tony glenville | five stories from couture

Ronald van der Kemp


We all know that trends are dead. Micro stories — be it plaid or pink, tailoring or tuxedos — are fine but really, these days, we wear what we like, when we like, and where we like. Even if that’s the case, this doesn’t mean there aren’t stories to tell from the runways of the world. This season, there were definite shifts in directions from designers to make us think. With this in mind, I’ve selected five stories to wrap up the many on and off-schedule shows, installations, and private viewings of the couture collections. I might also add that the crowded days were extremely well attended, and the mix of established, recent and debut labels was as diverse and intriguing as one could ask for.

Conscious Couture

Clothes that interpret the concepts of recycling and upcycling are very much in the news today and, when it comes to haute couture pieces, the idea that no two clients will end up with exactly the same item is very appealing anyway. Ronald van der Kemp has been exploring this quietly over several seasons and collections since 2014. He looks at the components that go to make up a garment from the materials. Trimmings, fabrics pieced together, or a single garment designed for fashion or perhaps for interiors, he cares not if he can use it.

 “We believe that what’s deemed useless today, can create beautiful tomorrows, the designer said. “We capture those discarded fragments and turn them into an ever-evolving wardrobe. All made with existing materials coming from overstock, deadstock, and leftovers.” The results are chic, elegant, and witty. From jeans to grand evening gowns, the attention to quality in silhouette, construction, and finish are of the highest level. This is truly ethical haute couture and exactly the reason why he has, quite rightly, progressed from the very fringes of the schedule to a key player position.


looked no further than their own ateliers for recycling and reusing fabrics. “Vagabond” was one of the first, strong statements of this repurposing without leaving the building. Of course, this success led to much more fabric being used, successful sales, and, thus, a lack of fabric to use in their latest collection. Undaunted, they turned to all the fabric samples they have accumulated during the years and promptly turned a minus into a plus; patchworking hundreds of pieces of all shapes and sizes into a characteristically strong collection. The silhouettes burst forth in swinging, swirling and swaying forms hinting at Little Women, Little House on the Prairie, and many other past influences, yet as always with Viktor&Rolf remaining resolutely modern.



Aelis presented faded fabrics, patchworks, mismatched garments, and ethical fabrics. The collection was remarkable for referencing past couture moods but with modern weightless construction — often with a hint of very early Martin Margiela in tone or form, even if without direct reference of any kind. Romantic and slightly wonderland-ish the collection looked lovely shown in faded neutral salons.

City Couture

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For many couture designers, their collection focus on late day and evening wear, in fact, some collections feature no daywear at all. Life begins at cocktail hour. This season, three designers looked at the wardrobe with a broader vision. First must come Maison Rabih Kayrouz. The tailoring in suits, jackets and coats were simply sensational — broad shoulders, trapeze shapes, and a sparking colour palette from scarlet to sharp white stole the show. As usual, the proof of this wonderfully focussed designer was in the number of women wearing his clothes to the show. In the close quarters of his atelier, there was no room to hide a shoddy make or finish. Perfection from his workrooms was under scrutiny but it passed the test with flying colours.

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Alexandre Vauthier tailors as well as Yves Saint Laurent, which is the highest praise I can give. He makes coats and jackets, trousers and skirts. Pieces to buy and wear in the real world and for real life. Sharp and sexy with a strong silhouette and a strong presence, the collection was fast and furious and featured all his signatures but fresh and new at the same time.


At Schiaparelli, Daniel Roseberry is in his second season. Coming from Thom Browne, he understands menswear so the tailoring was superb. The camel coat with gold tassel buttons, the midnight navy pants suit, the soft pants suit in a beaded animal pattern, and many more pieces were sensational. The soft slouchy, elegant dégagé feeling hinted at a 2020 version of Katherine Hepburn. The women wearing these clothes in the city are successful confident and comfortable in their own skins. Brilliant, Mr. Roseberry.

The Classic Houses


Dior has Maria Grazia Chiuri at the helm and she never fails to deliver. This season, her wardrobe of clothes encompassed curvy draped suits, sharp updates on the Bar jacket, swirling afternoon dresses, chic cocktail attire, and plissé columns for gala nights. It isn’t an easy job to take a thread and make a collection with cohesion and creative integrity, but she made this look easy. The whisper of beige, écru, and face powder neutrals moved into extraordinary floral like the leaves of camellias in green, a dark African violet or a wine red. The word that immediately springs to mind on being asked about the collection is simply “lovely.”

