Is Haute Couture Safe In The Post-Coronavirus World?

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    PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 05: A model wears a red and black mesh studded dress with embroidery and fluffy shoulder parts shaped as flowers, during the "Balmain Sur Seine" Performance, on a barge on the Seine river, on July 05, 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images) (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images) GETTY IMAGES

    Haute couture has been pronounced dead a few times. Most daringly by a New Designers collective that has been running its notorious slogan since 2015. The couturiers maintain this format is vital to preserve and promote utmost craftsmanship in the business. The public often sees these displays of glamor as excessive and out of touch. The buyers, however, cannot get enough. Last year, an auction of Catherine Deneuve gowns generated a cool million dollars, while a rare Yves Saint Laurent jacket fetched a remarkable 382,000 euros. The discourse on economic and ethical feasibility of haute couture now enters the post-coronavirus fashionscape. Can virtual shows do justice to meticulous details that can take teams of artisans hundreds of hours to complete? Would critics and collectors be as engaged via Zoom as they were on Parisian front rows? Are fashion’s wildest imaginations capable of pragmatism? The legendary Christian Lacroix allegedly once said: “Haute Couture should be fun, foolish and almost unwearable.” In the year that has been anything but fun, does the world still have room for haute couture showmanship?

    In a departure from the historic shows of the recent era, Chanel opted for its least affecting couture presentation in years. Show-white background with dancers in five designs (the rest available in a lookbook). The scrutinized successor Virginie Viard was inspired by Lagerfeld’s glam squad of “eccentric princesses” spotted with him at Le Palace. Familiar tweed skirt and jacket combinations, maxi dresses with flower ornaments, signature maison midis with feathers and fringe, and coats with an asymmetrical split. No mystery or wow effect – predictable luxury. More Karl, less Coco, how much Virginie? Only sophisticated bead ornaments and embroidery with shimmering stones and glimmering flower appliques suggested a difference from the classic ready-to-wear line. ‘A combination of simplicity and grandeur,’ is how Viard herself described the designs. This paradox sounds like an excuse. Let’s hope the best is yet to come for a venerated house under her leadership.  

    Aganovich

    Designers Brooke Taylor and Nana Aganovich of the brand Aganovich collaborated with conceptual artist Erik Madigan Heck on an intense two-minute video filled with surrealistic graphics, abrupt sounds and long pauses. Le Grand Cirque Aganovich feels like a celebration of anxiety as the new status quo. The creative team took the digitalization path farther than anyone else and replaced human models with virtual prototypes. From trench coats to velvet jackets, the palette included the duo’s favorite colors: white, red and black. The collection was inspired corsets and petticoats representing the inner life of clothes. They showed a different haute couture world of silhouettes, allusions and associations, providing everyone with a vast space for imagination to build their own immaculate garments. Could self-made couture become ‘the sourdough comfort’ practice for the next social distancing phase? 

    Alexandre Vauthier

    The visual presentation lasted 20 seconds – a record. Leave it to Alexandre Vauthier to outwit the critics and outperform his extraordinary expectations. The designer impossibly combined eras and trends: the 1930’s with the 1980’s and Bermuda shorts in the mix. Since only the bravest typically dare to wear his extra-mini strapless gold lamé dresses and silk gowns with cuts up the waistline, during these somber times almost half of the collection was made up of trousers and pantsuits. Considering that everything was lavishly embroidered with golden thread, one couldn’t help but wonder where’d you wear this during a pandemic? The strong beat made some nostalgic for all the parties we didn’t appreciate in retrospect, while to others it communicated “a safe daredevil” vibe. Be reasonable about interactions with others, but in the queendom of your own home don’t hesitate to seize the day! 

    Iris Van Herpen

    There is nobody in the couture game who can harness the power of technology and digital storytelling more viscerally than Iris Van Herpen. So, when she chooses to show one single dress, you pay attention. Inspired by the iconic monochrome works of the Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher, the garment resembles a precious flower with pleated white organza petals, laser-cut core and pollen made of black crystals. “We didn’t want to be tied to the quantity,” said the designer. Titled Transmotion (a transition from one state to another), this fashion art object is an allusion to current global events. The add epic scale to a fragile sculptural dress, the presentation was entrusted to the Dutch actress Carice van Houten who played Melisandre on HBO’s Game of Thrones. The objective was to call for “subconscious respect for one’s roots” wherein the process of becoming is hardly perceptible until the result is undeniable. A path to sustainability requires careful listening to nature’s needs. We better heed Van Herpen’s subtle warning. 

    Guo Pei

    On May 5, 2015, designer Guo Pei woke up famous worldwide. Eighteen years of building a namesake brand at an atelier in Beijing culminated in a meme- (and history) making moment when Rihanna wore the instantly iconic omelet dress at the Met Gala in New York. The key feature of Pei’s unique couture vision lies in the innovative mixing of Chinese and European folk codes and design techniques. Exaggeration is part of the appeal. This time she set her sights on and took her audience to Africa. The presentation was inspired by a visit to the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. Titled Savannah, it brought to life the most energetic and powerful animals of the continent: elephants, cheetahs, zebras, and giraffes. Three-dimensional manual embroidery and small batch wool felting using a new needle piercing technique transformed garments into magnificently detailed animal studies. Her collection managed to take us beyond the reality of headlines and COVID-19 graphs and homeschooling nightmares in search of beauty and grace. That’s the true power of haute couture!

    Forbes

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