Have you ever imagined what a child’s imagination would look like if it came to life? What if a child’s imaginary friend sprung from their head and began to dance around the room? That was the beauty of Viktor & Rolf’s spring 2016 couture show. Childhood memories came out to dance and play among the very adult world of fashion. Unfortunately, in today’s fashion world, we rarely get to see whimsy and childhood charm walk the runway. Designers have created brands and taken them from the realm of imagination into the realm of industry, creating an engine hell-bent on pumping the world with constant doses of trends, fast fashion, and see-now-buy-now collections whose sole purpose is profit, not wonder.
Luckily for fashion lovers around the world, the haute couture house of Viktor & Rolfhas for years been associated with design that reaches beyond traditional fashion. While some houses’, like Chanel’s or Dior’s, primary focus was to modernize tradition, Viktor & Rolf are renowned for reinventing traditional haute couture values rather than modernizing of something that has been held dearly.
Viktor & Rolf have created a brand that delves into some of Europe’s most important design niches. On one hand, V&R embraces deconstruction; they embrace the art of taking a garment apart and putting it back together in new and exciting ways. On the other hand, the brand is also deeply rooted in detail and high fashion prestige. This intense marriage of raw design and refined beauty encompassed their spring 2016 couture show. It was a dance between the cut and paste imagination of a child and the rigidness and simplicity of adult life.
When we first see the collection, the clothing presented seem simple enough. A utilitarian shirtdress with a few paste on appliqués in white. A secret sprinkled here and there. Soon after, the dresses become more elaborate and more abstract. Audiences are left watching as the imagination of a child takes a simple idea and allows it to grow and blossom into something far more magical than just a cut out of an eye on a dress.
As the collection progresses, the dreams of a child’s unchained mind come face to face with the stern rules of adult life. But the clash of the two isn’t what makes this collection so memorable. It’s the sheer dominance nostalgia and childhood imagination have over our adult lives. Even though the collection still adheres to its strict couture guidelines, the childhood dream world that began as a simple eye on a stark white dress grew into something more extravagant — something far more important than just fashion. The idea that Viktor & Rolf wanted to get had more to do with the flame of wonder that is ignited in childhood never truly going out than trying to parade models around in towering polo shirt totem poles for the sake of “fashion.” For both Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, creating fashion for the sake of fashion doesn’t seem to be the name of the game. Bringing dreams to life by taking inspiration from the world around them has always been the motive and lesson at V&R couture. And it’s a lesson in creativity all future designers should be listening too.
In the fashion industry, finding a true genius is like mining for diamonds. You have to get through a lot of very ordinary rocks to find a true gem. It seems as if fashion innovators come once every few years. The 80s, like all generations, had its own small group of fashion geniuses which repaved and restructured the way fashion would be seen forever. But none were as extravagant and lively as the father of the puffball skirt, Christian Lacroix.
With the world of haute couture as his playground, Christian Lacroix was able to push boundaries of fashion that were only just being explored by other designers. Couture was no longer about just creating an impeccable dress or a perfectly tailored suit, it was now about creating a dream, a fantasy in the form of clothing. It’s safe to say that the theatrics seen in contemporary haute couture owes a lot of its inspirations to the dream worlds Lacroix created in the late 80s and early 90s.
For this edition of Iconic Moments in Fashion, Novella will take a trip to the world of Lacroix. Specifically, the spring 2009 couture show.
To start, one of the great trends that made this collection worth every fashion lovers while when it hit the runway has actually made a comeback in the past few seasons. The little drummer boy military uniform was almost everywhere last year. Every design house from Burberry to Gucci and Dries Van Noten had their hand in the military cookie jar. But none had the refinement and french romanticism that Monsieur Lacroix had. Fitted jackets with gold buttons, braided details, and floral embroidery were delicately trimmed with a crimson ribbon on each sleeve, while pantsuits were nipped at the waist and given an ultrafeminine silhouette. But it didn’t end there. Instead of pairing the military style jackets with traditional military style pants, Lacroix opted to modernize the look by pairing the darling jackets with slouchy trousers and delicate ruffled mini dresses that put the sugar plum fairy to shame.
