Consider the Haute Couture shows at Paris Fashion Week some of the boldest and brightest moments that happen on the runway twice a year. Some of the most well-known labels such as Dior, Chanel, Valentino, and Fendi show off their most spectacular creations. The difference between couture week and normal ready-to-wear fashion week, is that every piece is hand-made, and all the bolder. And while the pandemic may still be ongoing, this is the second season haute couture designers have presented digitally, with a stunning selection of videos in place or typical runway shows.
Alongside the iconic and well-known names that show on the official couture calendar, each season, a very select group of designers also present as guest designers. These guest designers are often worlds away from the classic houses of traditional couture and typically extremely interesting and often edgy. With the spring 2021 couture shows having kicked off in Paris on Jan. 25th, these are the new names to watch.
Founded by designer Sofia Crociani, Aelis is the rising couture label that takes sustainability seriously. Each piece shown in every Aelis collection is plastic-free, cruelty-free and made fabrics that are natural and organic, or even reused from past seasons. As such, the brand takes an art-to-wear approach and also looks to nature for inspiration, with many of the pieces having an ethereal, draped quality. “Aelis couture starts each season with an approach that must involve taking ecological awareness and preservation of nature surrounding humans,” says Crociani. “Aelis approached in this collection the need for the de-colonisation of nature in itself and, in this sense, the idea of presenting the couture dress in an art gallery was the starting point.”
“In the new collection, I particularly appreciate the freedom of each piece that I created and the dialogue between the source of inspiration and concrete reality,” adds Crociani of her spring 2021 collection. “In particular, I would like to highlight the beauty of old and vintage laces that come to meet the Aelis sculpted dresses and bring them to a new stage, capturing the dress like a spider captures a butterfly with its web.”
Charles de Vilmorin
23-year old Charles de Vilmorin only recently graduated from the prestigious École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne yet the emerging designer already has his own spot on the Spring 2021 couture calendar. It’s not too surprising considering legends such as designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac have already shown support for De Vilmorin. De Castelbajac even posted praise on his Instagram account. And true to De Castelbajac’s taste, De Vilmorin’s aesthetic focuses on a flurry of colors, geometric shapes and wild textures.
“My main inspiration for this collection is freedom, in all its forms,” he tells Departures. “The video reveals the looks in pictures dealing with this topic. You will find in the video naked bodies, butterflies, flowers growing on the bodies...I wanted everything to be a message of freedom and acceptance.” De Vilmorin’s favorite part of his Spring 2021 Couture collection is the hand-painted fabrics, and the fact that every piece besides the puffy jackets is one-of-a-kind. “I loved rediscovering the feeling of handmade, how it’s crafted and the spontaneous gesture,” he says. “This period changed my way of working a lot, it was inevitably frustrating not to be able to prepare a real show but I had to adapt,” he adds. “I've always liked video, associating images with music, sets, post production... it's something that I really like and that I've learned to improve lately. I can't wait for everything to get back to normal, but I find it interesting and stimulating to work differently.”
Even if you haven’t heard of the New York City-based label Area, you’ve probably seen their pieces on one of your favorite celebs. Well-known for their impactful arrays of head-to-toe crystals, metallic fabrics cut in architectural shapes and wild accessories such as handbags shaped like chairs, the duo behind the label is composed of Beckett Fogg and Piotrek Panszczyk. And though Area would normally host a show during New York Fashion Week, for the first time, they’ve decided to launch couture on the official schedule for Spring 2021.
For Area’s spring 2021 couture show, there’s bound to be just as many crystals and an equal attention to details. Even when doing their normal non-couture pieces, the designers have taken measurements to build dress forms for special clients such as Michelle Obama and Beyoncé. With this Couture collection we want to showcase our ability and dedication to creating beauty by hand,” says Fogg. Each look has been developed over the course of six months, and has been an ongoing collaboration between the studio in New York and the embroidery partners in India and globally. “For our debut Haute Couture collection we wanted to highlight our passion for custom tailoring, we feel like every type of body is beautiful and unique in its on way, we wanted to highlight that by playing with a range of silhouettes created to complement the wearer, showcasing that beauty and craft can feel exclusive in its core but at the same time include a range of body types,” adds Panszczyk. “With Couture we started going back to the essence of adornment and expression. As in many traditional cultures, garments and jewelry were and remains multipurpose.It serves practical and adornment purposes as well as embodying a protective aspect.”
Julie de Libran
Designer Julie de Libran has worked with some of the most iconic names in fashion since the 1990s, such as Gianfranco Ferré, Gianni Versace, Miuccia Prada, Marc Jacobs and Sonia Rykiel. But it wasn’t until 2019 when she launched her namesake line, which recently shows on the official couture schedule with made-to-order pieces. The aesthetic? Timeless, true and feminine.
“I have chosen to create a film to express my inspiration this season,” says De Libran. “I felt that through a film was the best way to show the movement of the clothes and to express the atmosphere I wanted. Sharing this film digitally on all different platforms gives us the opportunity to reach in a more global way.” De Libran started the brand with the idea of one single dress silhouette, and for Spring 2021, she delved deeper with multi-layering. “ I feel extremely fortunate to live in Paris surrounded by artisans and an extraordinary Savoir faire and this new collection draws on a close collaboration with some of the great Paris houses, I discovered new ways to use their unique savoir-faire to create my own silhouettes,” she adds. “These collaborations have been very exciting this season to exchange and build together keeping my core design principles, against wastefulness and I believe that clothes should be timeless and made to last. All my models are in numbered limited editions and one of a kind couture pieces.”
Another newcomer to the spring 2021 couture season? The artist and purveyor of ready-to-wear, Sterling Ruby. Ruby is a frequent collaborator of Raf Simons (now the co-creative director at Prada), and the artist launched his ready-to-wear line dubbed S.R. Studio. LA. CA at Pitti Uomo in 2019. While Ruby’s ready-to-wear line is full of acid wash jeans, wide-printed pants, tote bags and colorful socks, there’s a bit of a grunge look, so a couture debut is something we’re sure fans and collaborators alike are curious to see.
Ruby has remained tight-lipped about the upcoming collection, but if anything, the reviews from his ready-to-wear collection reflect that it’ll be a strong one. The artist has allegedly been sewing since the age of 13, after all and his show is closing couture week on the final day.