Chinese designers have their moment on Paris haute couture catwalks
Rising stars Yiqing Yin, who is Paris-based, and Guo Pei and Lan Yu, who plan to open workshops there, announced their elevation to the French capital’s fashion showcase in contrasting style
Fewer than half the fashion houses that unveiled spring haute couture collections on the catwalks of Paris last week were French. Italian houses Valentino, Armani and Versace are correspondent members with an established couture clientele; there is a Middle East contingent, led by Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad; and the new kids on the block are the Chinese.
Although Yiqing Yin has been showing in Paris since 2011, the designer, who was raised in the French capital and is based there, has only just become a full member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture – the group of elite designers allowed to call their work haute couture as opposed to just couture. She marked the achievement with a shamanistic, warrior woman collection of fine drapery, chainmail and leather harnesses, conveying a sense of both fragility and power.
Guo Pei, who dresses Rihanna and Zhang Ziyi, and has a studio in Beijing that employs 300 embroiderers and 200 designers and petit mains (as the seamstresses would be called in Paris), was invited by the Chambre to stage her first show in the West and plans to open a studio in Paris to work alongside her atelier in Beijing. Guo Pei’s polished debut featured remarkable antique-style embroideries depicting the mythical phoenix on pastel organza dresses and vibrant mandarin yellow gowns.
Despite the weight of history in the craft, the silhouettes were contemporary. Guo’s best looks included a yellow silk gown with floor-length sleeves and an embroidery-trimmed shirt and trousers worn by a Chinese model with blonde flick-ups – regrettably the only Chinese model in the show.
Lan Yu, who dresses Chinese actresses Li BingBing, Ni Ni and Angelababy, displayed her Gatsby collection at the Mini Palais and similarly has plans for an atelier in Paris for European clients. Passionate about reviving the embroideries of the Suzhou artisans, Lan combined craft and historic painted and brocade references in glamorous evening gowns and dresses that were swishing with flapper-style fringing.
Designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino have a wonderfully lyrical way with couture craft, melding historical references from Venice, Byzantium and Japan to Delphic white dresses and Fortuny-inspired velvet tabards over pleated skirts, which were worn by barefoot models with serpent headdresses. Fortuny was the famous Venetian textile alchemist of the early 20th century renowned for his finely pleated Grecian-inspired gowns and remarkable gilded velvet robes.
Chiuri and Piccioli are proof that great talent can emerge from within the ranks of a design studio. Christian Dior currently seems to be struggling to find a replacement for Raf Simons, who left last October, and there is no sign an announcement is in the offing. The Dior collection, designed collectively by the in-house team, clearly followed the remit laid down by Simons for a younger, more modern approach to haute couture, and their efforts received plaudits, but Dior is a house that needs a visionary to lead it forward.
Its former visionary is now comfortably ensconced at Maison Margiela, where his new Artisanal collection involved a lot of fabric, bunched, pinned and draped about the body in a very experimental way. Underneath the bolts of cloth there was a safari look, a white trench dress, baseball jackets and classic Margiela tailoring.
In retrospect, Schiaparelli had a few false starts before finding the right man in Bertrand Guyon, who served up a menu of prints and embroideries on gowns and tea dresses inspired by tableware, fruit, pasta, prawns and of course the famous lobster. It was so surreal, so brilliantly Schiaparelli.
What was so entrancing this season was that designers followed their own hearts and really experimented with their design and craftsmanship, be it a surreal dinner menu at Schiaparelli, the Eco-luxe of Chanel, with its remarkable wood mosaic and wood-shaving embroideries that looked so fragile and beautiful, or the sassy tuxedo- and patent-leather-inspired nightclub theme at Alexandre Vauthier, who served up the sexiest red jersey dresses and laced thigh boots of the season.
Jean-Paul Gaultier, like Vauthier, holds some alternative views on couture party wear. A stream of 1980s hits on the soundtrack accompanied Gaultier’s Le Palace nightclub romp, inspired by Paris’ legendary nightspot of the era. Girls with mullet hairdos and glossy lipstick, wearing Lurex-striped pyjamas, jumpsuits, silk robes and some great suits, swigged champagne and high-fived each other as they passed through the famous red doors.
Clearly no two collections were the same. However, there were some trends: capes, cloaks and capelets in iridescent filmy fabrics, and lots of lingerie dresses. Frills and flowers abound in couture; more unusual were the sporty baseball and bomber jackets lavishly embellished with beading and embroidery. Milky pastels are the party palette of the season, seen in short dresses from Guo Pei and pale pinks embroidered with flowers at Giambattista Valli; pearly greys with raindrop crystal embroideries at Elie Saab; and the lilac party shorts and jackets of the Armani Privé collection.
This being Oscars season, the front rows were a little light on Hollywood glamour, although actress Uma Thurman turned up at Ralph & Russo, and looked amazing in a black embroidered mandarin coat at Guo Pei.
Michelle Yeoh, who is Paris based, was at Schiaparelli and Elie Saab; actress and house beauty ambassador Liu Yifei was at Christian Dior; and Taiwanese actress Gwei Lun-Mei oozed elegance at Armani with her cropped hair and black silk velvet tie-front shirt and organza skirt from the house.
There was, however, one less than beautifully behaved front rower, Cara Delevingne’s puppy Leo, who thought the grassy setting of the Chanel so realistic that he might take advantage of it and leave a wet patch.