However, the beauty of a Lacroix show is in its eccentricity. Rather than continue rely solely on his military influences, Christian went on to recreate his own stunning take on the french court. Models glided down the runway in brilliant floral confections and flouncy mini dress that would make anyone’s fairytale fantasies come true. Another brilliant little touch that Lacroix added to his ever-so-sweet madames wardrobe were the sheer printed tights that brought a sense of childhood whimsy to the collection. Some of the highlights in Christian‘s french court are a beautifully embroidered jacket and skirt paired with a lovely little basket purse and sheer blouse worn by model Hanne Gaby Odiele, a stunning ice blue skirt-suit adorned with crystals and ribbons worn by model Tanya Dziahileva, and a pristine black capelet and matching dress set worn by Lena Lomkova.
After presenting his french beauties of the upper echelon, Lacroix moves onto his riotous Can-Can beauties. Bright flashes of silk and chiffon dance around one another in perfect harmony. Lacroix‘s unmistakable knack for mixing prints and colour shine through here. His theatrics take center stage with gowns like the striped a-line gown worn by Elsa Sylvan, a beautiful off the shoulder gown in blush pink and fuschia worn by model Laura Blokhina, and the adorable embroidered bubble dress worn by model Skye Stracke.
Finally, the collection ends on the most glamorous of notes when Monsieur Lacroix introduces his belle epoque goddesses, draped in tulle and chiffon, feathers and jewels. Some of the most romantic and inspired gowns seen on the runway in the past two decades were part of Lacroix‘s spring 2009 finale. Black was intricately paired with soft pastel blues, golds, and dove grays to create a fairytale world of aristocratic head-turners and wealthy matriarch millionaires that play by their own rules. The embroidery and craftsmanship take on a refined new line in Lacroix‘s hands as the models storm the runway with billowing skirts that leave his brilliant patterned tights exposed to complete the look. One defining feature of the finale gowns is their bold shouldered silhouettes paired with their defined Edwardian influences that would give most designers using the same silhouette season a run for their money. The greatest moments during the finale came when model Tanya Dziahileva marched out in a beautiful voluminous black gown worn under a blush jacket that had been covered in flowers from sleeve to shoulder, a soft and delicate silk and tulle gown in ice blue worn by model Sissilee Lopez, a bold black shouldered tulle gown worn by Georgina Stojilkovic, and a stunning silk chiffon mini dress with flower embroidery and a yellow maribou-feathered dropped waist worn by Erin Heatherton. A true vision of couture perfection!
Is haute couture still relevant? That’s the question many fashion industry heavyweights have been asking as of late. As a flurry of rising fast fashion powerhouses, online shopping and now the emergence of see now buy now collections become a major trend within the industry, Parisian haute couture has been seeing a slow decline in customer interest and even industry interest. With many iconic houses opting to shut down their haute couture operations and others only being kept on the official schedule out of good grace and respect. Many believe that the iconic couture industry will, sooner that later, die out. But there’s an underlying question that can help answer the big question in regards to the current state of haute couture, and that’s why. Why is haute couture in such jeopardy of becoming the next big fashion faux pas?
To start, the biggest factor that’s come to affect couture is most definitely the rise of pret-a-porter. For the better part of human history, most clothing was either handmade or at least sewn on a machine but made to fit the customer like a glove. The idea of ready to wear collections that came in standard sizes was unheard of. Whether a person was young or old, rich or poor, someone was most likely making clothing meant to fit their specific measurements. That was truly the essence of haute couture. Whether a garment required the diligently trained hand of a master couturier to sew pearls into a silk bodice for an aristocratic woman or the caring hand of a mother making a dress for her child, couture had a way of coming into anyone’s home. Now some may argue that true couture started in the ateliers of Belle Epoque masters like Madame Lanvin and Monsieur Patou, but couture has truly been around for centuries, from the togas fashioned by the Greeks long ago, to the panniered gowns of the French court. Couture has been present throughout human history for ages.
