seven things you might have missed at couture
From Celine Dion to Clickbait Couture.
Photography Mitchell Sams
Viktor & Rolf’s Satirical Clickbait Couture
You’ve probably seen some of Viktor & Rolf’s slogan gowns on your Instagram feed. What may appear as sartorial clickbait was actually a clever development for the Dutch design duo, who are known for their thought-provoking shows. If you’re looking at the topiaried tulle gowns through a screen you may notice a certain flatness to the ‘meme’ slogans laid across them. Yet IRL those motifs were entirely embroidered. In person, the dresses were voluminous sculptures with an immense amount of fabric and silhouette. In a picture, however, they become a satire of themselves and the slogans appear like Instagram-filter stickers, as though they’ve been copied-and-pasted onto a 2D image. The scale of those gowns were a smart way to pastiche the scale of which clothes are now consumed -- once it may have been the size of a magazine page; now it’s the size of an iPhone. As a result, the collection raised some interesting questions: In a digital world, what is the purpose of a fashion show? In fashion, what takes precedent: the craft or the message? Most importantly, though, these are clothes that are playful and intellectually camp, which might make them an incredibly apt choice for the upcoming Met Gala.
Jean Paul Gaultier’s Aquatic Adventure
Jean Paul Gaultier, the enfant terrible of French fashion, might have been inspired by that recent Aquaman movie -- you know, the one with Kaal Drogo from Game of Thrones and Amber Heard. It would make sense considering he took us under the sea (Darling, it’s better, down where it’s wetter). The show started with inventive variations on Gaultier’s beloved navy-and-white les marinières, which segued into shell-laden Little Mermaid fantasies and a cameo from Dita von Teese. It was a jolly moment of respite from the increasingly oh-so-serious world of fashion. This was a show that couldn’t help but make you smile -- or even giggle -- especially when Anna Cleveland appears and twirls down the catwalk with all the camp balletic poise of a bygone hairspray-scented era. Bonus points to Gaultier for also revisiting his iconic 1996 body contour dress, which came in violet sewing and flesh-coloured jersey. It was a pertinent reminder that so much of Gaultier’s archive still remains as relevant (and desirable) today as it was in previous decades.
Iris van Herpen Lights Up the Catwalk
Considering that haute couture is about uniqueness, craft and blue-sky thinking, it makes sense that Iris van Herpen has chosen it as her medium. The designer (or artist, depending on your criteria) often employs innovative technology and mind-boggling science to create sculptural garments that explore the intricacies of the human body. This season, she took inspiration from Harmonica Macrocosmic, a Medieval star atlas by the German-Dutch cartographer Andreas Cellars. She also collaborated with Kim Keever, a NYC-based aquatic expressionist. Keever is a former NASA engineer and experiments with the idea of ephemerality and movement in large-scale photographs of liquid clouds of colours. Their collaboration resulted in some awe-inspiring organza gowns that were akin to floating sculptures. There was also face jewellery -- or a "semi-arbitrary density structure mapped from the face", as Van Herpen put it. She made them with a multi-material printer at the Delft University of Technology in the designer’s naive Netherlands, and they require 3D face scans, colour information and something called a grasshopper algorithm. It may all sounds totally sci-fi but the result was swooningly romantic.
Ronald van der Kemp’s Elegant Eco-Couture
In many ways, haute couture is one of the most sustainable forms of fashion, largely because only one garment is ever produced and it’s all meticulously executed by hand adhering to the strict regulations laid down by the Fédération de la Haute Couture. For Ronald van der Kemp, haute couture also provides the opportunity to turn trash into treasure with his collections that are made from rejected, refused or recycled materials. He works with fabrics that are at the end of their cycle and breathes new life into them. A lampshade gauze became a floaty floral dress. An embroidered bathtub covering became a cinched-in wedding dress. Sheets of python that was refused by one brand became a cocktail number. The Dutch designer proved that sustainability can be sexy, chic and oh-so-glam.
Balmain Makes Its Debut
Things haute-d up at Balmain as Olivier Rousteing made his couture debut for the French brand. As a house with roots in couture, it made sense. Cue a monochromatic colour scheme and a somewhat puzzling fixation on circles. The show gave new meaning to the phrase ‘bubble butt’, which will surely resonate with Rousteing’s prolific ’Balmain Army’.
Giorgio Armani’s Art Deco Extravaganza
At Giorgio Armani’s ‘Privé’ couture shows, the pace of life slows down quite literally as models twirl and glide down a mirrored catwalk at testudinal speed. The clothes they wear are spectacular specimens of old-school elegance, but they aren’t as translatable to the adrenaline heat of social media. That’s because Mr Armani wants his clothes to be timeless and classic, and he’s not willing to compromise his craft for the sake of Gen Z. There’s something quite charming and admirable about that approach. Plus, seeing the clients at his shows is testament to his extraordinary ability to tailor a suit unlike anyone else. This season, Armani took cues from Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 film The Conformist and focused his vision on Chinese lacquer and the Art Deco movement. The result was an extensive collection full of long, leanly sinuous silhouettes in a focused palette of lacquer red and bright blue. It also made a case for beaded capelet wigs, which perhaps no one ever felt they needed in their life until now.
Giambattista Valli Goes XXL
Mr Valli is perhaps the patron saint of the giant tulle gown. His latest couture show didn’t fail to live up to his legacy of froth -- it was full of gowns that are probably as big as your apartment. They swept the Swarovski crystal-covered carpet, leaving a trail of stardust behind them. That’s not to say that is was all tulle, tulle, tulle though. There were skirts so mini that clients might ask for a discount and shoulders so big that they may have to pay extra. As always, it was a playful Disney-esque spectacle that will likely be snapped up by starlets ready to make a splash on the red carpet.
Oh, and Céline Dion Is Couture’s Biggest Cheerleader
Ms Dion made her return to the couture shows this season with palpable excitement, as usual. There she was leading a standing ovation at Armani Privé. At Ronald van der Kemp, she was gagged by the eco-couture. At Valentino, she wept in wonder at all those incredible looks. At Alexandre Vaulthier, she became an Internet sensation once again with her expressive reactions to passing catwalk looks. As a longstanding couture client (Dion would often order couture and have it remade with specifications so she could wear it onstage in Vegas) she is the cheerleader that every couture house needs.