As the Haute Couture Week comes to an end, have a look at what went down in Paris. Again, for Summer 2023, Haute Couture returns in all its glory, reminding us that fashion is a dream machine. We often wonder what the task of fashion is. Perhaps the best answer is that there is no answer. Fashion is a complex device that helps us see beyond the barriers of everyday life. A superfluous game, perhaps. But human beings live on the superfluous. As Professor Keating said in Dead Poets Society, “poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
The starting point of the Spring-Summer 2023 Haute Couture collection is Gabrielle Chanel’s apartment at 31, rue Cambon. It is the place where Virginie Viard took Xavier Veilhan at the very beginning of their work, and which includes a collection of objects, sculptures, drawings representing lions, does, stags, birds and camels. “For his third participation, I asked him to reinterpret the apartment’s bestiary and incorporate his own,” she says. “The whole embroidery universe of the collection is turned towards the animal world.”
Embroidered on short tweed suits and coat dresses, kittens, corgis, rabbits and swallows share the limelight with the does, stags or camellias emblematic of the House.
As if on a village square, a festive parade is being prepared and sets off. Eleven monumental animals made of wood, cardboard and paper created by Xavier Veilhan hide models, and then open to let them escape. “I like it when the marvellous bursts forth and the course of events is interrupted,” she continues.
The CHANEL suit borrows its codes from the female uniforms of parades and spectacles. Top hat, bow tie, white gloves, laced boots, satin cape, pleated skirt, jackets double-breasted or with tails, tuxedo shirt, sequins, short shorts, petticoats: it is in the poetry of majorettes that Virginie Viard also finds her inspiration.
Dresses and jumpsuits all in lightness and refinement, superpositions, transparencies, flounces, pleats, fine straps and repainted laces, are crafted in silk tulle, taffeta, organza, georgette crepe and chantilly lace.
And as in every beautiful story, the Spring-Summer 2023 Haute Couture collection, with its fairy parade, closes with the bride in a dress embroidered with swallows.
Jean Paul Gaultier
On a runway bathed in icy blue, to the soundtrack of a thrumming heart, came tailcoats sliced with the precision of an etching over shirts abstracted into tabs of rough-cut white chiffon and cigarette-slim pants. A mid-calf sleeveless black sheath was cut to lap the floor at the back, the train lined with lavender and chartreuse, and its shoulders swaddled by a single strand of rhinestones tied by a silver filament just tracing the spine. There was a fire opal taffeta jumpsuit with a giant bow at one hip; a white swing coat with emerald leather opera gloves; an ovoid amethyst gown tapering down at the wrists and thighs. Every detail had a point, sometimes actually so. A man’s coat and a woman’s lavender track suit were covered in hundreds of silver quills, like starlit porcupines, which turned out to be straight pins: an homage to the seamstresses who do the handwork of couture. Thousands of tiny, oily goose feathers had been trimmed into arrow heads and appliquéd to a T-shirt, paired with a skirt of even longer, spikier feathers. They looked not fluffy, but dangerous. At the end, a series of black dresses transformed the models’ bodies into a cluster of modernist Brancusi sculptures. They were the kind of clothes that seemed not ahead of the curve, but beyond the curve. Wear them, and you would look invincible. Mr. Gaultier’s name is most often associated with his embrace of showmanship and camp, but he could tailor a smoking so it seemed distilled to its essence. That was the seed Mr. Ackermann captured, and magnified. Bravo!
Daniel Roseberry looked towards Dante’s Inferno for a S/S 2023 collection that stole headlines for the realistic animal heads – lion, wolf and snow leopard among them – which emerged from gowns and overcoats (the announcement that they were entirely man-made did little to quell the social-media furore). The best of the collection lay elsewhere, though: sculpted hourglass bodices and tailoring (inspired, Roseberry said, by the shape of the house’s ‘Shocking!’ scent) showed a mastery of shape, while extraordinary feats of embellishment came in swathes of hand-stitched sequins and enamel, rhinestone and moulded-brass adornments. ‘Elsa [Schiaparelli] always promised surprise in her work, and over the years, people have learned to come to Schiaparelli in a spirit of wonder; you don’t know what you’re going to encounter here,’ said Roseberry. ‘This season, we concentrated less on deliberate artifice, such as our signature hyper-stylised anatomy bijoux, and more on blurring the lines between the real and the unreal.’