So why put all that wonderful history to waste in favour of ready made garments. It comes down to cost. Historically, haute couture has been attributed to the rich upper echelon of the world and as the human population began to grow and go through revolutions in business, trade, and technology. The need for previous industries to quicken their production speed and product output was essential, causing the first real blow to haute couture. As time went on people forgot about the idea of handmade clothing and began to equate it with something only out of touch old money and nouveau riche people cared for. From then on the fashion industry began to grow into a commercialized form of revenue. Iconic houses like Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior had no choice but to begin incorporating pret-a-porter collections after designers like Yves Saint Laurent hit massive success in the market when he introduced his first ready to wear collection.
Another main reason why the fashion community has slowly lost interest in haute couture is due to the sterilization of individual style within the industry itself. As trends become the norm, luxury fashion houses are forced to create collections based on the year’s biggest trends as opposed to collections based on innovation and creativity. For example, the legendary house of Christian Lacroix dominated the world of fashion from the late 80’s up until its final collection in 2009. However, even though Lacroix was one of the most iconic and innovative designers for his time, his brand failed to ever turn any profit and was ultimately forced to close its doors due to massive debts and waning public interest. Likewise, design houses like Ungaro, Hanae Mori, and most recently Saint Laurent, have all halted their production of haute couture due to the massive expense it takes to create and the lack of clientele to justify its production.
With all that said, it seems that the future couture has been decided. With its slow but relentless decline in popularity and need, in a few years, couture may become completely obsolete. This, in turn, brings the argument back to its initial question, is haute couture still relevant? And the answer is yes. Couture should undoubtedly still be considered relevant. In an industry that’s become so obsessed with profit as opposed to artistic expression, wouldn’t it be important to keep something that showcases the art behind fashion? Rather than pumping out uniformity all year around, couture should be preserved alongside ready-to-wear to keep the craftsmanship and artistry alive. Like Simon Porte Jacquemus said, “I would like to see more poetry, less industry; because fashion is nothing without poetry.” Another very important reason to keep haute couture alive is for the sake of the seamstresses, tailors, and ateliers that devote their lives to perfecting their craft. Since couture must be made by hand, there are hundreds of ateliers working in various couture houses which carry the knowledge and the expertise to create extravagant creations that cannot be duplicated by a machine. Putting these valued and respected team members out of work would be a grave injustice to them and a grave injustice to the fashion industry as a whole. If the fashion industry rids itself of couture and the experts who make it possible, a piece of valuable knowledge would be lost for future generations. Who would be there to teach aspiring couturiers their secrets? Who will be there to uphold the artistry and standards that legends like Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga created decades ago? Who will be there to take our wildest dreams and bring them to life?
In the end, questioning the relevance of haute couture is question fashion itself. Without couture, fashion itself becomes irrelevant. The storytelling becomes irrelevant. Without couture, the fashion industry becomes just another industrial engine, pumping out factory made clothing that doesn’t represent anything other than profit and uniformity.
Couture week is one of the most anticipated weeks on the fashion yearly calendar. It’s that special time of year when designers can truly flex their designer muscles and showcase exactly what they’re made of. It’s in these two weeks that the biggest and most illustrious fashion are given the budget and the audience to create the most elaborate and extravagant of collections. But it isn’t about creating sellable collections, as most spring, fall, resort, and pre-fall collections are about. No, Couture week is about creating a fantasy. It’s about weaving a dream together and wrapping that dream in a neat bow for the houses’ exclusive list of clientele. This season, audiences were treated to some of the greatest haute couture produced in recent years. Designers must have taken note of the underwhelming response they were getting from fashion lovers around the world because this season marked the return of theatrics to the haute couture stage; something that hasn’t been seen since the heyday of Galliano at Dior and Valentino Garavani at the helm of his namesake brand.
