Couture with clout, by Chanel, Armani, Valentino and Vionnet
The couture schedule, somehow, was packed this past week.
Alongside the old guard, the Chanels and the Diors – the houses that ensure the survival of the craft (if either of them stopped showing, why would anyone else bother?) – there’s a fresh crop of lesser-known names, or arrivistes, like Bouchra Jarrar, who quietly shows sleek tailored separates, or the demi-couture line created under the Vionnet label.
Vionnet is headed by billionaire businesswoman Goga Ashkenazi. She likes wearing clothes, sure. But she isn’t a designer. Hence why she – very, very cleverly – drafted in Hussein Chalayan this season, to add some intellectual clout to her offerings. It was a mixed bag, bits of pleating, a few cut-out organza columns, a section of dresses and coats embroidered and printed to look like dot-and-cross pattern paper. Some worked, some tanked. The collection was as up and down as one of Vionnet’s signature handkerchief hems. Chalayan managed to have a reverence for the Vionnet archives without becoming mired in reference, which was one of the good points. The entirety didn’t feel polished enough to stand next to couture’s big hitters. However, Chalayan is a man with rare talents. His spring ready-to-wear show was, I reckon, just about the best thing in Paris. He gave the whole season a run for its cojones, actually. Even if this one didn’t quite hit the spot, I’m keen to see more.
Chanel is, of course, another kettle of fish entirely. They set the bar, both in terms of workmanship and creative breadth. A sequin-encrusted evening gown as light as tissue degrading into a froth of ostrich at the hem? Sure. Have half a dozen. How about slender trouser-suits that manage to be precious – in a way hand-woven, hand-sewn tweed with hand-beading tends to – without making you get all precious about wearing them?
The big news? Every model wore trainers. They were created by the bottier Massaro, who usually create the signature two-tone Chanel pumps, or dainty evening slippers. The trainers were in tweed and silk, embroidered with pearls. They were made as perfectly as any other Massaro creation, and will cost just as much. But it was the perfection of couture craftsmanship harnessed to a new, modern goal.
As the models hurried down the stairs (great, real, energetic) or skipped and twirled on the catwalk (mildly infuriating, with airs of the NEC Clothes Show Live), I was struck by how much they reminded me of Lady Amanda Harlech, who habitually pairs Converse with her couture. At the Valentino show, she wore ponyskin Celine Vans-style plimsoles. Couture trainers, albeit not the Chanel Massaro ones.
Karl Lagerfeld is clever. He realises that audiences, even at the refined levels of couture, need novelty. However, this time he also showed something that looked not only novel, but new. That’s tricky, in a globally saturated marketplace.
When it comes to yesterday, I’ve said pretty much all there is to say about Jean Paul Gaultier’s butterfly meets showgirl haute couture. The summary? It felt old. And the clients for old couture are, quite literally dying out.
That’s why Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli are clever. The way they approach Valentino haute couture is to create intricate but rarely overworked clothes for a discerning clientele of old school and new money couture clients. After a rocky start, they’ve hit their pay-dirt. Their clothes have the best of the old and new worlds of couture, keeping the old guard happy, but luring in new blood. Sometimes, the meeting of those two worlds can lead to a slightly incoherent whole in their shows. This time, they partnered with the Rome Opera House, creating outfits inspired by specific musical passages. Of course, some of the opera ended up overblown – there were a few too many tutus, embroidered with a few too many mythical beasts. But their austere cashmere daywear – an oft overlooked couture niche – was outstanding, as were crepe dresses of monastic, epic simplicity.
Monastic, simple and above all epic. That trio perfectly summarises Giorgio Armani’s approach to fashion. His couture line, dubbed Armani Privé, is a playground for Mr Armani. This season, he brought his “Eccentrico” exhibition to Paris, a selection of the more lavish, laborious and indeed eccentric looks from his career. It focusses heavily on his haute couture offerings, including a clutch taken from his autumn/winter 2013 show, a career highlight.
As a follow-up act, his spring/summer 2014 Privé show was less of a knock-out. Nevertheless, it took some of the best elements and reworked them: his deftness of hand with lace and tulle; a focus on dressing after dark (or rather, for the red carpet); and a tight colour palette. There were mercifully few tricksy moments. It worked.Tagged in: Chanel, Giorgio Armani, haute couture, Hussein Chalayan, Jean Paul Gaultier, Spring/Summer 2014, Valentino, Vionnet
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