An Overview of Paris Fashion Week
I am sure as everyone is aware, last week were the haute couture shows in Paris. We witnessed incredible collections from Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior to Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi and Chanel (they have the most incredible sets). Despite all of the formality normally associated with haute couture, many of the shows appeared to feature ready to wear or to be an early opportunity to release their pre fall collection, ahead of many of the other houses. This left use wondering what role does haute couture have for the modern world?
Haute couture by definition is a piece that is made, usually by hand, of the highest quality materials and the utmost care. The dresses are meant to have no budget. The limit is the imagination of the designer and the person who commissioned the work. With each dress, the finishes are often executed by the most skilled craftsmen using time consuming and delicate techniques. They are meant to be works of art as opposed to every day wear. No one is the Chanel bride on their typical Tuesday (maybe on the inside).
Certainly, some of the shows from PFW fit the description of haute couture. Dior, for example, was long known for their couture collection and created a truly memorable event for those who witnessed the parade. Maria Grazia Chiuri drew inspiration from maps and travels for her second haute couture show as creative director of Dior. True to the original history of the house, she has been traveling extensively with her collections and it showed through in the presentation last week at the Hôtel des Invalides. Specifically, she focused on this quote:
To me, Maison Dior has always been about haute couture. Christian Dior sought to make women more beautiful by creating pieces that fit them perfectly and exuded elegance while not sacrificing comfort. The recent couture collection continued Dior's long history of incredible couture garments and was the perfect opener for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the house at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.
Another show true to the idea of haute couture was Chanel. It was staged under a scaled model of the Eiffel tower set aloft under the dome of the Grand Palais (their sets are always incredible). True to the house, the skilled petits mains created an incredible collection of women's suits and dresses. Chanel held to some of their greatest hits with an extensive use of bouclé and the appearance of the day suit. They also stayed true to some of the current trends, such as red, big sleeves, and cold shoulders.
We also could not properly discuss Paris Fashion Week without showing the Chanel bride.
Following the show, Karl Lagerfeld was presented with the Médaille Grand Vermeil de la Ville by the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, for his service to fashion and to France.
Both of these shows demonstrate what haute couture is. It is the exceptional craftsmanship each maison uses to create the garments that they show and that skill shows in the collections. With some of the other new presenters at PFW, they was not the same emphasis on hand made. As fashion becomes more readily accessible to the wider world, there is a greater demand for clothing that can be produced cheaply and efficiently in a factory.
One such example is Rodarte. The show was incredible and demonstrated the creativity of the Mulleavy sisters (whom we adore), but their dresses are delicate and artistic yet not always hand made. While they appear to have the same surface beauty as the couture dresses, they are not creating the full 50 dresses that need to be shown in order to qualify as haute couture.
Ultimately, what Paris Fashion week showed is that the nature of haute couture is changing. Fashion is increasingly focused on creating pieces that people are going to wear. Examples of this about with the athleisure trend. Haute has started to follow the same path as the ready to wear shows, with an emphasis on trends and what the house is going to be able to sell. The old strongholds of couture have held to their image of creating pieces that the elegant and worldly woman, but there is no longer an emphasis that haute couture is what makes a fashion house.
We welcome the change because fashion is a reflection of the world in which we live and the cultural motifs that create it. It is meant to be worn in the context of our lives and our lives are not as focused on the hand made detail. We still appreciate it. I still want that Chanel bride dress. But the increase in accessibility of the clothing makes it a better reflection of the culture in which it is going to be worn all over the world.