Paris Haute Couture Week is an experience unlike any other. Members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the industry’s governing body, stage wondrous shows that pile on the pomp and pageantry intended to entice a niche group of clients to spend upward of seven figures on one-of-kind gowns or suits that take hours—if not days—to construct. Indeed, highlighting creativity is at the core of the three-day-long event, and luxury brands pull out the stops, building expansive sets that usher audiences into the world of a designer. But all that has changed.
For fall 2020, Maisons have temporarily put public-facing initiatives on pause so as to limit the spread of the virus. Instead, they are taking to digital platforms to display their collections, pouring all their resources into videos and virtual showcases that uphold the standards of Paris Haute Couture Week.
Viktor and Rolf
While many designers discussed their process of creating collections nowadays, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren are unique for bringing shelter-in-place into their inspiration. The collection is comprised of three micro wardrobes made up of a negligee, dressing gown, and coat—signifying the mental states one experiences during the quarantine. It’s all a bit surreal, with cloud prints, pop up hearts, emoji faces—not unlike a fever dream.
Bouchra Jarrar‘s second season, titled Edition N.2, was likely not what she expected. Still, the collection stuck to her modus operandi: clean lines, sharp tailoring, no-fuss sophistication, investment pieces. The designer—having returned to the Haute Couture calendar in January after departing Lanvin—understands excess and how to deliver it. She just chooses not to. Instead, perfectly tailored pieces, created from fabrics she had on hand pre-pandemic, were on the menu. The 10-look collection felt timely for a moment when designers don’t really know what women will want when they emerge from their homes post-sheltering in place. But it seems Jarrar is hedging her bets on what women can never live without. Think expertly crafted suiting, easy corsetry (if such a thing exists), sequins so liquid they could be jersey, cocktail dresses comfortable enough to lounge in, and a bridal look that borrowed from the guys, but is fit for the chicest women. Each look was styled barefoot, almost hinting that it could be enjoyed with combat boots when all are ready to take to the streets.
John Galliano is intending for his fall 2020 couture collection to be a slow burn. The designer of Maison Margiela launched a teaser video shot through a thermal sensor filter of a single model—the brand’s stalwart, Leon Dame—walking down a catwalk. The rest of the lineup will be released in stages, concluding on July 16. According to the release, the collection will be co-ed, which is emphasized with the first look. Dame wears a voluminous coat with exaggerated sleeves and shoulder caps over chaps. And to bolster the drama, it is topped off with a wide-brim hat. Indeed, the ensemble toys with gender tropes; masculine and feminine elements are blurred, and androgyny is displayed front and centre. How this will develop is still to be determined, but so far, it is clear that Galliano is going to bring the heat.
A virtual menagerie is what Guo Pei presented during Paris Haute Couture Week. Titled Savannah, the collection explores the wildlife that inhabits the African ecosystem and how it is crucial that people consider its preservation.
“As my 10th Paris couture show is presented on digital platforms, I hope to show a different side of my designs—one that is close to life,” she said in a video. “This global health challenge has impacted all of us. It has changed our perceptions towards life. Not just mankind, but towards animals, plants, and our planet. We are more passionate about life.”
This passion is reflected in 17 looks that capture the essence of the flora and fauna in the grasslands. There’s a white sculptural suit with a zebra appliqué extending from the chest to the left arm; another two-piece, this one in green and featuring fringe and an embroidered landscape at the hem; a black iridescent sack dress with a cheetah sitting regally on its front; a greyish-blue coat with a pronounced collar and elephant heads at the hip; and an A-line frock with a giraffe’s neck coiling from the lower back to the chest as white chiffon flows from the sides.
Chanel presented a 30-look Haute Couture collection via photos by Mikael Jansson. It’s quite a far reach from the mythical sets that usually grace the Grand Palais in Paris for one day only each July—but that doesn’t mean the collection itself is devoid of fantasy.
“I was thinking about a punk princess coming out of ‘Le Palace’ at dawn,” explains Virginie Viard via a release. “With a taffeta dress, big hair, feathers and lots of jewellery. This collection is more inspired by Karl Lagerfeld than Gabrielle Chanel. Karl would go to ‘Le Palace,’ he would accompany these very sophisticated and very dressed up women, who were very eccentric too.”
And what can feel more fantastical right now than dancing in a Parisian club until dawn? The looks are opulent and decidedly un-subtle with ballgowns fit for the halls of Versailles, cut-away skirts under jackets with diamond-like buttons, or a skirt suit that appears to be spun out of gold. It’s pure Chanel rock-romance and feels a bit like a love letter to Karl Lagerfeld.
Alexandre Vauthier designed his latest couture offering while in quarantine. It was shot between Paris and NYC, proving very little can stop the designer in his pursuit of glamour. Vauthier didn’t skip a beat in his trademark ’80s-infused style, complete with pink taffeta, sequined trousers, sweeping gold lamé gowns, minidresses, and a peach dress fit for a ’50s screen siren, feathers included. It’s light and fun and just a little frivolous, which might be just the mood we need right now.
