When this time last year, Pierpaolo Piccioli unveiled his distinctly modern take on haute couture for Valentino, it caused quite a stir, not only prompting industry critics to describe it as “magnificent“ and “perfection”, but also, and perhaps more telling, a “longed-for breakthrough.” The historic practice of couture is steeped in tradition and governed by strict rules, and the challenge for today’s couturiers, deftly met by Piccioli, is to translate it into something that also resonates with the modern consumer. In Paris this week, it became clear that modernity was definitely on designers’ minds, with many delivering exquisitely crafted collections that firmly nodded to today’s wardrobes.
Despite being at the helm of the house for nearly nine years, this was Olivier Rousteing’s first couture collection following the revival of Balmain’s haute couture atelier. Drawing on an extensive archive - “Everything you see will give the sense that it’s taken from the ideas of Mr. Balmain,” Rousting explained at a preview – the creative director showed a procession of gowns with the dramatic shapes and ornamental details one would expect from haute couture. And many of those pieces were adorned with hundreds of hand-stitched pearls, alluding to the hours of workmanship associated with the craft. But on closer inspection, by incorporating leather, denim and a graffiti-style logo into the mix, Rousteing also endeavored to answer the question, “What is couture in 2019?”
“It’s the chic of having clothes with an impeccable cut, on which hours of artisanal savoir faire were spent, but which don’t look ostentatious or too exuberant. I wanted to express a balanced luxury, but extreme,” said Alexandre Vauthier. And so his show yesterday celebrated a variety of silhouettes, from form-fitting to fluid, with simple silk capri pants and satin boxer shorts providing a contemporary and sleek pairing for the more sculptural pieces.
For her third haute couture collection for Givenchy, Clare Waight Keller surprised many by including second-skin latex pieces among the 42 looks. In between the floor-sweeping skirts and intricately embroidered and pleated ensembles, were several tailored designs paired with glossy black leggings. While they gave the collection a distinct sense of modernity, in a firm nod to haute couture they were also, it was revealed, entirely bespoke, each pair crafted over several days and in collaboration with specialty atelier Atsuko Kudo.
Iris van Herpen
Inspired by the future, Iris van Herpen’s fusing of fashion, art and science constantly pushes the boundaries of traditional couture, and her experimental designs are often seen as being at odds with the notion of wearability. However, the Dutch designer’s latest collection incorporated shades of ombre color across a range of softer silhouettes, in contrast to the typical silver-toned metallics of her favored exoskeletons and crystalline structures, which will no doubt appeal to a new and wider audience.
Bertrand Guyon added a modern twist to the whimsy traditionally associated with the house of Schiaparelli though a playful use of color this couture season. Inspired by the magic of childhood memories, the designer mixed unexpected combinations of pink, lime, blues, lilac and yellow to evoke a “sense of optimism, lightness, and freshness”. And styled with similarly colorful cowboy boots, the sculptural gowns and layers of feathers and tulle were given the house’s eclectic touch.
Following his lauded collection last season, Pierpaolo Piccioli once again delivered a presentation filled with looks that offered real world options for both day and night. He too looked to unexpected mixes of color to provide fresh appeal, including pairing a sugared almond pink cashmere coat faced in coral with a chocolate crepe blouse and emerald gabardine pants, and a lilac cloak with orange pants styled with an oyster crepe fringed blouson. And while Piccioli protested during a preview that he doesn’t believe in modernist couture, his inspired reworking of the house’s signatures is resulting in collections that are indeed speaking to today’s contemporary consumer.