Bertrand Geyon of Schiaparelli truly is a force to be reckoned with. Since his debut at Schiaparelli not too long ago, Bertrand has managed to not only recreate Elsa Schiaparelli’s iconic graphic aesthetic, he’s also found a way to make the brand fit in perfectly with today’s contemporary fashion trends. Geyon’s strong east Asian influences are bright as day when held against the collection’s crisp whites. Patterned garments are smartly sprinkled throughout the collection, to ground the audiences in between the sea of pristine white and scarlet. Another standout aspect of the collection is the emphasis on tailoring. As all great couturiers do, Bertrand has created a collection with such precise silhouettes and cuts that it’s impossible to find a garment that looks disproportionate on the model’s body. The suiting, in the case, works in perfect harmony with the tailoring to create a streamlined silhouette that’s bound to suit the wearer, no matter their size.
Guo Pei has solidified herself as the reigning queen of haute couture. Her impressive rake on modern couture is by far the closest humanity has to recreate the extravagant costumes and pieces once produced in Paris many moons ago. This season, Pei took her audience on another extravagant trip to the land of pure extravagance, when she chose to recreate classical renaissance and romantic paintings for her collection. The collection saw giant masterpieces by renaissance masters come to life right before the audience’s very eyes. Rich tones of gold were intricately woven into every outfit, making the entire collection glow, like a gilded frame of a masterpiece you’d find in the Louvre rather than the runway. However, even with its heavy influences, Guo Pei’s venture into spring couture wasn’t heavy at all. The charming outfits had a rather light-as-air feel about them that added to the magic of the show. A perfect example of this was Pei’s reinterpretation of the classic bubble skirt, made famous by fellow couturier Christian Lacroix, which billowed out and bobbed around the model like a chandelier made of clouds, as opposed to a tangle of fabric and boning.
It really is the moment every fashion lover around the world has been waiting for. After having to endure multiple seasons of lackluster collections, Karl Lagerfeld has finally hunkered down and produced a collection for Chanel that would stop any critic dead in their tracks. Gone are the days of fashion critics asking “what happened to Chanel? What happened to Karl?” because the legend himself has created a monumental collection that returned the historic French house back to its roots. There were no overly elaborate runways and no gimmicky props, instead, Karl relied on the pure esprit of Coco Chanel to create a collection that manages to be modern and fresh, while retaining a sense of old world elegance. The classic Chanel tweed suit, seen in the sweetest shades of candied pastel, are brought back to life with retro styling via thick belts and hats, giving the classic silhouette a Jem and the Holograms-esque feel. However, the true stars of the show are the feathered numbers. Countless gowns came waltzing down the runway topped off with marabou accents that made the models look as if they were floating on a bed of air rather than walking. These feathered concoctions were the pinnacle of the show, proving that in one way or another, Uncle Karl’s still got, and whatever it is, he’s not letting it go anytime soon.
Ralph & Russo
Always being a Couture week favourite, couture week newcomers Tamara Ralph and Micahel Russo seem to always hit the nail on the head when designing new collections, and this season was no exception. Opting for a wonderfully pleasant mix between edgy and classic, Ralph & Russo’s spring collection was a dazzling display of craftsmanship that keeps true to what couture is known for. Every garment that came down the runway was perfectly poised and ready to become a red carpet showstopper. But unlike previous collections, this season’s Ralph & Russo show seemed to be created with white in mind. Countless gowns billowed down the runway in a variety of fabrics that showcased unmatched embroidery against a creamy white canvas. But that isn’t to say that colour didn’t play a vital role in the collection. Sprinkled throughout were confections in navy, emerald, black and red along with soft pastel blues and lilacs that helped break up the multitude of white gowns that were storming the runway. One interesting look that really stood out from the pack was a sparkling metallic cocktail-length dress that looked as though finer optic lights had come to life and attached themselves to a dress, dancing at every chance they could.
