Haute Couture and the reacquaintance of nature
In a world dominated by ever more alarming reports about the destruction of our seas, glaciers, insects and noble wild animals almost the entire Haute Couture season was dominated by one key element – nature.
From giant French global brands to fledgling houses from far distant lands – practically everyone made some reference to nature. And – in this Spring-Summer 2019 season – not just by embroidering thousands of fabric flowers.
At Valentino, the stand-out collection of the season, couturier Pierpaolo Piccioli asked his seamstresses to personally name each passage after a flower. The majority of the models were black, and Naomi Campbell in the last look wore an organdy, crinoline and hooded jacket, named Chocolate Dhalia. Half the cast had tiny fabric petals literally affixed to their eye lashes, in a tour de force by makeup artist Pat McGrath.
Chanel staged a sunny spectacle inside Villa Chanel, a mock-up of a Tuscan country house located in a beautiful garden built inside the Grand Palais: replete with orange and palm trees, stacked terraces, lawn and swimming pool. The bride even wore a sequined swimsuit and veil when she took her bow. With 85-year-old Karl Lagerfeld’s right-hand woman Virginie Viard, not Karl, who was unable to attend either Chanel show; the first time he has missed a bow for any of the four major houses he has directed in half a century. Thereby, becoming the key point of conversation throughout the whole Paris week.
Chanel later issued a statement saying he was “too tired” too attend. However, with the Paris rumor mill going into overdrive, friends of the designer insist he is very far from death’s door.
That very evening, one could not help noticing that 83-year-old Giorgio Armani – who traditionally only takes his bow by standing in a light well at the runway entrance – instead took an extended one-minute walk around every salon in the Hôtel d’Evreux, where he staged his Armani Privé collection.
Armani and Jean-Paul Gaultier led another significant trend: Asia. Like in luxury in general, clients from China now taking up ever larger sections of the seating at major couture shows. Armani referenced the great, dramatic anti-Fascist film Il Conformista by Bernardo Bertolucci, echoing its Art Deco, 1930s aesthetic, though with Chinoiserie embroidery and Shanghai courtesan hats. While Gaultier, with some magical deconstruction, reinvented the kimono for the 21st century as a spiky super-heroine look.
Ulyana Sergeenko took us on a tour of the Russian countryside. Indeed, the most exciting thing about Sergeenko’s couture show was, quite frankly, the superb video that introduced it inside the Théâtre Marigny on the Champs Elysées.
Shot by the legendary photographer Ellen Von Unwerth it featured wild wolves; beautiful white stallions; Tolstoyan villas; Chekhov estates and some wonderfully melodramatic emoting by a series of Russian beauties. It elicited a huge burst of cheers from the strangely small audience of barely 200. Quite why the theatre was half empty you had better ask the couturier’s PR department. Talk about a seating malfunction.
Post video, the cast appeared in a beautifully made set; a silver birch forest of the sort one only really gets in Russia. Capturing the soulfulness and gray-eyed intensity of the Russian enigma.
Other designers looked to the stars and flowers, like Bertrand Guyon at Schiaparelli, recalling the founder’s youth admiring the galaxy with her Milanese astronomer uncle. The collection was entitled "Florea Ursae Majoris," or "Dream of Star’s Flowers." The result, however, was a decided mishmash of ideas; ballooning sleeves with mini dresses, giant coats printed with maps of the universes then finished with turquoise fabric muffs, and a violet feather bubble dress where someone forgot to add the sleeves. All, unfathomably, anchored by cowboy boots.
Ronald van der Kemp
Couture is famed as the great laboratory of fashion, and one scientist who will always be loved is Ronald van der Kemp. His entire collection was about upcycling, using found material, and he got a tremendous reception when he took his bow in the Dutch Embassy of Paris. His clothes are more intriguing than beautiful, novel rather than magical, but his ironic grand dame gowns and perfectly cut chauffeur’s pant-suit in midnight blue were both great.
Couture is not just about global names, and the week is also the chance to witness proper Indie couturiers who create one-off pieces for individual clients. Like Julien Fournié, whose collection shown in the famed Protestant temple, L’Oratoire du Louvre, was largely based on second-skin leather. Bias cut gowns in leopard print pigskin; an elegantly cut cocktail dress in sapphire blue reindeer; an anthracite snakeskin evening gown; a parakeet python and silk va va voom robe. Fournié insists he will only make one example for one look; and further examples require that he sketch a new idea on his iPad. Something he is extremely good at, seeing as he was one of 40 artists, including David Hockney, to be invited by Apple to their keynote address in Brooklyn last October.
Azzi & Osta
The latest talent to emerge from Lebanon are Azzi & Osta, a talented duo, who showed a collection whose theme was the Chinese silk road. Graduates of Esmod fashion school in Beirut, and former creatives at their country’s most noted designer Elie Saab, George Azzi and Assaad Osta showed a light peppermint gown, delicately embroidered with a Chinese willow tree pattern, continuing Paris’ nature theme. Also on view in their Hôtel de Crillon presentation, a superb robe in faille, with metal beading that recalled a Byzantine icon. They named that dress Theodora, after the empress and their collection had an imperial quality and finish.
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