Paris Haute Couture Week stunned with a tantalizing shift towards modernity across the atelier runways. Fashion’s most illustrious branch has generally strayed traditional, keeping to its roots by highlighting the delicate and the winsome, with flowing silk gowns and super-embellished bridal robes dominating shows. But this season’s Autumn/Winter collections were bold and inspired, embracing the contemporary, with empowering touches that evoked the businesswoman, the warrior, and even carried a bit of princely charm.
Dice Kayek‘s Monday show set the tone, with models re-defining the lines of womanhood. Parisian-chic has always had a masculine flare, favoring buttoned-up boyfriend shirts and tapered blazers, but the interplay between the two has never been more sophisticated than in Ece Ege‘s “Nocturne 54” collection. Arrow-collared pique silk shirts were buttoned to the throats of models with slick-backed Jay Gatsby hair, while women in flare skirts wore stunning cut-away coats, double-breasted tuxedo vests, and opera scarves. Looks bore slim fits and intrepid sizing, boasting squared shoulders and confidently wide lapels. Pocket squares were as much an accessory as red platform heels, and embellished ties harkened to the silk cravats that dandies once wore, in the self-delineated “hedonistic” show.
Also straddling the line of gender binary, John Galliano made his debut for Maison Martin Margiela by smashing the old-world rule that haute couture is a women’s sport. The three male models he included in his lineup boasted shapely skirt hems with unshaven legs. (Notably, Serkan Cura also put men on the runway this season.) Models wore makeup like warpaint, and textiles that were patterned onto their skin and hair, showing an inexorable connection between bravery, art, and loud individualism. Galliano proved a nice balance for the Margiela brand, with his celebrated touches of flamboyance lending the collection flare, while the design house’s eclectic, eco-conscious nature reeled in his theatricality. A penultimate blend.
Not to be outdone, Chanel constructed a casino where high-power celebrities like Julianne Moore tossed chips and bluffed in the backdrop of a feverish show. Chanel‘s sophisticated take on the modern businesswoman produced skirt suits in high-luster fabrics with punctuated framing and dramatic lapels. While fashion trends have pushed for a 1970’s revival, Chanel opted for elements from its most celebrated epochs, with a nod to the 1950’s in its profusion of knit blazers and bisous to Gabrielle Chanel’s timeless “little black dress” of 1920s, which hit the stage tiered and feathered. Highlights included an ensemble featuring a liquid-leather motorcycle jacket over a textured dress with a royal Edwardian ruff, and playful combinations of boxy, sleek drop waists with military-style epaulettes. Chanel‘s show-stopping bride wore an immaculate white double-breasted suit and corsage, with her veil pinned at the shoulders as a Princely cape.
Versace‘s Roman-style gladiatorial boots, Dior‘s sumptuous and Kingly coats, Fendi‘s finger-curled petit-maître models, and Julien Fournié‘s cocktail of laurels, cravats, and buck’s horned headpieces all echoed the theme.
While no trend was as omnipresent as the reclamation of orthodox menswear, design houses reached into the future in other ways. Reflecting a more globalized, jet-set lifestyle, inspirations were taken from all over the globe, from textiles like Maison Martin Margiela‘s Chinese Mud Silk, to elements of ancient warrior culture in designs. A Chanel dress with a top reminiscent of samurai’s armor, Julien Fournié”s military-Victorian single button-up jacket, and the distinctly African flare to Serkan Cura‘s hand-woven fabrics, to name a few.
Art was another major theme. Chanel and Dior embellished with print and embroidery in impasto style, reminiscent of Rembrandt’s renderings of luxuriant, bejeweled clothing, and impacting the motion of de Kooning’s abstracts. Dior’s set was a fanciful re-imagining of Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” whipped up in a likewise impressionist style. Viktor & Rolf took the calling less metaphorically, swathing models in canvasses splotched with famous fine art, and fitted in wooden framing, with models literally breaking the cadre.
Paris once again proved itself as the couture capital, taking a lead on what’s mode, providing us powerful women, deconstructed brides, and exotic, enviable shapes with 2015’s deliciously wearable collections. It’s been a long time since Yves Saint Laurent’s tent lines threw down the gauntlet, and here we are again, daring to push harder. Steps towards displaying diversity, futurism, and courage in clothes refreshed brand staples across the board. Stepping up the mettle meant challenging fashion’s fascination with androgyny in favor of reclamation, re-defining the very lines and curves of what it means to be a woman, and throwing open the doors to the Old Boy’s Clubs, defying the idea of typically male and female spaces. It was a celebration of both sides of fashion, and what a sublime merging.
A new freedom of expression is being tailored into the bespoke lines of patrician style. Haute Couture is lacing up its gladiator sandals, and stepping into tomorrow.