While not officially on the couture week schedule, designer Yumi Katsura still managed to show a collection which burst at the seams with the same glamour and prestige that any of the big couture houses are known for. Which raises the question — can couture still be couture even if it isn’t officially part of the group? The answer is yes. Even though Katsura’s brand isn’t part of the official couture roster, it still embraces and exemplifies the same high-quality craftsmanship that the big names do, which is enough to ensure Yumi a spot on this list. For her spring 2017 collection, Katsura took us on a trip through the time. Specifically Japan during the swinging 60’s. Now many designers have sought out Japan as an inspiration for their collections, but Katsura is really the first designer to showcase Japan’s western influences right after the war. 60’s style min-dresses were given a bold overhaul, with asymmetric hems and graphic Japanese silks, while traditional silk kimonos were paired with beautifully tailored silk pants and blouses, giving the collection a relaxed and retro feel that compliments the entire collection.
When it seems as if John Galliano has finally peaked, he comes back and hits the fashion world with another jaw-dropping collection, and spring 2017 artisanal was no exception. Drawing on the obsession with today’s youth and technology, it seemed that the collection was somewhat rooted in the contemporary obsession with oneself. Traditional Marginal deconstruction is met face to face with well. . .a face. Clothing seemed to take on a life of its own, it became sentient; a physical representation of our current obsession with ourselves. Faces were everywhere. They were crudely mapped out or delicately sewn into coats either using bits of string, any yarn, or clouds of black chiffon, sending a strong message about our times. Are we so obsessed with ourselves that even our clothes have to be a physical representation of how we see ourselves? Will we stop at nothing to prove to the world that we too fit its ideal of beauty? Who knows, but one thing is for sure — Galliano’s collection on the modern self ends with a warning. If we keep up our personal obsession with ourselves we just might end up emptier than when we started. We may end up formless and dark, like the foreboding black that closed the show, which although beautiful, wasn’t hard to see that that seemed to just swallow everything around it.
Fashion, for the most part, has sadly been a man’s game. Yet sometimes a woman is able to slip through the cracks and prove to the world that women belong behind the scenes just as much as they belong on the runway. Ulyana Sergeenko is one of these women. Her couture collections are a constant reminder of the sheer brute force that a woman at the helm of a fashion house can be. She understands the essence of couture, the importance of cut and fit and understated luxury. She’s a woman who understands what women want from clothing, who adapts to her clientele’s needs and produces relevant and outstanding collections as a result. For her spring 2017 collection, Sergeenko relied heavily on corsetry and surprisingly, mixed it with sweet yet rebellious 80’s silhouettes, giving the entire collection a bubblegum pop star-meets-Russian aristocrat vibe that works beautifully for Ulyana. And even though the visual stimulation of the collection was enough to leave potential buyers wanting more, the true selling point of the collection is the haute couture itself. The tailoring and fit of the collection were undeniable. The corsetry and breast cups molded beautifully to the model’s bodies while the draping and ruffles seen throughout gave the collection the opulence it needed. A true Russian triumph in the world of couture.
For designer Bebe Moratti’s first collection at Paris Haute Couture, he asked a simple question. What’s couture without a little rock and roll mixed in? The answer, nothing really. That’s because haute couture is essentially rock and roll. It’s the fashion version of a great heavy metal concert where anything goes and any mistakes are just part of the party. And what a party it was. For Bebe’s spring 2017 couture collection, the designer created a collection that marries two completely different eras harmoniously. On one hand, Moratti has the rococo. Known for its softness, its beauty, and its love for pastels and romance. And on the other, the cold steely blade of 70’s and 80’s rock. The two come together beautifully and create a collection that is perfectly Redemption. The mix of rococo inspired poet shirts, pants, and jackets pair seamlessly with the miniskirts and mullet dresses of the 80s. Creating a pure Steven Tyler-esque fantasy that everyone has, at one time or another, connected to. Yet even with its rebellious aesthetic, Moratti’s collection is still rooted in the same luxurious quality that couture should be rooted in. Making the eyes of a fashion lover, and a champion in the eyes of a libertine.