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Virginie Viard seamlessly stepped into an icon’s shoes at Chanel. Succeding Karl Largerfeld, even after having been his right hand for some time, is no easy gig. The bride said it all, a communion dress of heavy white crêpe the triple-layer silk tulle collar almost invisible, the veil scattered with the tiniest, most fragile petals. The traditions of tweed and tulle were upheld but everything looked modern, easy and demanded examination. A collar that looked like lace might be beaded, a sliver of tulle flirted under a skirt, an iridescent striped evening dress was made of many fabrics and layering’s of embroidery. The House of Chanel is in safe hands but that doesn’t mean safe ideas.

Couture Constructions

Giambattista Valli

The eveningwear business at couture is often swamped with beading and bows, something many clients are looking for, and three designers especially move in a different direction. Giambattista Valli favours predominantly architectural and sculptural silhouettes. Be it constructed like tulle topiary,  in linear drape, or ballooning silk faille; the shapes are so linear and three dimensional that he doesn’t even show them on a runway but, for the second season, as an amazing installation. We can walk around each piece and gasp at the volumes or the lines of these fabulous pieces. Colour was truly extraordinary taking in pale pistachio with lilac, chartreuse, the palest apricot, geranium, and bright egg yolk.

Stephane Rolland


Stephane Rolland has always favoured a grand approach, with an almost monumental statue to his looks. Showing in the Art Deco hall of the Palais de Chaillot, he rearranged the seating so the huge columns and lamps were part of the mise-en-scène. As each model strolled past the billowing folds, sweeps of taffeta were complemented by this architectural setting. Long trains, long lines, trapeze silhouettes, and a kind of operatic strength were apparent in the collection. These are clothes for formidable leading ladies, they have their own power and in their impact focus attention on the wearer.



Aganovich is genius but this season one dress stood out as the epitome of her brilliance: black silk gazaar swirled around to form a whirlpool around the shoulders and hips with the sinuous lined following the body elsewhere. It was superb craftsmanship, true couture expertise, and a brilliant eye. There were many divine pieces in the collection, often in black, like the jacket and skirt that fluttered like the leaves of a book as it outlined the torso, the nun-like dress slithering down the body to flare out into a soft dancing hem. Every season, I want more people to see the amazing work of this couturier.

Couture Cultures

Our origins are embedded in us. Travelling and transplanting our lives and our work often only enhances and strengthens our cultural creative voice. Here are some designers showing at Paris Haute Couture whose aesthetic is coloured and imbued with their backgrounds; there are many more out there. Internationalism is over; we are in the mood to demonstrate and nurture our differences and celebrate our traditions.

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Juana Martín showed at the Spanish embassy in Paris, playing traditional Andalusian music. She had Rossy de Palma to close the show. The designer transported us to Spain yet the references were reinvented and sparkled with ideas. Pieces ranged from an Art Deco bride whose shimmering dress and veil hinted at the Madonna, communion and the vast interiors of sacred buildings, to ruffles cascading but in autumnal drifts of colour, spots, and a sharply tailored suit whose long flaring skirt had the panache of a bullfighter’s cape. Even an almost traditional flamenco dress of ruffles was entirely in white; a designer whose culture is deep in the DNA of her work yet whose fashion instincts allow her freedom of expression.

Yuima Nakazato


Yuima Nakazato is a fashion laboratory technician, a fashion alchemist. This season with Stravinsky’s L’Oiseau de Feu and Le Sacre du Printemps as a soundtrack, he explored the Phoenix legend to extraordinary effect, taking us in the process from the short, through the staggered to the full length in hemlines. All under a glowering volcanic red lighting. The rainbow crushed pleating effects, and the final billowing winged robes were extraordinary. The designer was born in Tokyo and trained in Antwerp, this eclectic creative combination has resulted, as it would be expected, in a totally original and technical view of modernistic haute couture. It’s fascinating and unique.

