How handy that the narrative of my posts are flowing from one to the other. From Miu Miu Cruise’s retrogazing to Raf Simons at Dior dusting down the fashion history textbooks to breathe new life into old shapes, I now come to a two part round-up of this week’s A/W 14 haute couture shows. There’s two parts because of the picture heft but they’re connected because time and time again, you saw designers reaching into history, a far-removed past and coming up with ideas that resonate today.
Last season, I pondered about this idea of “modern” couture – which in itself, can be seen as a dichotomy, as Angelo Flaccavento has pointed out in his latest couture critique on Business of Fashion. Other buzzwords in the haute couture of the 21st century are “reality”, “down-to-earth” and “complete wardrobe”. The tug and pull between these head-first, heart-second constructs and the lofty, far-removed and fantastical dream was definitely evident at the shows this week. The concept of dipping into the past to seek out a future seems to be a way of balancing the dream and the reality. When done with idiosyncratic flourish as Simons did at Dior, it becomes a way of pushing haute couture forward. Towards where, you might ask. Perhaps it’s on a technical and aesthetic level? Or towards gaining more clients as the super rich breed a new generation of would-be couture customers? Hopefully both is the answer.
Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel has nuanced referencing down to a fine art. He’s a well-read Kaiser, immersed in culture and that shows in his work. There are few that could after all collide the ornate style of 17th-18th century Baroque with the great modernist Le Corbusier. Curlicues and concrete. Versailles-appropriate gold and Villa Savoye white. It was a seamless fusion, with seamless being the operative word as the overriding A-line silhouette and ovoid curves were created without any side seams. The curves echoed that of Le Corbusier’s famous Notre Dame-du-Haut in Ronchamp but also the curves of 18th century mantuas. Lagerfeld closed the gap between these two seemingly opposing stylistic periods with conviction.
He is still on a young and jaunty trip with the punked-up hair, the ribboned flat sandals and the cycling shorts peeking out from underneath those smooth flared out and curved shapes. But there was a regality to them. They walked in circular motion at a meandering pace to the vocals of modern day music prodigy Shamir. That’s what carrying elements of the past does. It exudes gravitas and when you’re beholding work as fine as this, it’s best to go at a slower speed. Good thing the venue had minimised (well relatively speaking) within the Grand Palais and that the set was sparse (inspired by a Le Corbusier apartment in Paris). All the better to see those Lemarié massaged ostrich feathers, the ever-complex and awe-inspiring embroidery of Maison Lesage (not just beads, palettes and sequins but cubes of concrete too) and the final passage of egg-shaped dresses cut out of pristine neoprene. Yes, a preggers model closed the show. Apparently that’s “modern” for the likes of Chanel. *Chortle* A bride with a bump is nothing new but her bump was encased in a innovatively sculpted dress, making neoprene look incredibly luxurious. There’s the newness.
Donatella Versace is more likely to reach into her immediate past, the legacy of her brother Gianni than she is to go further back. Maybe the Charles James exhibition at the Met had some sway over her but you saw a hint of those dusty-coloured ballgowns at the Atelier Versace show. Emphasis on a “hint”. For the most part, the show was about sharp deconstructed tailoring with one-armed jackets and one-legged trousers to push boundaries and buttons out there. But towards the end, Donatella decided to do gowns her way and so umber coated dusty rose silk satin was swept into a nod to mid-century ball gowns and spliced with a black sequinned strapless bodysuit to reveal a whole lotta leg. They’re not gowns for dull Cotillion balls but for heady nights at
Boujis delete as appropriate with swanky/rich bitch night club of your choice.
Marco Zanini’s sophomore collection for Schiaparelli felt like the archives of this still-rebirthing house had been plundered. That’s no bad thing when there’s virtually no wider public consciousness of what Elsa Schiaparelli is all about. Zanini’s own quirk and zane nurtured at Rochas slots right in with the Schiaparelli traits, which we were given a lesson on at the show – the whimsical animal leitmotifs, the exaggerated and almost surreal shoulders, a sense of humour (seen mostly in Stephen Jones’ fun fun fun hats). That said, I’m still fighting for more of Zanini in this rekindling of Schiap. I’ll always heart what he does but there is a fine line between a homage to historics and history repeating itself.
Perhaps the most “straight forward” of couture shows was Giambattista Valli’s. He is selling a dream and clients visibly swooned as they sat in the front row – super tanned, and super bedazzled in last season’s Valli couture. The finale picture of four floor-sweeping tulle-tiered and feathered skirts in lemon yellow, baby blue, coral pink and mint green is that “dream”. Appaz Valli looked at the Alhambra Gradens. When people are making heart-eyed emojis and declaring “THIS is couture!”, that won’t matter. It’s all about… really really big skirts in an impressive quad formation.
At Armani Privé, the big black lacquered box at the start of the catwalk, which opened up to reveal videos of ladies in red, was some sort of metaphor for an explosion of swiss dotted tulle that was part La Isla Bonita, part Tony Viramontes sketch. The show may have began with the well-mannered tailoring and daywear, which the Armani client hankers for, but it ended in an elongated passage of these tulle creations. It made for good pictures but left you wondering what of Armani’s own well-defined signature was present.
And finally, Bruno Frisoni uncovered a link up between the brilliant Matisse Cut Outs exhibition at the Tate Modern and Roger Vivier‘s own penchant for collage work late in his life, when his eyesight was going. That created abstract graphic splatters, POW shapes and squiggled edges on the limited Rendez-Vous line of shoes and bags. Ok, fine it’s alright to wheel out that old chestnut – “It’s like art!” when ooh-ing and aah-ing over them. But Roger Vivier’s demi-couture line definitely should be worn and not just looked at on mirrored glass plinths.