As uncertainty looms over the world, Paris Couture made us all escape – mainly into firsts.
On the first day, Bertrand Guyon went back to 1938 and Place Vendome, the location of Elsa Schiaparelli’s Circus collection, as the Chambre Syndicale – French haute couture organising body – declared the house an official member of the couture schedule. The designer explored opulence and simplicity, influenced by the Surrealist couturier and 1960s and ‘70s French photographer Guy Bourdin. Schiaparelli’s signature shocking pink came to a chiffon dress with a keyhole opening at the decolletage, a bomber jacket and shoes. The opening cashmere cape featured her birdcage pendant necklace, and beaded on tailoring was Jean Cocteau’s two faces in profile. The infamous lobster motif caused a sensation with its placing on a dress in the 1930s designed and worn by Wallis Simpson. Here it was no different – albeit less of a shock in the modern day – as the shellfish crawls between the models thighs.
The hype surrounding Maria Grazia Chiuri’s debut haute couture show for Dior was undeniable. Previously one half of the Valentino design duo, Chiuri is the first woman designer for the storied Parisian house. The secret garden labyrinth she presented represented self-discovery – someone who was lost and challenged herself to evolve. Mirroring this journey was the opening models appearing in black trouser suits with jackets. Dior’s legendary Bar jacket was transformed, first with a hood, then further on with feminine peplums – one doubled in pleated organza, another with sun-ray pleats and cape sleeves. Christian Dior relied on tarot readers to shape his life and his love of the flower woman. His good luck charm, the lilly-of-the-valley sprigs, Chiuri attached to those jackets, while astrological motifs, four-leaf clovers and parts of the garden – the flowers, bees, butterfly, daddy long legs – Stephen Jones brought to hats and masks or they were painstakingly embroidered onto gowns – one tulle bustier dress revealing impressionist flower embroidery resulted in 2200 hours of work. The journey ended with the labyrinth transforming into a ball, something out of a fairytale.
The next morning at Chanel, inspiration came from the mirrored staircase at the Rue Cambon headquarters and 1930s interior designer Syrie Maugham, as mirrors reflected light across the Grand Palais and lillies scented the air. “Mirror, silver, metal … I wanted something impeccable, I think couture has to be flawless,” Karl Lagerfeld explained. Alberto Giacometti’s 1926 sculpture, The Spoon Woman influenced the silhouettes, belted higher than the waistline with sculpted shoulders on those woven suits in pastel tones, complete with silver leather shoes, slicked back hair and boater hats. Focus veered towards the incredible skill of the Lesage embroiderers as the show progressed. Gowns, finished with elongated skirts, had what looked like shards of mirrored glass, or they glistened in sequins and ostrich and marabou feathers were individually inserted by hand into hems and sleeves. A beacon of hope in the midst of an uncertain future worldwide maybe.
It seems Demna Gvasalia’s latest move to the offices next to Kering, suiting his position at Balenciaga, inspired Vetements. Gvasalia explained that he “researched the dress codes on people we see around us, and on the internet”. Which would explain why they brought such a diverse casting, revealing stereotypical identities, to couture. The silver haired woman in oversized sunglasses, a vintage and upcycled fur coat and a pencil skirt rode the escalators. Following her was a bouncer, a policewoman, a broker, a pensioner, a nerd in a flannel shirt, a punk with his bright red spiked hair, a solder dressed head to toe in camouflage. Even the invitations were ID cards from different countries and nationalities. These ‘ordinary people’ here, that you would pass everyday on the street, were perhaps Vetements’ reply to the current worldwide immigration crisis; this kind of diversity and individuality – no matter what colour or race – is what we all see around us and what we all want to continue seeing.
Following on from ‘the nominee’ at Vetements dressed in an electric blue draped evening gown, were actual Oscar nominees Nicole Kidman and Isabelle Huppert at Armani Prive, ‘Orange Vibrations’. In different shades of orange, from clementine, ochre, tangerine and mandarin, Mr Armani explained that the hue suited both blondes and brunettes. A fan of dedicating a collection to a hue, orange shone upon scatterings of crystals upon lace, lurex trousers, a leather jacket, or a gown with an asymmetrical sleeve that would suit someone with Kidman’s stature. We will have to wait and see whether the two stars dare to wear orange at the awards, if not, there was plenty to choose from at Elie Saab too, as the Lebanese designer looked to Egypt and its ancient times. The deep or pale blue against gold, the rows of bracelets up the arms, the embroidered chiffon, the trains falling behind the sheer gowns with centre splits, the headdresses; all red-carpet worthy.
At Maison Margiela, there was one stand out piece, thanks to John Galliano’s collaboration with artist Benjamin Shine. The black tulle lining of a white cotton coat floated out and trailed behind, but not before revealing a hand-stitched smoked female face, and finished with a high-top hat. This tied in with the unfinished undone collection that deconstructed looks, without loosing elegance and immense beauty. In the brief words given, it was as much about adding filters as it was removing, sharing and connecting with communities and mutually relating emotionally through memories – maybe he was talking about the impact social media has perhaps.
With Chiuri now at Dior, her previous partner Pierpaolo Piccioli is now alone at Valentino. But that was no hardship as he delivered an ethereal collection ‘filled with purity and lightness’. After a minute silence dedicated to Franca Sozzani, Italian Vogue’s Editor in Chef, who sadly died in December, the opener, a pleated ivory column dress sitting high at the neck, was built from classical forms and every look was named after Grecian figures. Couture makes us dream, the designers with their petite mains create a fantasy, and Piccioli encouraged us to do just that. “Keep walking in your dream,” wrote part of a statement hanging in the show space. Pleats were a focal point, but even when the gowns neckline plunged into a deep V, or had a sheer overlay, that pure elegance was not lost.
And as Jean Paul Gaultier brought a fierce playful edge to couture with supersize shoulders and the ’80s mixed with the ‘40s and Ulyana Sergeenka brought model Natalia Vodianova back to the catwalk, we could just for a few days forget about the world around us and enter this one-of-a-kind dreamland.