Everyone loves a good fairytale. Girls in red capes who valiantly fight wolves, talking mirrors and princesses looked away in towers all conjure images of the childhood stories most children grew up with. Interestingly enough, fairy tales aren’t always bedtime stories we hear as children. As time progresses, our fairytales become more elaborate. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are replaced with Gone With The Wind and the Wizard of Oz. Our childhood heroes grow up and become everyday heroes. Taking the mundane and making it whimsical and inspiring.
Since starting this little expedition down fashion’s memory lane, Novella has looked at the theatrics as well as the simplistic elegance that can come from European designers when they look to their continent for inspiration, but something magical happens when Europe looks outside of its borders for inspiration. This is definitely the case for Ulyana Sergeenko‘s spring 2013 collection, where American literature and folktales collided with the grandeur of Russian design and style.
The Collection starts off with a clear and refined influence, American Gothic. The young and beautiful prairie girl goes about her day, innocent and dutiful. Her wide brim hat keeps her perfect porcelain skin away from the harsh rays of the sun that bathe her picture perfect family farm every day. She’s your all-American dream girl before it became trendy to be the girl next door.
The traditional American influences continue throughout the collection. With skirts and hats made of burlap, giving certain outfits a very prairie-girl handmade feel. However, the addition of burlap to the collection doesn’t cheapen the collection, rather, it adds a level of camp and theatricality that couture shows are accustomed to having. But it didn’t stop there. Ulyana couldn’t let traditional American garb be the only theme that defined her collection. There needed to be other aspects to the collection that made the show different, something wonderful enough to make the show truly iconic.
Once Ulyana establishes her Americana foundations, she allows herself to play with a bit of whimsy nd theatrics. Bland prairie influences are beefed up with glamorous injections of country chic that looked as if they came straight from the Wizard of Oz set. Sweeping crisp whites rivaled that of southern magnolia.
Creating the perfect outfit for any prim and proper southern lady. However, the crisp white outfits were soon met with resistance by deep and silky blacks, reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the West. And soon enough, Sergeenko kicked her story off. In a whirlwind of classic American literature references, Sergeenko‘s models waltzed down the runway in Huckleberry Finn burlaps and classic southern trimmings that would make William Faulkner proud.
Along with the nods to Oz and traditional Americana, Sergeenko also pulls inspiration from the great American classic, Gone With The Wind. Scarlett O’Hara‘s stunning green curtain dress is reimagined for the collection as a sumptuous off the shoulder gown that perfectly modernizes the traditional antebellum gown for Sergeenko‘s audience. Another iconic look that’s presented during the show is Scarlett O’Hara’s iconic red dress, but instead of being showcased as a gown, Ulyana reinterprets it as a sweeping cape, mirroring the sweeping effect the original dress had when it cascading along the giant staircase’ steps.
Now all the gorgeous antebellum gowns and southern influences are beautiful in their own right, but the true stars of the show don’t come with sweeping trains and high collars, rather, the showstoppers of the collection are the sweet and delicate shorts and bustiers. Which mixed the ongoing theme of southern Americana with the ostentatious glamour of Russian design. Burlap corset dresses are placed over soft and sheer underthings, while a delicate white shirt is tucked into a fun pair of burlap shorts that have whimsically been cinched at the waist with a burlap ribbon of the same colour.
Each one of these outfits is extremely special in their own way, but one outfit truly stands out among the greats. It’s stunning display of intricateness paired alongside its ease of wear make this outfit not only a marvelous display of Sergeenko‘s and her atelier’s attention to detail for a couture show but show how wearable and relevant this collection is even after several seasons have passed.
Take our word for it, Sergeenko does not disappoint on her second big couture show in Paris. Not only does she pull out all of the stops that a couture show needs, she also adds a story and a theme that transport the audience to the pages of a classic southern gothic novel. Making it an all around feast for the eyes.