Ask a group of fashionistas for a definition of “Haute Couture” and you will get a different answer from each of them. Fashion historians will give you a rundown of the great names and likely explain that the designation is only used by designers recognized by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Others might define it as roughly thirty-six looks that define a designer’s vision of how a woman should dress for that season. Whatever your personal take on the “HC” – as those in the know call it – there is no denying that fashion lovers and the ready-to-wear designers who cater to them alike draw inspiration from these runway shows, perhaps the most coveted tickets in the fashion universe.
Borrowing an HC gown for a red carpet appearance may be the highest fashion aspiration of Hollywood starlets, but the “truth” of HC lies in the daytime looks. These are the looks that are meticulously crafted for the women who “live” in couture. Let’s take a look at this season’s offerings from Paris.
For Fall 2015, Jean Paul Gaultier, perhaps inspired by the Grand Palais retrospective of his work, went back to his roots. His original take on Breton stripes elevated a seaside staple to high art and he brought them back in this HC collection to great effect. If you don’t already own a Breton striped sweater, get one for fall – preferably one with buttons at the shoulder like I just ordered!
Chanel is the name most of us associate with HC and this season, Karl Lagerfeld does not disappoint. At first glance, the looks – like my favorite in winter white wool boucle – seem totally in keeping with the tradition of Chanel, but then you find out that the entire collection was designed digitally and printed. Twenty first century technology meets twentieth century design! Even the most revered of fashion brands must continue to evolve to stay relevant.
Many fashionistas in my (ahem) age bracket equate HC with proper ladies who lunch – the Babe Paleys of today, if you will. Sadly, Givenchy is no longer a purveyor to this set, but the existing brands continue to reinvent themselves – while hopefully staying true to the label’s DNA so as to not alienate the core customers. The arrival of Raf Simons at Christian Dior was met by fashion folk with mixed feelings. Some were excited by the injection of fresh blood and a hopefully new take, others were excited at the prospect of the evolution of the core aesthetic. This season, Mr. Simons fulfilled those expectations with a collection that achieves both goals. Midi- and ankle-length day dresses featuring HC staples like full skirts and pristine pin tucks were updated with straight loose tube sleeves where one might normally expect tight bracelet sleeves. The effect is classic and modern at once.
The enfant terrible of HC, John Galliano, who created some of the most memorable collections in recent times for Christian Dior is now the Creative Director of Maison Martin Margiela. Many were skeptical of how his “too much is never enough” aesthetic would meld with the minimalist DNA of this brand, but this collection for Fall 2015 proves that artistic genius can be given limits and still flourish. The inherent contradiction of this designer at this particular house is embodied in my favorite look of the entire season. Up down, high low, slim poufy, folded and draped – is all mixed together in a perfect fashion cocktail! And in green, my pick for colour of the season.
Fashion wouldn’t’ be fashion without a healthy dose of drama. Many of us were concerned about the abrupt change of Creative Directors at the House of Schiaparelli between seasons. “Who is Betrand Guyon?” we all asked. As it so often happens, people who work quietly in the shadows of fashion are suddenly thrown into the spotlight. As it turns out, Mr. Guyon has serious fashion cred, having worked at Valentino under Maria Grazia Ciuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli who, in the grand and most civilized tradition of Parisian fashion, graced his front row. Who says fashion folk can’t play nice? He also worked at Givenchy under Hubert himself, monsieur Galliano and a brit you might have heard of called Alexander McQueen. As you might expect, he delved deeply into the archives to draw inspiration. His collection for Fall 2015 may not yet be a new direction for the brand but was well received among fans because it touched on key elements like surrealism and, my favorite, café culture. If you attended the Met exhibit Schiaparelli & Prada – Impossible Conversations, you will recall that Elsa herself designed for the women of café society like the Duchess of Windsor who were most times photographed sitting at tables. Consequently, the designer kept most of the visual interest in the upper portion of the outfit. This green – yes I’m pushing for it hard – brocade dress and jacket embody this aesthetic. The skirt is simple and midi length, with a single crisp inverted pleat, but the jacket is photo ready! Strong shoulders and embellishment at the neckline ensure that even close shots will be visually stimulating and a perfect frame for your face.
Stay tuned as fall approaches for more on the Italian HC designers. Vive la Haute Couture!
– Joseph Ungoco
Image Layout: Second City Style