Paris signaled it’s open for business once again. If the Paris men’s fashion week in late June was the appetizer, the Haute Couture that wrapped officially on Saturday was the entrée. Not quite up to the crowds that it usually draws due to travel restrictions for citizens living in Asian countries such as China and Frances’ restrictions on travelers from Russia, Brazil, India, and more, it was still a bustling week. Mainly it was attended by French and Americans, with a smattering of other Europeans and Brits willing to quarantine once they head back across the channel. Ironically, on opening day, July 5th, the French Health Minister Olivier Veran cautioned of the fourth wave of Covid-19 as soon as late July as case numbers accelerate thanks to the pesky Delta variant.
The good news for the economics of Haute Couture, whose July shows are also a time to unveil new high jewelry collections, is that the clients came ready to buy. Typically, retailers don’t attend as Haute Couture and high jewelry is sold directly to the client, so time will tell if retailers stick with digital buying platforms such as Joor and NuOrder or will resume pre-pandemic travel buying trips. The industry has recently reexamined habits that are costly and detrimental to the environment, such as frequent plane travel.
The men’s shows held precisely five shows with a live audience: Dior Homme, Hermès, Blue Marble, Louis-Gabriel Nouchi and Officine Générale. The rest showed digitally and backed it up with one-on-one appointments or events such as the cocktail Casablanca hosted at The Ritz Paris or Isabel Marant’s viewing party picnic. Two brands, Jacquemus and Off-White, showed slightly off the regular calendar, a growing trend once digitization hit the fashion shows. Similarly, Azzedine Alaïa seized the press in town for Couture to debut the first collection with a new creative director Pieter Mulier, since Alaïa’s passing in 2017.
Couture’s live audience shows included Dior, Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Balenciaga, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Zuhair Murad and Vaishali S., all on the official calendar. The remaining showed digitally and held presentations for the press and clients to view the clothes up close and to “walk through” the collection, often with the designer. Dinners and cocktails were on the upswing as well, with event highlights being the Armani dinner, a Louis Vuitton cocktail, and a swanky dinner atop the Centre Pompidou hosted by MyTheresa.com
Several highlights from the week included:
· Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri’s tweed-heavy somber daywear with touches of Chinoiserie silk jacquards played against wistful siren gowns for evening featuring intricate back and shoulder details, sheer fabrics, and sweeping trains. Embroidery is key chez Dior and this time displayed on some stunning outwear but also covering the walls of the show space in massive artwork from French artist Eva Jospin.
· After closing the Gabrielle Chanel Manifesto exhibit at Paris’ Palais Galliera during France’s second lockdown in late October, Chanel staged the first couture show in its courtyard, complete with a blushing (pink) bride. Guests managed to score the hard-to-obtain museum tickets and were invited to tour the exhibit.
· John Galliano has extended his repertoire to include master storyteller on film. Using original material, he worked with director Olivier Dahan to realize the collection through a movie called “A Folk Horror Tale.” While the clothes—made from upcycling vintage garments and using deadstock materials—were manipulated through enzyme washing and wringing processes based on stonewashing and the Levi’s shrink-to-fit methodology. The result of the intricately pieced and manipulated garments was a collection that looked familiar, worn yet decidedly transformative, and exquisitely made with a high degree of craft and skill. The movie set mimicked Hollywood production levels creating a seaside utopian youth culture invaded by a perilous plague blurring reality and fantasy. Dahan realized elaborate scenes and effects using a very modern 3-D frustum camera that creates photorealistic backgrounds.
· A long-awaited Haute Couture debut from Jean-Paul Gaultier who recruited Chitose Abe of Sacai to design a collection, subsequently delayed two seasons due to the pandemic. Abe, known for her masterful hybrid garment skills, worked her magic using the JPG-house codes blending ideas and aesthetics to magnificent effect.
· Balenciaga has been a ready-to-wear house since founder Cristobal Balenciaga closed the Couture business 53 years ago. Creative Director Demna Gvasalia stunned the audience of press and clients with dramatic proportions—think big saucer hats, supersized shoulders, and massive stoles—and turned everyday wardrobe-essentials into Couture. Through masterful tailoring, he created a lot of back and shoulder drama a la Monsieur Balenciaga; to wit, a riff on a classic trench was sigh-worthy. Eveningwear recalled the house’s heyday with codes such as polka dots on a wrapped chiffon dress or a stunning embroidered gown and pants ensemble complete with opera gloves. But also evident was Gvasalia’s streetwear roots, such as an anorak-turned-opera-coat or a laser-cut leather bathrobe coat chicly channeling The Big Lebowski.
· Speaking of streetwear, denim found a home at Couture with designers’ collections from Jean-Paul Gaultier, Balenciaga, Schiaparelli and Ronald Van Der Kemp, elevating the everyday fabrics into wearable art.
· Sustainability was also present in the week. Dutch Ronald Van Der Kemp showed literally that one man’s trash is another treasure. He outfitted the residence of the Dutch ambassador with his imaginative creations made from upcycled and deadstock and fiber waste, demonstrating the need to slow down the negative environmental impact fashion has while wowing his audience with his originality.
· Dubai-based newcomer Andrea Brocca—who claims Lady Gaga as a paying client—fresh from his first cover from Purple magazine showed his sustainable 3-D creations alongside his artwork. The Central Saint Martens graduate is one to watch.
· Pomellato also upcycled to make a stunning high jewelry collection, the first for the brand. Creative Director Vincenzo Castaldo sourced iconic archive jewelry from the Italian house and reassembled them into one-of-a-kind pieces that reflect Pomellato’s 54-year legacy as a master of the chain and Italian heritage.
· Olivier Theyskens showed his third collection for Azzaro after getting a peek at the late designers’ physical archive. While he didn’t set out to design for the new roaring Twenties, Theyskens’ offered plenty of pizzazz and sparkle to his precision cuts that bare the body in a graphic rather than racy manner. The house looks to be in capable and poetic hands under his direction.
· Jewelry houses celebrated their love of dance. Van Cleef & Arpels long associated with dance via their iconic ballerina brooches and strong connections to George Balanchine, Benjamin Millepied, and the Paris Opera has committed to supporting dance through an initiative called Dance Reflections set up to help promote contemporary dance theatre and dancers.
· With legacy in mind, De Beers launched Reflections of Nature that created pieces inspired by the natural beauty of five different mine sites such as Namibia, Botswana and Canada. Additionally, the diamond giant is test driving a transparency program launched with 19 diamonds whose steps can be traced to their impact on community and environment through a program they developed called Tracr.
· Last but not least, Pyer Moss founder Kerby Jean Raymond, the first black designer to be invited to show at the Haute Couture, had to push pause on his production to close the week on Thursday. He was to live-stream his runway show from Irvington, NY, at Madame C.J. Walker’s former estate, the first black female millionaire, when torrential rains delayed the show for three hours until it was finally called off, an unheard fashion show situation barring pandemics or acts of terrorism. The designer returned Saturday to show the collection under sunny skies for an imaginative twist on Haute Couture. He worked alongside a Hollywood costume designer to create looks that reflected black inventions—for example, recreated as ensembles were a peanut butter jar, hair curlers, a broom and a scrub brush, a fire escape, and a window air conditioner. While those may have seemed gimmicky, it was part of Jean-Raymond’s message to recognize the accomplishments of the black community, and beneath much of the sandwich-board style creations were some fantastic clothes.