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Couture week in Paris is among the most extravagant of all fashion weeks. Designers spend hundreds of hours in their ateliers, producing as much of the pieces as possible by hand. Couture is also such a special niche, that it’s regulated by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris and all fashion houses must follow specialized rules in order to call their products “couture.” This month, the fall 2019 couture shows kicked off in Paris with major brands such as Chanel, Dior, and Schiaparelli all flexing their creative muscles and craftsmanship. Here’s everything you need to know about the top shows.
Miu Miu’s Jockey Club
Each year in July, Miu Miu kicks off couture week by staging its over-the-top Resort show. And though the brand isn’t doing couture—they also make their show equally as interesting and worthy of the time period in which it’s presented. In past seasons, the sister brand to Prada has shown its resort fashion shows inside luxury hotels with an A-list cast as models (Uma Thurman, Naomi Campbell, Gwendoline Christie, Rowan Blanchard, and Sadie Sink all walked in last year’s show). This time, Miu Miu took over the legendary horse race track Hippodrome d’Auteuil in Paris, France and transformed it into a chic show space. The event opened up with a steeplechase race in which guests were allowed to bid (The prize? A limited edition silk scarf by Miu Miu). After that, the runway show followed, then came a caviar and oyster dinner and, an after party. As for the clothing itself, Miuccia Prada was inspired by the conservative nature of horse racing, and wanted to address the idea (as it related to the venue and far beyond) with a dose of fun and glamour. The results came in the form of boyish shorts, sparkly sequined dresses with puffed sleeves, vintage-looking tea dresses with oversized collars, and plenty of mirrored platforms. Each model was also topped off with a double hat—cloches and floppy toppers were layered over baseball caps.
Schiaparelli and Chanel Reborn
The fall 2019 couture shows certainly were a season of debuts. For example, designer Daniel Roseberry (formerly of Thom Browne) revealed his very first collection as the artistic director of the brand. Bright yellow gowns trimmed in black feathers that seemed to float, black smoking jackets covered in red acrylic fingernails and crystals, and larger-than-life red, pink and rainbow ruffled confections marched down the runway while Roseberry sat at a drafting table on the runway, sketching. The collection was inspired by transformation. “At the end of last November, I was asked for a proposal reimagining the house of Schiaparelli,” read the collection notes. “At the time, I had just left a job at the house where I’d spent my entire ten-year-long career. It was in that job that I discovered who I was as a designer, but also who I was as a person, as an adult, as a New Yorker, as a friend. As I began thinking about what my vision of Schiaparelli might be, I was also thinking about who I myself might be, because I didn’t know anymore. This collection is the story of that December, and what I dreamt up in that little studio.”
Meanwhile, Chanel presented its first show by Virginie Viard (the label’s new head designer since the passing of Karl Lagerfeld earlier this year). The label transformed the entire Grand Palais into a multi-level library inspired by the one in Gabrielle Chanel’s apartment on Rue Cambon, along with a collection full of streamlined tweed suits, gowns and sophisticatedly tailored librarian-chic separates.
Iris Van Herpen and Viktor and Rolf Take on the Art of Fashion
The haute couture shows are often exercises of craft by each of the brands who have shows on the official schedule. One of the best examples this season was Iris Van Herpen’s show. The Dutch designer often works with technology and 3D printing to create feats of the imagination. Influenced by the American artist Anthony Howe and his kinetic sculptures that are powered by wind, she showed a breathtaking collection of fluid silk sculptural creations. The final ‘Infinity dress’ took over four months to create and was constructed of a skeleton of aluminum, stainless steel, and bearings, embroidered with rings of feather which revolved around their own center as the model walked the runway.
Elsewhere, the designer duo Viktor & Rolf (Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren) created a collection dubbed Spiritual Glamour. Rather than the tech-y arts approach that Iris Van Herpen took, Viktor and Rolf’s collection had a thoughtful arts and crafts aesthetic about it. Blooming maxi skirts rendered in vibrant colors were covered in suns, moons, yin and yang signs as well as embroidery hoops with completed designs. Even the more somber black hued outfits had an artistic approach, this time in the textiles (a collaboration with artist Claudy Jongstra, who has experience developing her own textiles from sheep and botanical pigments.)
Roots Revival at Giorgio Armani, Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier
Some labels also took couture week as an opportunity to showcase traditional DNA and return to the roots of their brands. Take, for example, Armani Privé. The show opened up with a slew of conservative black outfits, with laser-sharp precision tailoring before taking a turn and delving into pastel gowns and separates covered in crystals, sheer fabrics, and feathers. They were all codes of the houses—and even the beauty look (long, vintage eyelashes curled with a spoon) was taken directly from one of the label’s ad campaigns from the late ‘90s. Meanwhile, Christian Dior also returned to its roots by showcasing its fall 2019 couture collection in the house’s legendary headquarters in Paris, as opposed to its usual Rodin Museum space. The final model in the show wore a gold box that resembled the house of Dior itself. At Jean Paul Gaultier, the designer presented a totally 1980s aesthetic in the form of hoodies styled with baseball caps, chunky faux fur coats and printed dresses and bodysuits taken directly from the archives. One leopard pelt, in fact, was upcycled from a show piece presented about a decade ago, and the last two cat suits were taken from some of the patterns he experimented with in the ‘90s.
Classic Glamour at Ralph & Russo and Giambattista Valli
You can’t go wrong with stunning, red carpet-worthy gowns at couture week, and many brands didn’t disappoint here. British label Ralph & Russo presented its fall 2019 couture show at the British embassy’s outdoor garden in Paris. Models walked the runway in opulently beaded, feathered, bedazzled, and ruffled gowns, all different colors of the rainbow—there was something for everyone in the 1930s soiree inspired collection.
This season, the Italian designer Giambattista Valli hosted an exhibition instead of a show, inside the Shangri-La Hotel, an American Express Fine Hotel & Resort Property. There, the designer showcased a curated assortment of his signature feminine, float-y dresses. A room full of vividly hued tulle gowns wowed guests, who had a rare opportunity to look at the pieces close-up rather than from across a runway.
Surrealism and Fantasy at Guo Pei and Valentino
Of all the shows at couture week, Guo Pei’s was by far one of the most spectacular. The designer described it as an “alternative universe,” and it’s easy to see why. The show opened with a pair of models wearing a dress that made them look like conjoined twins in the 17th-century, their hair braided together and their faces painted white. They walked the runway under an arch covered in fake black birds. Later, another dress that looked like it came from Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe emerged; inside the structure, were tiny dolls. The entire show was one of fantasy and surrealism, which had guests gasping at the craftsmanship and construction. The final dress represented a literal garden in bloom, which the model wore with a crow perched on her arm. Pei said she had been working on the dress for 7 years, and that many of the pieces took over 100 hours of embroidery to create. Likewise, Valentino presented one of its most fantasy-inducing couture collections yet, but on a more subtle scale. Creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli’s elegant prints, vibrant colors and effortless evening wear had all the markings of a classic couture collection. And makeup artist Pat McGrath’s glitter eyebrows, which matched the colors of each outfit, didn’t hurt either.