The Paris Haute Couture Week kicked off on Sunday 1 July and was an absolute source of entertainment to me. It’s a bewitching peek into the world where fashion meets fantasy for a week, the dates of which are determined by the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode. The shows are held semi-annually and this year the Haute Couture Fall/Winter Collection was held in Paris from Sunday 1 July to Thursday 5 July.
The first day saw RVDK Ronald Van Der Kemp, Adeline André, Aganovich, Christophe Josse, Azzaro Couture and the show-stopper, Givenchy. After designing the wedding dress for Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, the Givenchy artistic director Clare Waight Keller presented the latest collection for her second couture show since the beginning of her successful 16-month tenure at the French fashion house. She is the only woman who managed to bring back the couture collection after the house had dismantled it in 2012. She paid specific tribute to Givenchy’s founder, Hubert de Givenchy. The unquestionable finale featured a dress similar to that worn by the character Holly Golightly, played by Givenchy’s muse Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. To set the scene, Moon River played in the background.
The Givenchy show took place in the gardens behind the Archives Nationales with a metallic catwalk, chestnut trees and a hot night with unmasked glamour of the 50s and 60s. Interestingly, there was nothing even remotely similar to the dress worn by Ms Markle on her wedding day. Instead, it was dominated by models dressed from head-to-toe in silk dresses with the unique Givenchy shoulders and robe styles. Waight Keller wanted to showcase the symbiosis between Givenchy and Hepburn but recast it in a simple version. She was quoted saying, “I didn’t re-watch anything, I just wanted to absorb what I knew”.
The most electrifying look was the use of metal which took the form of chokers, and crescent-shaped hair pieces. Some of the designs included white silk blanketed by regal purple velvet and feathers; a translucent gossamer coral anorak paired with a belted silver embroidered gown; tri-color gown — white, beige, black with the Xena the Warrior Princess look. The show notes mentioned Hubert de Givenchy’s “mythical oeuvre”, and the relationship between “noble fabrics” and “an untouched natural beauty”.
The second day saw the likes of Schiaparelli, Nourdeddine Amir, Iris Van Herpen, Georges Hobeika, Maison Rabih Kayrouz, Ralph & Russo, Antonio Grimaldi, Giambattisa Valli, Maurizio Galante and Christian Dior. Staged at Paris’ Opéra Garnier, Schiaparelli’s runway collection had a mystical approach as the lines between the real and the empyrean were blurred, employing animal prints alongside animal-inspired masks, created by Stephen Jones.
In her collection for Christian Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri pulled a page out of Elisabetta Orsini’s book, “Atelier: Places of Thought and Creation,” commissioning classical silhouettes, chiffon gowns and light satins. For some reason, Dior was a disappointment; in spite of the collection having lots of pretty dresses, there was not one piece that was memorably breath-taking. There was an intentional dryness in the choice of fabrics like the matte duchesse, double-face, crepe and handwork of macramé, wood bead embroidery, ribbon embroidery.
As Ralph & Russo’s first big statement since the royal wedding, for which they were considered to design Markle’s dress, the collection did not hint even at a subtle bid to win her over for future black-tie occasions. Having dressed the Duchess at the announcement of her engagement, one would think that there would be some kind of link. But instead their show had an 80s vibe as the runway saw uncanny inspiration from the life and closet of Parisian socialite and fashion designer, Jacqueline, Comtesse de Ribes. The bold move promoted the cause of feminism. The designs of the Australian duo ranged from studded red velvet gowns and scintillating cocktail dresses, to royal purple chiffon paired with mustard yellow or scarlet red double duchess draping.
The third day saw two shows each by Chanel, Alexis Mabille, Stéphane Rolland, Julien Fournié, Ulyana Sergeenko, Giorgio Armani Prive, Alexandre Vauthier and Xuan.
For the Chanel Fall haute couture show, Lagerfeld chose the magnificent Institut de France as the venue. The collection was a riveting mix of tweeds, faille pinafores and gauze fabric which conjured the soupçon of the beautiful structures in Paris clouded by the dusky skies, illuminated by the lights of the bateaux on the Seine. “High fashion is about Paris, huh?” queried Lagerfeld. This season, the runway collection was truly “high profile” featuring long jackets with crystial-borfered zippers, long skirts that unzip to the thigh to reveal provocative miniskirts beneath. As several designers from this year’s show tried to portray an à la Duchess of Sussex style, Chanel’s collection was the epitome of uniqueness. “It is very Paris, it is very French,” Karl Lagerfeld said during a preview. “But you know, French couture is about promoting Paris. It is part of my job.” As WWD witnessed at a preview as Lagerfeld typically conducts previews during fittings, as one model awaited his approval, he mused, “Elle est très élégante, non?” Très élégante, oui.
Armani presented his show at the Italian embassy in Paris, fitting for this Milanese love affair. The runway featured models in pantsuits and evening gowns in black, paired with an interesting choice of jewellery like bright pink earrings. Black velvet, black silk, black satin- the classic Armani style spoke volumes through its elegance and simplicity. While the first fifty models were in some version of black, the next thirty wore fluorescent pink and turquoise with ostrich feather capes.
Day four featured exclusive shows by Maison Margiela, Franck Sorbier, Elie Saab, Galia Lahav, Jean Paul Gaultier, Viktor & Rolf, Zuhair Murad, Fendi Couture, Guo Pei and Valentino.
As said by Lebanese designer Elie Saab to CNBC in 2005, “In haute couture [there’s] no limit; we can dream, we can change. The world of haute couture is another world.” The Fall/Winter haute couture collection was no exception as Saab’s silhouettes remained ethereal evidenced by the massive 80s rosettes spruced up by a blush-coloured high-low gown worn by Cindy Bruna.
Jean Paul Gautlier took the opportunity to pay homage to the celebrated historic Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Le Smoking’, 10 years after the iconic fashion designer’s death. Smoking was the theme of this year’s couture collection, as a constant wisp was projected behind the male and female models, who walked the runway in an almost exclusively black-and-white collection that was an extension of couture to ready-to-wear.
Maison Valentino offered a parade of liberally extravagant and saturated shades, a how-does-one-even-do-that skill, that in closing the show received a standing ovation and brought a tear to the eye of Mr. Valentino. On behalf of the house, Pierpaolo Piccioli described the show as “Renaissance meets Versailles meets ’60s whatever”. The voluminous hair-dos like that of Priscilla Presley, Greek goddesses, 17th- and 18th-century painting, the controversial films of Pasolini and the photographs of Deborah Turbeville is the best way to describe the runway looks for Valentino’s Fall collection.
Day five saw the Haute Joaillerie collection by Anna Hu, Boucheron, Bvlgari, Chanel, Chaumet, Chopard, De Beers, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Giampiero Bodino, Buccellati and Mikimoto. Exquisite pieces of unaffordable sparkling and delicate jewellery including rings and necklaces were showcased.
My personal favourite this season is a tie between Givenchy and Zuhair Murad. I don’t think there is even one dress featured on the catwalk by either of the brands that I wouldn’t be ‘ready-to-wear’. It was also interesting to watch Cindy Crawford’s daughter, Kaia, make a statement with the stunning hair-do while walking for Maison Valentino.