Couture For the Moment, De Schiaparelli, Chanel and Dior

PARIS — The last time the couture collections took place was the first time most of the fashion world, that traveling circus that only meets during shows, saw each other after more than a year of pandemic trauma.

It was July 2021, and the streets of Paris were abuzz; airy kisses were exchanged for full-body hugs and there was talk that a bend had been turned. The vaccines were there. Restaurants were reopening; parties were taking place. Everyone would need something to wear!

The designers would give it to them. Fashion-F Capital was back, baby.

All that promise evaporated under the reality of Omicron. Now in Paris, antigenic tents dot the sidewalks, which otherwise are mostly empty. Cocktails and dinners are cancelled.

And if the couture shows are back (although absent from certain brands: Armani, which canceled its Privé show altogether; Azzaro and Giambattista Valli, who took refuge in digital technology), what parades on the catwalks is not so far as a requiem. lost hope.

Or, as Daniel Roseberry, the creative director of Schiaparelli – who had a sort of 2021 banner, dressing Lady Gaga for the US presidential inauguration, Beyoncé for the Grammys and Bella Hadid for the Cannes Film Festival – wrote in his notes. of spectacle: “the loss of certainty; our loss of security; the loss of our collective future.

The loss, he might have added, just before the start of the season, of two of fashion’s brightest personalities: André Leon Talley, the opera editor and couture adept; and Thierry Mugler, the first ready-to-wear designer to be invited to join the couture program, whose camp power dressing productions turned shows into runway shows. Even the Kanye West/Julia Fox, what-will-he-put-her-next? the tour of the front rows provided only a momentary distraction.

Fashion’s in limbo, baby? Well, for once, maybe everyone can relate.

It would have been terribly depressing, if sometimes it didn’t look so good. It’s the alchemy of the concert: taking even our general malaise, and turning it into something beautiful.

It doesn’t always work: in his second collection for Alaïa, between couture and ready-to-wear, Pieter Mulier seemed stuck between the heritage of the house’s founder and his own ideas.

Bodycon knit dresses designed to resemble Picasso’s Tanagras, late 1940s ceramics that played with the female body, were great, but a riff on the iconic Alaïa skirt flares as exaggerated bell bottoms fell flat. They appeared in lace jumpsuits (sometimes crochet one-leg jumpsuits), jeans – and on top of boots. Worn with clingy mid-thigh tops to expose a strip of skin so that the “skirt” appeared hanging over the leg, they were a sham in search of a point. Or a party (now cancelled).

But with Schiaparelli, in his ambivalence and where-do-we-go-from-here? questioning, Mr. Roseberry found inspiration, removing some of the over-the-top landscape chewiness that marked his past work in favor of a more reductive silhouette almost entirely in black and white and gold.

So there were some of the two-way metal accessories he made famous, like the “toe shoes” (shoes with gold numbers and protruding studs) and palm trees that sprout quivering from the shoulders, as well as a centerpiece of a matching robe, headdress, and gloves made from what looked like molded flames covered in gold leaf and gemstones that transformed the wearer into a living burning bush.

But above all, there were bike shorts and pinched jackets with rounded collars, corsets and pencil skirts. A little black off-the-shoulder dress had orbital rings embedded in the arms and body; another extruded thin metal strips from the top of a strapless sheath like the memory of a meteor shower. A large black jacket came embroidered in gold as a garment; an ecclesiastical velvet collar rested above a white silk ribbon. The net effect was of an otherworldly religious order.

(Mr Roseberry admitted he became a “little ‘Dune’ obsessive” during isolation.)

When a model appeared, her eyes dripping with crystal tears, a golden hat shading her head like a halo, her body a veil of black, it looked like an elegy.

As a symbol, the only other visual that came close was the circles painted around one eye of some Chanel models. Which were intended, according to a spokeswoman for the brand, as a nod to the constructivist set of contemporary artist Xavier Veilhan, but in practice suggested nothing more than a black eye.

That was partly because that’s where thoughts often go these days: worst-case scenario. And partly because brand ambassador and committed rider Charlotte Casiraghi got the ball rolling by hurtling down the ring on a gelding, and it was hard not to begin to imagine all sorts of possible equestrian mishaps. There’s just a general feeling of having been kicked in the face.

Dark eyes punched out curled skirts layered like a protective outer cover over floaty undergarments and graceful 1920s negligee dresses that rested lightly on the body. With the exception of bizarre side-split harem pants paired with tweed jackets, this meant the best collection designer Virginie Viard had produced since taking over in 2019 following the death of Karl Lagerfeld. At least he didn’t protest so desperately against his contemporary youthful relevance.

It’s clear now that no one can predict the future, not even what we’ll want to wear six months from now. All designers can do is provide palliative care to a life on pause.

At Dior, artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri did it. Working (like Mr. Roseberry at Schiaparelli) almost entirely in black and white and silver tones, and concerned (like Mr. Roseberry) with the role of fashion today, she offers a show that values ​​craftsmanship; the telling detail rather than the bombastic statement. Her stitching is increasingly minimalist – at times so understated it could fly away – forcing the viewer to look closer, and even closer, to see what it’s all about: embroidery so delicate it looks like to fabric; dresses hanging from pleats at the neck.

Ivory woolen tunics hooded at the back to reveal sheer beaded insets and an almost religious attire in its purity alternated with elaborate bead encrusted sheer leggings worn with tiny one-shoulder sparkly bodysuits or under sheer midi skirts – in both cases, associated with metallic embroidery ankle socks and pumps covered with jewels, to better highlight the meticulous work of his workshop.

All against a backdrop of 340 square meters (3,660 square feet) of wall hangings created by the Chanakya school of embroidery in India (this is the school’s third time working with Dior on a show) and reproducing the paintings of the husband and wife of artists Manu and Madhvi Parekh. The point being, Ms Chiuri said backstage, that “craft has no nationality”. And that the value of manual work, often dismissed as folk art, is as great as the value of any decorative art.

It’s a politically more radical and interesting idea than the feminism she often espouses on the catwalk, and potentially has more impact. She thinks small, in the biggest way.

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