It was not so long ago that haute couture was held in salons, private sitting room-style presentations that showed the collections to a Maison’s elusive, well-to-do clientele. It was unobtrusive, chic, and most of all held hush-hush behind closed doors. But those are days of yore. Just like ready-to-wear, haute couture is vying for fashion’s attention, giving way to elaborate set production, Hollywood celebrities, front-row kerfuffles, and of course a high quotient of one upmanship. The goal? To sell, of course, or perhaps to be the designer and house that will remain the most newsworthy after the images have long disappeared into the feed.
The winner of the above would undeniably be Schiaparelli’s Dante-inspired collection, which featured front row fabulousness (or outrageousness if one cares to quantify it as such) with Doja Cat, who arrived as Doja’s Inferno, covered in 30,000 ruby crystals and red body paint in an ensemble that took five hours to apply. In an adjacent seat Kylie Jenner of the Kardashian clan wore a dress so hot – the now infamous faux lion sculptured gown that was yet to be officially introduced on the catwalk moments later – and that became the singular root of the week’s biggest controversy. Some of Daniel Roseberry’s more exquisite proposals got lost in the noise.
Large-scale, elaborate set design came courtesy of Dior and Chanel, the latter also sticking with an animal theme, where artist Xavier Veilhan’s giant menagerie of animals, sculpted from plywood, were a nod to Coco Chanel's collection of animal sculptures in her Paris apartment.
Mr Veilhan, who exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2017, said Chanel artistic director Virginie Viard “asked me if I could work around the idea of Gabrielle Chanel’s apartment and its bestiary,” according to art publication Artnet. Coco Chanel’s apartment was atop the spiral staircase of her Paris boutique and atelier.
Dior turns to jazz, Ackermann takes on Jean-Paul Gaultier
At Dior, a return to the jazz age celebrated singer Josephine Baker, to a backdrop by Mickalene Thomas that featured gigantic portraits celebrating Black women. The works included paintings of Donyale Luna, Eartha Kitt, and Naomi Sims. In an interview with Reuters Ms Thomas said: "All of these women were socially active and either they used their stage, their voice or their performance to really tell a story or a narrative about their personal life and about also the demographic that they were from.”
At Armani, a platitude of endless variations of a harlequin theme, some 77 looks, stretched the notion of less is more. If the catwalk was Groundhog Day, it was a thematic repeat across daywear, eveningwear and unlimited iterations in between.
When the clothes spoke for themselves, there were moments of joy and celebration of craft, and the painstaking expertise required to sew these garments so beautifully. At Jean-Paul Gaultier, where this season guest designer Haider Ackermann took the helm, he delivered on masterful tailoring, like an evening jacket adorned with a ripple of feathery tulle, or the way a bustier was reworked into an elegant pantsuit. Some hailed it a triumph of the couture season. At Dior, it was the beauty of garment construction, where lighter than light velvet bathroom coats came quilted or crumbled.
At Giambattista Valli and Victor & Rolf, cascades of tulle, duchesse and Cinderella satin brought the ball gown back from hibernation. Mr Valli’s penchant for frothy dresses have earned him a loyal clientele, presumably those that can afford to dress according to their fairy tale lives. At the avant-garde Dutch duo’s presentation, one dress was topsy turvy, a V&R signature, defying gravity and turning stereotypes into works of art.
Because that is what haute couture should be, a wearable work of art.