By: Sofia Ramos
Credit: Viktor & Rolf
This past week, as civil unrest erupted across France, the fashion industry circled back to one of its most iconic times of the year – the celebration of Paris as the fashion capital of the world.
Given the unexpected nature of the protests and riots that have struck the nation after the police killing of 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk, the Federation de la Haute Couture failed to give any instruction on how to appropriately respond to such an event; as such, there was no unified decision on how the industry should proceed. While many brands continued to showcase their collections as planned and failed to acknowledge the protests, quite a few did indeed make their own efforts to respond.
For instance, Hedi Slimane canceled his Celine’s menswear show and afterparty which had both been scheduled for the eve of couture’s official start. On his own personal Instagram account, Slimane even uploaded a post expressing how it would be “inconsiderate and totally out of place” to hold a fashion show in Paris while its country suffers.
The Balenciaga, Bulgari, Chloe and Courreges houses also canceled their parties due to the current political climate of France.
According to CNN, Thom Brown released a statement different from that of Slimane – “We all want to be respectful to what’s going on here in France and in Paris. Couture week is so important culturally to Paris, I think it’s important that we all, in the most respectful way, do an even better show.”
From Schiaparelli’s flair for the dramatic to Dior’s ode to simplicity – the Autumn/ Winter 2023 Couture collections have pushed boundaries and are each a testament to where the fashion world has been and where it is going.
A Tribute to Surrealism
Haute couture week kicked off on July 3rd with Schiaparelli’s salute to the eerie and uncanny. Summoning the spirit of Yves Klein’s blue period and Méret Oppenheim’s fur-covered teacup, creative director Daniel Roseberry released a runway collection invoking the pioneers of the surreal and avant-garde.
Continuing his ethereal theme from the past, Roseberry has succeeded in channeling the other-worldly just as he did in last season’s similarly extraordinary looks.
While there were no faux-taxidermy animal heads featured this season, his artistry and craftsmanship still shone through with his classic manipulations of space and experimentation with both the physical and abstract, as seen through his continued work with found objects. The classic Schiaparelli gold also made an appearance, creating a beautifully bold contrast against the rich cobalt blue spray-painted décolletages of the models.
Roseberry calls this assemblage “an impossible wardrobe,” according to W Magazine’s show notes.
“There’s a sense of disobedience; these are pieces a woman can assemble however she wants.”
Mirroring those on the runway, Cardi B was chosen to debut the 2024 collection in the audience. Donning a raven-black hourglass dress and a large, feathered shrug with gold accents to complement, her outfit was the perfect balance of maximal and elegant – two conflicting qualities that Roseberry was able to so carefully pair together.
Like Schiaparelli, Thom Browne brought the same surrealistIc energy to his debut couture show. In an audience of 2,300, only 300 were actual people; the rest a sea of seated cardboard cutouts, all dressed in the brand’s signature gray suit. Not only did the designer use his first couture as an opportunity to celebrate his anniversary of 20 years as a ready-to-wear designer, but he sought to transcend fashion by pushing the boundaries of his set design.
Credit: Thom Browne
Browne’s show took inspiration from a busy railway station. Some models dressed as passengers with suits and patchwork coats, carrying luggage and posh Hector handbags, while others embodied other elements found in a train station. With cloche hats dotted with eyes and bulbous wool coats, the models resembled the bells of station clocks and pigeons alike.
The creative director was further inspired by the music of Visage and David Bowie, who were both featured in the score of the runway show. Bowie also happened to be one of Browne’s first-ever celebrity clients back in 2005, so this tribute only seemed to be most appropriate.
Credit: Corey Tenoid, CNN
Among those in the audience were the likes of Cardi B, Maisie Williams, Diane Keaton and Emma Chamberlain – all wearing different variations of the house’s signature suit. While she has been attending and interviewing at fashion shows and events for years now, this summer marked Chamberlain’s first couture. Rocking a fabulous updo and a set of minimal golden accessories, she wore a white button-up and corset, paired with a classic Thom Browne blazer and red handbag to tie it all together.
Credit: Getty Images
LESS IS MORE
Contrary to much of what was seen throughout the week, Dior’s collection channeled the basics, reverting back to the beauty of simplicity. Creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri used neutrals and minimal accents to peel back all the layers of loudness and complexity in couture, allowing for subtlety to peek through.
