting to stiffness or forced fabric. As the models drifted through the salons in blush, pale coral, iced blue and other soft as air shades the fabrics fell and floated around the them. Sometimes barely attached to the garment, and other times integral the creation of the piece there was a sureness of hand from the Dutch couturiere. Some of the silhouettes indeed recalled Cristobal Balenciaga; Ilja, however, selected a brilliant range of fabrics from organza to fine brocade and she also introduced some use of felted decoration which resembled blurred art gallery impressions.
Inside the baroque salons, the black velvet masques and chocolate’s in red lacquer boxes tied with Ulyana Seergenko ribbons along with the tiny gilt chairs and glittering chandelier created an Imperial Court atmosphere. The Russian influenced elements in the collections of Ulyana Seergenko has waxed and waned like the moon across the seasons. This collection had many feelings and details which seemed less European and more inspired by tradition. In flounced and decorated layers, dresses and looks; decoration and filigree tiers recalled St Petersberg, the icing sugar colours and proportions combined architectural construction with folklorique elements.
In couture decoration is an element many designers incorporate in their collections, but to use it well and successfully is as much an art as the work itself. Zuhair Murad opened with white on white climbing roses tumbling across trellis. Perhaps a Marie Antoinette fantasy meets couture skills; but this was merely the beginning. Roses scattered on an ombree print were re-embellished with dew like embroidery, cherry blossom climbed across a mini crinoline party dress, strands of crystals linked pieces together. Silhouettes ranged from sweeping back fullness around siren curves, wrapped and slashed sexiness and dip hemline gowns whose nightclub short front length swooped into a demure train. Only one word for this collection; Bravo!
Closing the last day of haute couture in Paris was the often elaborate decorative work of Chinese designer Guo Pei. Rihanna will be long remembered for her Guo Pei coat at the Metropolitan Museum of New York costume gala. The opening golden cutwork dress with tiny matching crown was a tour de force in the same vein, however the collection itself revealed subtle use of decoration, often on simple silhouettes. If at times the designer seemed a little too keen to play down the extraordinary skills of her team, and the abundance of her ideas, there were some sensational pieces and again to close the show some stand out gowns; one especially, which combined iridescent fringe with crystal embroidery on a floor length body conscious gown to demonstrate where her heart lies. I suspect more is more both for Guo Pei and her clients, but we will see what the future holds.
How to capture on paper in words the romantic glory of the Valentino Haute Couture collection created by Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri? The influences of dance, ballet, and Fortuny were mentioned but in realization they presented so much more. Florentine Renaissance romance from Dante and Beatrice, Ballets Russes impressions in homage to Leon Bakst and a tender ethereal quality throughout the collection. Weightless silk tulle like mists, softest velvets with glimmering heraldic impressions and tiny filigree decorations apparently created by the fingers of elves or fairies. Layering was a feature, so transparence was both over and under simple tabards and fluttering ties anchored dresses and tunics which might float away so light did they appear. A colour palette embracing deep moss green, dark garnet red alongside palest dawn gold and misty neutrals all added to the beauty. Magical.
By returning to their couture beginnings, where they first began, Viktor & Rolf can once again truly express their view of fashion. Art seems high on the agenda yet as with last seasons, clothes to hang on the wall of a gallery, when examined this seasons totally white sculptural collection will have pieces to buy and wear. The formation of the show which started simply and became more complex and larger until models were concealed under huge circular suns with frilled edges, had started with simple almost clinical coats. Developing the scale of the Van Gogh collection two seasons ago and the ruffles, they then went from last season’s art to this seasons sculpture. The three dimensional craft which created these pieces was true couture and not theatrical illusion, and by using one white aertex type fabric with the perfect handle Viktor & Rolf were able to make a brilliant statement. Of course not for everyone, but then this is the joy of creativity, one clients dream of modernity is another’s of unwearable; à chacun son goût.
Showing right at the end of couture Arnaud Maillard and Alvaro Castejon managed to make a clear modern sexy statement with just a hint of “space age” without overstepping into Barbarella territory. By contrasting silvery metallics and jewelled harnesses with soft printed chiffons and shimmering layers the collection offered modernity with appeal. The craft and work was often barely apparent never over stated, with released pleats a strong feature holding the fabric in control until released into softness. A white ensemble featured square flat silver sequined embroidery which faded away to the hem creating soft sparkle rather than aggressive solid metallic.