I’m having a difficult time reconciling the recent spring 2017 haute couture collections (hence this post’s tardiness). There’s a bizarre dichotomy happening now that puts me at odds with what couture houses are supposed to stand for, and what they have become. Haute couture has never been about making money, which seems odd considering how much money it costs to produce. Sure, pieces get sold and there is some profit, but ultimately, haute couture is and has always been a money-loser. Design houses make their real money on licensing deals (hand bags, shoes and make-up) because they can be pushed at lower price points to more consumers. Haute couture’s purpose has always been to make special clothes for clients that can afford the exorbitant prices. Contemporary pieces are still hand-made using familiar traditions, but with ready-to-wear production getting better, faster and more detailed, several of the couture collections are beginning to look more and more like clothes that are already hanging on store racks.
Yeah, they’re pretty, but sometimes, that’s all they are.
What’s missing from MANY of the couture collections is fantasy.
This is, of course, my opinion. I neither produce haute couture, nor have to staff a design house. I see the couture collections as brand-building muscle-flexing for the ateliers and partly as entertainment. I can appreciate the workmanship, details and savoir-faire in every piece, even the boring ones, but when it comes down to it, the best collections are the ones that turn heads and have a story to tell. Does it always have to be over the top nonsense? Absolutely not. The beauty of haute couture is the signature it leaves on the house that creates it. Each atelier has voice. It’s how that voice gets interpreted that makes the collection sing.
Having said all that, there were a few collections that make be take notice. Some lean on the side of complacency, others, exuberant liberation. Regardless, each of these collections is exceptional in its delivery and deserves kudos.
And the winner of the Most Improved Collection award goes too…
Pale and pastel were the watchwords this season as Lagerfeld softened his touch, and pumped out clothes that were not only beautiful, but felt lighter than seasons past. He’s still obsessed with his lofty plumage, but this season, it was refined and more approachable.Tailoring had a softer edge, and the bead-work, as always, dazzled. Let’s hope this trend continues next season.
Rami Al Ali
With only a handful of pieces, this house showed more established maisons how far clean editing can go. All done in blush and soft metallics, the pieces were worn like pliable sculpture, even when items like simple kimono tops were presented. In one season, this house managed to balance fantasy with wearability in a way that speaks volumes of its maturity.
On Aura Tout Vu
Bizarre clam shell muscle man mise en scene aside, I’m happy to announce that it’s status quo chez Tout Vu. I will always compliment this house on its inspired bead work, and this season was no exception. Working almost exclusively in a palette of black and white, it was impossible to keep up with the mosaic repetitions that adorned most, if not all of the looks that walked out. They kept the cuts clean and, for a change, only resorted to one over the top exit that included molded plastic body casts. This house knows its clients, and with approachable collections like this, are sure to entice more.
Galliano continues to refine his taste at Margiela, and the more things change, the more they seem to establish a familiar vocabulary that existed before his appointment, but somehow became louder as he settled in. This season, he blew apart clothes until only the load-bearing seams were left, re-imagined applique in tulle, and layered clothes on the model that suggested they were leaving for far away excursions, and never returning. All brilliant techniques to use, and in some twisted reality I know not of, it all makes sense to the history of the house. Experimentation is the locked door of haute couture, and Galliano is listing to one side from the weight of his key chain.
Rolland’s signature draping was in full force this season, as it is every season, but this time he played with capturing movement in fabric. Each piece seemed as if the model had just turned or jumped, then the natural flight of the cloth was frozen in time and rendered immobile, yet still completely wearable. Rolland does clean sophistication well, probably better than any other designer in Paris right now, and as his signature foundations rarely evolve over time, what he does manage to keep fresh are unexpected textile manipulations that feel like soft secrets being whispered to only those willing to listen.
Over the top, impossible to walk in, jewel encrusted, completely devoid of all reality, and above all, unapologetically decadent…
I have no choice but to hand the season to Guo Pei’s Paris debut.
With pieces that walked like barely-wearable Fabergé eggs, Pei’s collection was forged from lost treasures found in the forgotten armoire of medieval royalty. Impossible textures of hammered gold, pleated fabrics laced with rich embroidery, and under-structures ripped from the sides of Chartres cathedral culminated in a collection that defined everything that is haute couture. Borderline costume? Damn skippy and may I have another please!?!
If haute couture has any future, that future rests on dreamers like Guo Pei. Bravo!