Paris Fashion Week: Haute Couture

Paris couture shows analyse the age of social media and look back to more glamorous eras

Maison Margiela deconstructed garments into their essentials, Elie Saab showed a fascination with the 1960s, Dior went mystical, Schiaparelli explored traditional hanfu, Chanel focused on futuristic flappers and Armani Privé basked in orange

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 January, 2017, 5:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 5:40pm

On Wednesday, the final day of the Paris couture shows, there was a timely reminder of the era we live in. Influenced by our ongoing obsession with social media and the way it has been taking its toll on our everyday lives, John Galliano dedicated his spring-summer 2017 Margiela Artisanal collection to the exploration of the selfie phenomenon, and took a look at “how reality is veiled in filters and conveyed through symbols”, as explained in a statement released by the Maison Margiela’s atelier.

Pointing the finger at our obsession with social media, Galliano played with the layering of multiple fabrics to build up his conceptual evening outfits, thereby referring to social media filters. But sublimation is not everything – distortion also plays an important role, both in the digital world and in Margiela’s Artisanal collection. Galliano peeled off garments to expose their essential structures, while tapping into Margiela’s signature deconstructivism and reconstructing classical tailored couture pieces into bold numbers.

But other collections looked to seemingly more glamorous eras. Lebanese couture giant Elie Saab was influenced in part by ’60s style, with those big shades and headbands. Then it was regal navy satin or sheers, gold and strategically placed lace appliqués on long, full sleeved gowns with lingerie undertones.

Also playing to a more traditionally elegant couture aesthetic was Maria Grazia Chiuri’s first collection for Christian Dior Couture. The bar jacket and signature sculpted Dior silhouette made a comeback – a closer move into the heritage of the French house, whereas there were still many reminders of her Valentino past in the gowns and skirts of her first ready-to-wear spring-summer 2017 Dior line. Mystical, mythical themes pervaded in the show venue, transformed into a leafy magical garden complete with hedged maze. Tarot and celestial motifs appeared delicately on red carpet gowns, which were big skirted, beautiful, fit for fairytales and totally Oscar-ready.

Giambattista Valli similarly was red carpet sensitive in his line that included (of course) voluminous frothy tulle dresses, but this time the treatment was young, modern and full of bounce. A bit of ’60s Elisabeth Taylor to start, then it was dramatically draped silks and statement gowns that floated. The key feature was the tiny miniskirts at the front that led to huge dramatic trains at the back, not the most practical, but hey, this is haute couture.

The house of Schiaparelli, which just earned its official haute couture membership from the French fashion authority, proposed graphic contrasts, saturated hues and bold pop shapes in a line with a lot of “Chinoiserie at Heart”. There was a new sense of purity, but perhaps flatter and less sensual. References were made to Chinese hanfu and Japanese kimonos, and to artists Jean Cocteau and Guy Bourdin, as well as classic Schiaparelli symbols such as the keyhole, heart, suns and lobsters.

A collection that managed to work silver-toned futurism with flapper girl glitz was Karl Lagerfeld’s line for Chanel, with help from generous plumes of ostrich feather plus gemstones and crystals galore. We had here a most interesting raised hip, high-waisted silhouette in some sculpted suiting and dresses – making for some head-turning daywear often so ignored in couture.

At Armani Privé, “orange is the new black” for Italian fashion juggernaut Giorgio Armani in his latest couture collection, which takes this youthful, zesty hue as the point of departure. It’s not a easy colour to play with, but Armani finds quite a surprising harmony in the way sparkling crystals on gauze worked with evening black and bright satin silks and elegant drapes. An orange croc jacket was a standout piece, though it was really the later outfits that impressed the crowd. From soft peach to tangerine, rust and “curry” hues (which granted doesn’t sound the most appealing) there were Ottoman, Arabesque and Asian influences to Armani’s energetic couture offerings.

Several designers explored concepts that were very familiar and dear to them. Saab, for instance, tapped into Egypt’s rich cultural heritage and his fascination with actress Faten Hamama, whose ’50s and ’60s glamour influenced his iridescent gowns and cocktail numbers. Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci offered an Americana-inspired haute couture collection which turned Western film memories from his childhood into sensual, figure-hugging numbers – think silk chiffon dresses printed with tartan patterns, or a backless dress crafted from chiffon, or a ribbed knit with a cape resembling a bolero, among other highlights – worn by his all-time favourite muses, Mariacarla Boscono, Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid.

But no one could relate childhood memories better than French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, who nowadays has given up his ready-to-wear line and only does couture. Gaultier again expressed his fascination with the extravagant ’80s and topped this obsession with that certain je ne sais quoi, showcasing breezy and pastoral inspired numbers in a picturesque scenario that transported you straight to the south of France to enjoy an open-air picnic with Brigitte Bardot.

On the other side of Paris, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, the dynamic designer duo behind Viktor & Rolf, offered a continuation of their past couture collection and once again breathed new life into vintage couture pieces and precious fabrics by transforming them into colourful, bold patchwork evening numbers. The effect, however, was at times too busy, and not nearly as charming or unique as their previous two couture seasons.

On an ethereal note, Pierpaolo Piccioli – who is now on his own at Valentino’s helm after his partner in crime Maria Grazia Chiuri left for Dior – offered one of Valentino’s most casual Couture collections so far. The billowing, flowing volumes, which are so dear to the Italian house, were still predominant, but gone were the sumptuous adornments and romantic embellishments, replaced by sleek and pleated pastel-hued garments with hints of vivid colours. Piccioli’s first haute couture outing after Chiuri’s departure came with a more restrained yet sophisticated attitude that focused on essential cuts and shapes; and it was better this way. Here, it might have been a case of less is more – even for the world of couture.