Happy days are here again—well, not quite—but in the world of Giambattista Valli, it seems they never left. Valli didn’t scale back in the 18 looks he presented for fall 2020 couture on supermodel Joan Smalls via a virtual look book and video presentation. All things happy were on the Valli menu, as they often are. But this season, the poof, plumes, frills, and bows we expect of fashion’s ultimate confectioner were amped up to the nth degree, this time with body-con micro-minis that added ample sex appeal. Valli also offered a new riff on the couture bride via a mermaid silhouette punctuated with black bows and a ruffled point d’esprit veil that closed the collection. While Valli’s bride is typically a goddess or a princess, this aisle-worthy stunner proved that even at her most angelic, a modern bride can still have an edge.
Ralph & Russo
A combination of technology, technique, and innovation, Ralph & Russo‘s latest couture range is what happens when wanderlust gets taken to the next level.
“With the lockdown period, we had to readjust our inspiration this season,” says Tamara Ralph in the brand’s collection video for her haute couture collection. “We wanted to look at the environment, as well as travel in itself, and some of the most special places in the world.“
It seems that for the designer, whose collections always seem to be a study of drama and glamour in all their forms, sheltering in place was a time to dream. “We looked to the Seven Wonders of the World to delve into the cultures of some of these different countries … and look at the colour and vibrancy that celebrates them as a culture,” she says, describing the source of inspiration behind the collection’s swaths of sunset tones, ocean blues, rich reds, and shimmering metallics. Rather than fit the collection on models in the atelier, the designer chose to sketch the looks and craft them as 3D models digitally to showcase to clients, producing only seven looks to showcase on-figure. “We decided to create a brand muse through an avatar. Her name is Hauli, and her name symbolizes strength and power [in Swahili],” Ralph explains in the video.
Olivier Theyskens likely never imagined that his first go-round at Paris Haute Couture Week would be a virtual one. The designer was recently tapped to helm Azzaro and passed the baton to musician Sylvie Kreusch and directors Lukas Dhont and Alessandro Cangelli for his debut, following the trend of designers collaborating with artists by giving them carte blanche to showcase their collections digitally and via video in the age of social distancing. Theyskens chose to reinvent the wheel when it came to the collection’s presentation but he kept his collection contained to key silhouettes and codes of the house for his first foray with the brand, like Azzaro‘s crystal-encrusted three-ring motif, which the designer set inside the neckline of a metallic sheath and widened to span the bodice of a draped velour gown with strong shoulders.
Maria Grazia Chiuri’s ready-to-wear collections for Christian Dior are grounded in reality. Season after season, she uses her runway presentations to showcase feminist ideologies with overt proclamations about consent and patriarchy, and with a lineup of streamlined separates and unfussy dresses. For Paris Haute Couture Week, however, Chiuri takes this mindset and brings it into a fantasy realm, offering gowns and coats that reflect the garbs of goddesses of antiquity. These creatures wander with gowns made in the style of Dior’s New Look, but are adorned with feathers, floral embroideries, or sequins that mirror a starry night; are mystified by Grecian dresses with rope detailing across the bodice, bar jackets and skirts, and voluminous capes. The film concludes with these sprites wearing Chiuri’s designs, expressing the joy and whimsicality that is synonymous with couture.
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen takes fashion to the next level, sourcing inspiration from artists who explore mathematics, technology, and symmetry in their oeuvres. And for Paris Haute Couture Week, the Dutch designer is reinforcing this quality, creating a singular dress inspired by the work of Maurits Cornelis Escher, the celebrated graphic artist who counts Pulitzer Prize-winning scientists as fans. Van Herpen specifically focuses on Escher’s study on transformation and how reality can be warped through optics.
The French Maison is founded on Surrealist thought; the transformation of everyday objects and organisms into covetable, incredibly imaginative wares. So even though the New York-based Roseberry was a great distance from the brand’s Paris atelier, finding inspiration was as simple as taking a stroll through the park.
“Everything has changed, but imagination, and the drive to create, has never been more relevant, or more profound,” he said in a statement. “This collection is a tribute to that impulse to create. It’s also why the world of Schiaparelli has never felt more reflective of our time.”
To spotlight this credo, the brand filmed Roseberry in Washington Square Park, sketching whimsical pieces inspired by his surroundings. There’s a dress that mirrors the folds of a Shar-Pei and a jacket-and-trouser combo that takes after a shaggy sheepdog. His croquis also showcases the handlers of these quirky canines, along with others seated at park benches. Additionally, he touches on the idea of being in lockdown, presenting accessories styled after padlocks and keys. Still, the opulence that he brought to the brand is not lost. The voluminous, asymmetrical silhouettes that he has shown season after season continues in Paris Haute Couture Week, reinforcing his signature stamp on the label.