Rahul Mishra


Rahul Mishra is the first designer from India to participate in Paris Haute Couture week. One sighting of the staggeringly exquisite craftwork of the clothes immediately answers the question of why? The embroideries and the inventions consume hundreds of hours of painstaking work, producing a veritable herbaceous border of flowers, leaves, and fruits. Standouts were one dress seemingly made up of layers of huge white fern leaves or a Persian hanging garden of tiers of flowers. The results are not simply pretty or interesting, they are also beautiful couture pieces, with a one hundred percent unique creative handwriting. The originality of Rahul Mishra’s vision is his alone, where India’s opulent Bollywood style is transformed into a softer and more lyrical density of embellishment. Even the sequins and crystals are threaded into visionary shimmering landscapes.

Xuan. Photo: Thomas Dossou

Xuan is Dutch-Vietnamese and thinks through each season as a very specific story. This time, she collaborated with six artists whose paintings on easels were paired at the end of the show with the dress inspiration. Ruffles often are off-kilter configurations and a signature of Xuan. This season these came in both soft blush rose mousseline and deep midnight blue faille. The nude version had a slight Art Deco feel to it as did some other soft shapes, thus linking this century with the heritage of couture seen through the eyes of tomorrow.

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Imane Ayissi is a Cameroon-born designer and his use of raffia from Madagascar, kente cloth from Ghana, and other specific African textiles give his couture a totally special touch. The simply cut coats, or the huge raffia bubble shapes merge tribal and Red Carpet with great success. Culture is at the heart of his work, not an afterthought. The long fine macramé fringe swaying over wide pants have a distinct rhythm to them. His statement: “Africa isn’t a country, it’s a continent. We deserve better than these simplistic clichés, which sadden me.” Should be taken on board by the entire fashion industry. 

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Zuhair Murad is a Lebanese designer whose client’s demand lavishness, sparkle, shimmer, glitter, and opulence. Of course, Murad offers this, but he underpins this his personal attitude towards couture eveningwear. Firstly, on the runway much is shown transparent, sheer and soft; the linings and underpinnings are for the client. His colour palette embraces subtle soft shades and rich deep tones; again, the client may demand gold but Zuhair Murad demonstrates how lovely a dress might look in a deep sky blue, pale face powder beige, or even daffodil yellow. Combining his culture and clients’ requirements with his own creative vision he has, over many seasons, perfected a less layered and sumptuous signature while preserving his own handwriting. This season the Egyptian theme appeared both as a statement in solid jewelled hieroglyphics and as the filigree outline of a lotus.

Julien Fournié


Finally, a French designer upholding the French presence in the listing of Haute Couture: Julien Fournié. With experience at Dior, Claude Montana, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Torrente his pedigree in fashion is 100% French. This shows in his collections. This season we proceeded from the fit and flare of a black filigree top and skirt through a slender safari look and on to neat jackets and flounced flirty tiered skirts. Each piece has its own proportions and balance, the tiers of the skirt swinging from a deep basque and increasing in volume until frothing into fullness at ballerina length. The plissé mousseline de soie dress in a pale snuff shade was bisected by ice blue shimmering straps recalling the boning of a corselet, outlining the cascade of ruffles spiralling down the front. It is this Parisienne chic, the investment in time and detail, the unexpected which French haute couture epitomises, in a time of international fashion viewpoints it is a pleasure to watch Monsieur Fournié uphold his heritage so expertly. 

Jean-Paul Gaultier’s 50 Years and Farewell

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What can I possibly say about the night at the Theatre du Chatelet when Jean Paul Gaultier bid farewell to his fashion label? The stars were everywhere, on stage and in the audience. The clothes and the production were sensational, and the hour-long show sped by. But the key to the entire event was the love and fun everyone had. If even Anna Wintour was to stand up laughing and shouting, this was the night. Almost 2000 people paid complete attention to every second of the event. Everyone screamed as the wonderful names who have worked and supported Gaultier appeared: Tanel, Anna Pavlovski, Erin O’Connor, Jade Parfitt, alongside so many including an incandescent Amanda Lear. That’s it really, the show featured every signature from Breton stripes to teddy bears and we all understood – he did it first. The military, the camp, the gender-bending, the underwear as outerwear, the sailors, the corsets — it’s simply endless. A night to remember is a much-overused term but this truly was. Thank you, Monsieur Gaultier, for everything. Now for the next chapter, because we know it’s not over yet.

words. Tony Glenville

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