Haute Couture: All fashion roads lead to Paris
The Paris couture is really the United Nations of high fashion. No other week throws together such disparate ideas, experimental fashion and diverse talents from far-flung nations.
None of the major Paris couture houses are directed by French individuals, and this season on or off the official schedule nearly two score of countries were represented by couturiers in Paris, with an immense range of fashion. A season marked by an obsession with craftsmanship; a bewildering array of influences; and, above all, the revival of poetic style.
The four-day season is also a huge magnet for serious fashion professionals. Over 500 media registered for accreditation to The Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, French fashion’s governing body, in a week packed with ancillary events. These kicked off on the Sunday, a day before the official four-day couture season began with pre-collection shows by legendary brands like Hermès and Miu Miu; and insider parties such a private concert by Rita Ora for the very happening perfume brand Kilian.
An action packed week included the opening of the Azzedine Alaia Je Suis Couturier exhibition of the late departed Tunisian fashion genius; Armani and L’Oreal staging a Si Passione perfume party in the Palais de Tokyo, where Olga Kurylenko, in town shooting a fresh French film stole the moment; Atelier Swarovski launching new eyewear with supper in the Crillon; and De Beers hosting scores of jewelry editors in Caviar Kaspia.
Hermès and Miu Miu staged, respectively; a highly polished downtown equestrian autumn pre-collection in Hermès headquarters turned into a forest floor; and an edgy intellectual autumn collection from Miu Miu.
Nowhere was couture more poetic than at Givenchy, a house founded by the gentlemanly aristocrat Hubert de Givenchy, which witnessed the debut of British-born Clare Waight Keller. Her darkly romantic vision – almost monastic and even religious – highlighted another great Paris strength. The sheer beauty of the city’s architecture – seeing as the show was staged inside a massive neo-classical mansion, the National Archives, where exterior arc lights lit the cast. While Christian Dior, Valentino and Chanel all staged thoroughly chic shows all trumpeting the sheer brilliance of their ateliers, and set designers. From a charming replica of a Versailles Garden from Chanel – where Rita Ora starred front row in a micro hooded jumpsuit - to the Surrealist set of Dior, where the house generously threw a fabulous late night ball. Couture is a gift that keeps on giving.
“Haute couture is alive and well and living in Paris,” argues Pascal Morand, Executive Director of the Federation.
In his view three key elements are driving couture’s renaissance.
“In our times there are trends beyond fashion that matter. One is the notion of savoir-faire, which is more and more valued and recognized and sought. People get that sensory experience in fashion with Couture. Then, there is the idea of personalization; which is an aspect many people long for. Finally, there is the search for the uniqueness, and one sees that in couture more than any other area of fashion. In effect, the more the digital revolution makes practically everything easily available the more these three characteristics balance that trend out. And, that’s why couture is an absolute embodiment of certain crucial values; and why it is not at all passé but represents fashion’s future horizons,” argued the French executive philosophically.
Not that the Federation has ignored the Internet. Indeed, Paris Fashion Week’s Instagram account gained thousands of followers daily and will break 150,000 this week, aided by its recent linkup with busy New York tastemaker Tina Leung.
The season also represents an opportunity to capture couturiers that narrow cast their message into super strict codes. Take the Venetian designer Giovanni Bedin, who presented barely a dozen looks in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Every look was a reinterpretation of the Bretoniere, or Breton fisherman’s striped top, though deconstructed and reimagined almost as bustiers worn as outerwear.
Two days later, around the corner in France’s most famous Protestant temple, A.F. Vandervorst sent out latter day Joan of Arc’s in surrealist meetings of khaki army shirts and jackets revamped as heroic blouses. Their show celebrated their 20th anniversary with 40 reinterpretations of their frequently conceptual clothes. Whether extraordinary waistcoats made of re-cycled saddles or vests made of leather hunting belts.
“Why do we show in Paris couture? Because it represents Fashion Liberty!” exclaimed designer Filip Arickx, along side wife and partner An Vandevorst.
One nation that had a great couture week was Lebanon. Its most famed couturier Elie Saab unveiled some images of great power – riffing, again, on Paris itself. In his case the famed period of Paris Est Une Fête, the French equivalent of the Jazz Age. The result: a dazzle of feather, frocks and fantasy where the ghost of Josephine Baker walked again in glory. Later, his fellow Levantine Zuhair Murad staged his best ever show; a Comanche couture collection of super, sexy, sizzling luxury squaws that won him immense applause.
Talent came from all four corners of the earth: like Australia’s Kym Ellery, with a polished display along the Seine and the Korean-Danish Hyun Mi Nielsen. Her upcycling of found materials – seashells, ringing bells, denim scraps, vintage quilts – made for some great images. Named Mensch, and referencing rag-pickers it’s goal was “to seek out the dignity of the dirt,” in an era of huge migration. It succeeded.
“Many of our most talented designers have migrated to haute couture for the simple reason that the ready-to-wear has become far too commercial. In couture they develop a couture craftsmanship, more artisanal and creative. They find a creative liberty, and far more visibility,” says Kuki de Salvertes, whose PR agency Totem handled 11 independent houses during couture, including Hyun Mi Nielsen.
“It’s uniquely in Paris that we find talent from all over the world coming to show their ideas, savoir-faire and artistry. To me, couture now represents the energy and creativity that the creators of the 70s and 80s once stood for in fashion.”
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