Maria Grazia Chiuri looked to the figure of Josephine Baker – the American performer who made her name in Paris in the 1920s – as inspiration for a sensual S/S 2023 haute couture collection at Dior. Backdropped by a set created in collaboration with artist Mickalene Thomas that comprised collaged portraiture of pioneering Black and mixed-race women, the collection captured what Dior called her status as ‘a glamorous icon, who embodies the modernity of the 1920s, the transgression of stereotypes and prejudices, the mixing of cultures and shared experiences that notably animated the vibrant world of cabaret’. As such, there was particular focus on the line of the body, beginning with garments that evoked the dressing robes Baker would wear over her costume before she went on stage, while bodysuits recalled vintage satin underwear. Other pieces were glamorous in their minimalism – a black gown gently cinched at the waist; coat jackets that fell away into sharp pleats – while couture’s association with excess came in delicately beaded flapper-inspired dresses, glimmering metallic brocades, and a series of closing dresses in molten crumpled satin and velvet.
Giorgio Armani Privé
Diamond motifs ran throughout Giorgio Armani’s latest Armani Privé collection – a nod, the house said, to artistic depictions of harlequin clowns. ‘An imaginary dance,’ described the accompanying notes of the exuberant collection, which saw pieces arrive in a multitude of colours and luminescent textures, from nipped bejewelled jackets to shimmering paillettes in shades of pink, emerald and turquoise (the designer said he was inspired by the idea of light being refracted through a prism). Other pieces drew inspiration from the Rococo interiors of Venetian palazzos – ‘the splendour of [their] light’ – while notes of black, whether providing an outline to a jacket or as a geometric motif on a gown, provided a graphic counterpoint.
Viktor & Rolf
Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren looked at the shape of an absurdist take on the stereotypes of couture gowns, all embroidered bodices and big skirts in lovely soft colors, to which strange things happen.
Among those odd happenings: a dress that seemed to fly off the body; one that fell forward horizontally as if model and outfit had collided at a right angle; a third that was entirely upside-down and resting on the hips, and another still that stood two steps away from its wearer.
To bring them to life, the duo harnessed yet another opposing pair, couture’s needle and thread augmented by 3D printing, which was used to build the structures. Glimpses inside the gowns — and at the eminently normal first group — showed that beyond the acres of chiffon lies the very real technical mastery of the pair.
Pierpaolo Piccioli’s latest haute couture collection took place in the Bridge Club, a subterranean nightspot under Paris’ Pont Alexandre. For the collection itself, the Italian designer said he drew inspiration from nightlife past and present – references included Studio 54, Leigh Bowery’s Taboo, and the Blitz Club, frequented by the New Romantics – noting that ‘a synergetic, spontaneous language is found between the lexicon of couture and the world of nightclubbing’ in their embrace of extravagance and glamour. ‘The notions of clothes as tools of transformation, crafting a true self… and, above all, a plurality of beauty, beauty as individuality, a heroic expression of inner truth made outer,’ described the collection notes. As such, Piccioli’s grasp of silhouette and colour was channelled into a series of outré pieces, at once drawing on the precision of the couture atelier and the sense of sartorial freedom and self-expression he has channelled during his tenure at the house so far.
Fendi returns to the catwalk with a collection that is sidereal and sculptural, unusual traits for garments destined for the spring and summer seasons, but shining in their very essentiality and beauty of form.
Kim Jones wanted to rediscover the fundamental value of haute couture, and to do so she stripped it of excess, colour and performance: what matters are the lines and textures of a collection capable of ranging from breathtaking bridal gowns to lingerie converted to daywear or party dresses, to captivating Red Carpet gowns; categories united by their innate tailoring and the expert hands that forged them. “This season, I wanted to focus on the techniques and craftsmanship of Couture, with the lightness, fluidity and attitude of today.
It is a celebration of the ateliers and artisans who make these garments, the intense work and emotional commitment to each piece that exists for both the maker and the wearer, and how the intimate traditions of Couture are both living and breathing. The collection is an inner world transformed into an outer one, both figuratively and literally.
A nocturnal collection with euphoric sparkles to party till dawn. For Alexandre Vauthier, haute couture has a flavour of célébration, of night obsession, of joyous excess. Leather dresses and suits with oversize shoulders, but tight at the waist, design the silhouette of a powerful woman, marching forward with martial steps on her vertiginous heels.
Boots covered in rhinestones contrast with asymmetrical dresses covered in mirrored scales, while skirt-skirts worn with skimpy brassières trace the contours of a sexier femininity. XXL fur coats in garish colours or in that deep black that characterises the entire first part of the show in the boulevard Lefèvre space create a contrast with the shaped and precise, and often very short, lines of the outfits that can be glimpsed beneath their soft contours.