Who says the French are not hospitable? This past Haute Couture (HC) season, even the venerable Chambre Sydicale de la Haute Couture welcomed guest designers with open arms – and are we glad they did!
First time guest designer Francesco Scognamiglio made a big splash this season with his premier couture collection of 19 looks. Hmmm… has the Chambre Syndicale relaxed its requirement of 38 looks for day and evening? At any rate, all 19 looks were works of art in couture construction. The casual fashionista might dismiss the hand pleated ruffled bodice as “unwearable” but you, dear reader, know better. Couture is about fantasy and setting the direction for the rest of fashion to follow. Practicality has nothing to do with it; the handful of women who wear these creations are not burdened with the same day-to-day issues of trying to hail a taxi like the rest of us. Not that traffic – even in New York – would not stop for you in this sea foam green creation.
No Fall HC collection would be complete without outwear and Scognamiglio clearly draws on his experience as a young Neapolitan tailor to craft one of the best I’ve seen this season. I must admit that I’ve been obsessed with the embroidered evening coat ever since Lady Grantham gave hers to Mrs. Hughes to be married in on Downton Abbey.
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I know that I just said that HC sets the direction for the ready-to-wear, but that doesn’t mean it is not subject to its own trends. Mark this down, I’m calling it right now. HC is being invaded – by the Dutch! Those of us whose fashion psyches were shaped by the 1980s recall the Belgian invasion led by some of the fashion world’s most cerebral and prolific designers. Now the Dutch seem to be taking over Paris and the HC!
Iris Van Hepern presented an HC collection that was a study in length and volume. Short and long dresses for day and evening were masterfully crafted from micropleated fabrics that might even bewilder Issey Miyake. She creates volume over the slimmest and strictest of silhouettes by swirling wired ruffles of oversized net. Sheer striped chiffon pleated on the bias creates a tromp l’oeil net effect. No need to fish for compliments with these looks. Any onlooker will be captivated!
Finally, Ronald Van Der Kemp truly revives 80s style, complete with power shoulders and mix-and-match prints. The collection reminds me of YSL’s Rive Gauche and is a younger fresher approach to HC than we have seen in a while. Van Der Kemp’s evening skirt with the attached cummerbund seems a vague homage to YSL’s Le Smoking, yet feels like a fresh interpretation of menswear-inspired evening for women. The challenge for young – or even new – HC designers has been to respect the traditions of couture construction while crafting a collection that appeals to a modern woman with a modern lifestyle. Ball gowns that require an open horse drawn carriage to get you to your event seem quaintly nostalgic, especially when you consider that today’s woman needs an evening gown that can tackle the constraints of modern transportation.
Stay tuned for more on your favorite HC collections from the French and Italian designers. Until then, dear reader, feel free to draw inspiration for your fall wardrobes from these upstart Haute Couture designers!
– Joseph Ungoco
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