Haute couture has so often been associated with extravagance. Instead of making a statement in bold like many of her couture counterparts, Chiuri relishes in the subtlety of a basic ready-to-wear collection.
Similar to the presentations of Jean Paul Gaultier and Elie Saab this season, Dior has taken obvious inspiration from culture and fashion of the past. The soft nature of this collection, like others Chiuri has presented in recent years, nods to Grecian aesthetics.
“By perpetuating the cult of the goddess and reinterpreting the founding emblems of antiquity, the défilé becomes a contemporary ritual, illustrating the strength and fragility of femininity, which supports and sustains the community we form.”
Fundamental sartorial elements are consistent across this show – from slight makeup to minimal jewelry and accessorization; Chiuri succeeds in creating a muted collection that speaks so loudly among the rest.
Similarly, Valentino creative director, Pierpaolo Piccioli, was conceptually driven by ‘simplicity’ and ‘paradox’ in his collection, according to Vogue. He explains that with the show being held at the Château de Chantilly, a metaphor for status and power, it opens up many questions about its symbolism. His couture is fueled by the concept of “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) – the thinking which once fueled the French Revolution and serves to sever elitist seclusion.
Sitting front-row at the show was Florence Pugh wearing a sheer lavender gown to commemorate the hot-pink tulle dress she wore at last year’s Valentino couture show. There had been so much controversy surrounding the see-through bodice, so she decided to return this year with another, much bolder, fashion statement to make. She finished off the look with a pair of platform black pumps and a black studded purse – her fresh, pink pixie-cut bringing it all together.
Credit: Harper's Bazaar
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Like Dior, houses such as Elie Saab and Balenciaga chose to add fabulous twists on historic beauty to their collections.
Balenciaga’s couture, while imitating much of what it has done in the past, presented one garment that stood out from the rest – the Joan of Arc-inspired magnum opus of its collection. The 3D-printed metal garment has expressed a sense of craftsmanship that strays from the dark glasses and drapery of its past, all while maintaining creative director Demna Gvasalia’s yearning for the dramatic.
Credit: Elie Saab
Accompanying Balenciaga’s medieval period piece, Elie Saab’s collection brings us back to the Met Gala’s Heavenly Bodies exhibition in 2018; a junction of medieval and renaissance brought forth by the grandeur and opulence of shining armor and enchanting cape dresses. He delivers a retelling of the epics and myths of the monastic middle ages by including his own take on chiffon gowns and intricate embroideries that were not nearly as fabulous back then.
Credit: Elie Saab
BACK TO THE FUTURE
In her collection, Iris Van Herpen not only continues to amaze with her staple use of 3D printing as a garment construction technique, but she takes inspiration from waterborne urbanist architecture and creates her own aquatic utopia.
Backstage at her show, Van Herpen explained to Vogue how hailing from the below- sea-level country of the Netherlands, she has begun to envision a presumably near future where humans will inhabit both land and sea.
Credit: Iris Van Herpen
Instead of making a commentary on climate change and reiterating the pressing issue of our rising waters, Van Herpen instead takes a step back and redirects her thinking to imagine how humans will adapt to this new way of living.
Basing her ideas on the world’s “first floating city,” which is set to begin construction in Busan, South Korea in 2025, she puts a spin on the aquatic metropolis. Just as this monumental partnership with Oceanix and the United Nations is meant to be a structural adaptation to the sea-level rise caused by climate change, Van Herpen’s couture focuses on the future and innovation of how we will advance in such a society.
She not only places an emphasis on the fluidity and fragmented patterns in her garments but considers this evolution of fashion by infusing characteristics of sea-life anatomy, as seen in the headpieces and accessories included in the collection.
Credit: Iris Van Herpen
Across the board, designers have each delivered their own unique interpretations of the meaning of couture; each of their independent voices shining through and casting onto the catwalk. Their works are not only reflections of new trends to come but a n embrace of long-loved staples that have lived and trickled down from high fashion into the casual wear of the masses.
So, as we approach the second half of the year, what fads will you be incorporating into your closet this autumn and winter?
Sofia Ramos is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. When she's not reading a new book or re-organizing her Spotify playlists for the millionth time, you might catch her chugging coffee and hanging around Library West. You can reach her on Instagram and Twitter, @sofiairamos.