americans in paris: proenza schouler, rodarte, hermès, and miu miu at couture
The reign of couture was challenged on the first day of the fall/winter 17 haute shows in Paris, where Proenza Schouler and Rodarte made their ready-to-wear arrival, backed up by cruise shows from Hermès and Miu Miu.
Rodarte spring/summer 18
But is it haute couture? Replace that last word with "art" and it's the question fashion has been asking itself for epochs. On the first day of the fall/winter 17 haute couture shows, the industry was questioning its own age-old rules and boundaries. As Proenza Schouler and Rodarte — two American power labels — made their arrival in Paris, choosing the hallowed haute couture schedule to present their shows, the definition of fashion's oldest craft was challenged. It's not the first time it's happened. Last season Vetements moved its show to couture, making a point of not living up to the strict rules imposed by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, which includes having to spend a certain amount of hours on each garment — oh, and actually being based in Paris. "Normally during the shows we don't wanna eat but here it's like, it's five o'clock dinner time! Everything seemed more, I dunno, human," Laura Mulleavy said after the Rodarte show, her and sister Kate's first in Paris. "It was so exciting, everything was wonderful, even our meals were more fun." An American tourist in Paris? Indeed, but the fashion capital's schedule has always welcomed friends from abroad — even haute couture, which has hosted Ralph Rucci in the past.
What made this July Sunday in Paris different was that Rodarte and Proenza Schouler's American invasion wasn't a couture offering. It was, at least on paper, ready-to-wear. Or was it? "We wouldn't go to Paris and not try to push ourselves. We'll still keep the DNA of what we do, just not so theatrical but romantic, which still pays reverence to the history of couture and the houses that show and the brands that are here," Laura Mulleavy explained. "We just try to do it our way." The Rodarte sisters certainly jazzed up their presentation, covering their ethereal prairie dresses in enough baby's-breath to put Martha Stewart Weddings to shame. The 17th-century nuns who once roamed the cloisters of the Port-Royal Abbey, where the show took place, would have forgiven the raunchy leather looks and midriffs that spiced up the show, all in the name of the fluffy innocence that ruled it, and all those ruffles. It wasn't couture — not according to the rules — but the Mulleavys certainly gave the haute all it could take. As did Proenza Schouler, who embraced this most high fortress of fashion in a different way.
Shapes were on the agenda — the twisted ones we see at haute couture, which remind us of Cristóbal Balenciaga and Azzedine Alaïa (who normally does demi-couture but is showing couture this season, all of which is an entirely different and even more confusing story). Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez had been spending time in Paris working on their new fragrance, and the city's unique craftsmanship had become an obsession. "Our free time has been spent researching all these different ateliers who specialize in different things like ribbon work or feathers or hand weaving. So that definitely got our minds going to explore that world," Hernandez said. "We've been embroidering for, like, a month now. That feather jacket took a month to make," he continued, referring to a showstopper worn by Sasha Pivovarova. "There's such a cottage industry of that here; three-people ateliers. A loom in an apartment" — "But it's, like, a 400-year-old loom!" McCollough added.
It looked like haute couture and it felt like it, too. So was it? "Some is, like, ready-to-wear and some is made-to-measure. It's a big mix. One big thing. One collection. One world," Hernandez tried to clarify. In other words, the answer was no. All these pieces won't be made to order by just one person per piece and recreated to her specific wishes the way bonafide haute couture is. Does that make the Proenza Schouler collection any less beautiful? Absolutely not, but it does make you wonder about the future of the haute couture shows in Paris — this four-day fashion week so loved by the citizens of the industry. Of course, aside from the Chambre Syndical approved few — Chanel, Dior, Valentino, and so on — the rest of the schedule is pretty much pre-collections anyway. And so, Hermès and Miu Miu did their thing, the former in its rue Faubourg Saint Honoré store where Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski presented a Cruise 18 collection made for the couture client, who actually goes cruising in the winter — on her own cruise ship, that is. A few seasons into her tenure, Vanhee-Cybulski is loosening up and having fun at Hermès, going bonkers with zesty colors and some rather mad face paint, which somehow gave her vacay-oriented collection a touch of amazon warrior.
At Miu Miu, Miucci Prada turned the Automobile Club de Paris into a showgirl stage, filling it with show tunes mixed by Frédéric Sanchez and a performance by Tommy Genesis. Her Cruise 18 collection continued down the increasingly fun-filled, girly road it's been taking lately, piling on the embellishment in a circus of patches, crystals, and studs on flag and techno prints, wrapped up in hot pants and teenage thighs. This was not haute couture — it wasn't even ready-to-wear if fashion's labels are to be upheld — but in its showmanship it did exactly what those Americans did earlier in the day, and what the couturiers of Paris will do over the next three days of haute couture shows: push the fashion industry into a new, remixed age where the sky is the limit.
Text Anders Christian Madsen