Fall 2016 Couture Week just came to a close in Paris, and Long Nguyen, the co-founder and style director of Flaunt, was on hand to cover the collections from the front lines. Read on for his thoughts on some of the big-ticket shows.
For Francisco Scognamiglio, haute couture seemed like a natural expansion of his more than decade-old fashion house founded on the principals of craftsmanship and sensuality for the modern woman. Blending the moods of Paris and Naples — the latter being the designer's birthplace — Scognamiglio presented a handful of slim outfits cut close to the body with ornamentations and subtle embroideries, like Swarovski crystals that morphed into subtle roses and petals that seemed to grow organically on a lilac tulle dress. The show opened with a clear plastic crystallized dress with a black fur V-neck top and a sheer tulle beaded head wrap, as well as a light green tulle dress with feathers coated in wax (so to make them rigid). These looks demonstrated the designer's penchant for mixing diverse fabrics and ebullient methodology.
This season, Ulyana Sergeenko took a radical departure from her past outings with a collection that, in terms of fabrics and silhouettes, veered more towards ready-to-wear than couture. Gone were some of the elaborate handiwork; in its place were sporty cropped blousons and miniskirts, red and green bodysuits, the designer's initials in Cyrillic on knitwear and lastly, Stephen Jones space helmets that recalled the futuristic '60s during the brief Soviet Khruschev's thaw. In an attempt to grasp the millennial customers, a nod to youth was the central focus of this commercial show. While it may be sound business practice to move her narrative toward reality, a couture show ought to retain that fantasy imbued in unique garments weaved not just by handiwork, but by the incredible storytelling behind each handmade outfit.
In her second Paris showing, Guo Pei deployed her penchant for rich and technological fabrics, as well as her meticulous handiwork — often featuring motifs from the imperial clothes of her native China. Pei used the theme of "Dragon," but unlike the more majestic exploits of her past collections, this time she incorporated it in more subtle ways, like golden embroidered dragon tails on the back of a long, black beaded dress. Pei didn't disappoint with her finale dress: its swooping train required over 20,000 hours of manual labor, sewing together sequins of different sizes into various types of decorative flowers.
Many elements of the Schiaparelli heritage were on display at its couture show, from the long, shocking pink carpet to the voluminous floral bouquets, as well as the freshly hand-painted asymmetrical harlequin floor and backdrop that served as a setting. The Harlequin motif was a central tenet of the fall collection, based on its summer 1938 "Circus" collection. This time, the theme was updated to "The Solar Circus," in which the idea was to mix sheen and light-colored fabrics into slender dresses that enhance the shape of the body. The trappings of the past are an impediment to forge a new identity for the brand today.
This season, the jackets had strong, graphic shoulders and the dresses had high sleeves; rigid structures were favored over fluid shapes. A series of draped, shiny silk gowns were great and could easily be commercialized, even in a limited manner. But perhaps lacking is the daring attitude and innovation for which the house's founder was famous. The accoutrements of Schiaparelli were present, but less apparent (and perhaps absent) was her bold ideation and penchant for disrupting the fashion system.
Iris van Herpen
Here is a designer who is taking the essence of couture — experimentation and innovation — to find a new mission. This time, Iris van Herpen explored how to make clothing from the study of cymatics, which visualizes sound waves as geometric patterns, with higher frequencies leading to more complex visible patterns. A flared long sleeve dress made from Amaike organza and 3D-inverted through the Japanese Shibori technique hand-stitched on black cotton looked like a porous sponge with uneven circular shapes. Another strapless dress was made from iridescent pearl-coated laser-cut fabric and hand-stitched on cotton and tulle. Surprisingly, there were a few commercial dresses, including a 3D-printed gown made from translucent organza and tulle. Van Herpen's outlook is towards a future where technology is part of human lives, but she makes sure that the human touch is ever-present.
In a poetic and confident show reprising some of his signature silhouettes (short dresses and coats in a light-handed manner), Giambattista Valli demonstrated how far he has come to establish himself as a major couturier with an independent fashion house in just over five years. The show opened with a model walking the white carpet in a short cocktail dress with puff sleeves in a bouquet-printed taffeta and embroidered with crystal pendants. Airy black, white and floral dresses in silk and chiffon stood in contrast to the more hard-edged feel of past seasons. A series of evening chiffon gowns — like the red pleated chiffon dress with crystal embroidered edges — replaced the gigantic costumey ball gowns that closed many of the past seasons' shows, too.
"Une Etudé" was Giorgio Armani's theme for his Privé collection, to which point he included a series of his sketches with various fabric swatches which his customers can select when they make their appointments. Armani Privé has been a customer-driven collection since its debut in Paris in January 2005, and has pioneered "day" couture since. Rather than abiding by a specific theme as in seasons' past, fall is all about the precise cuts of silvery cigarette pants, black silk crepe, houndstooth or silk jacquard single-breasted jackets, coats in geometric ottoman fabrics and a more simplified eveningwear selection devoid of complicated design elements.
Alexandre Vauthier knows his customers and how their wardrobe choices directly reflect who they are: self-assured, confident women who aren't afraid to flaunt their sexiness. He's always had a penchant for cutting his dresses slightly shorter than expected, sometimes with slits all the way up to the pelvic bones. One can never fault a designer for a specific obsession; that said, his fall show revealed subtle hints of evolution — not in the sense that he abandoned his sexy women, but the collection felt softer, sportier and much more approachable, with beaded military pants paired with a loose white cotton shirt, or a gray sweatshirt with a gold-beaded micro skirt, probably a strategy to grow the customer base. But the Vauthier trademarks were there in the form of a black crochet beaded tee paired with high-waisted undergarments and sparkling tights with a tailored black wool jacket draped over the shoulder, or the black one-sleeve side slit dress with big leather bow waist wrap.
The spirit of the Margiela heritage is exposing the process of making clothes, where any garment can be taken apart and reconstructed to create a new version — and sometimes mixed with other parts to create a hybrid. "Decontextualized aristocracy through an urban lens" was the stated mission, where the old empire line is repurposed and classic garments are reconfigured. For the clothes, that meant an orange wool coat belted with the elongated sleeves falling off the arms, a yellow wool coat blown up to XXXL proportions and a strapless white silk gown with folded leather biker sleeves. Parts of one garment — like sleeves — were stitched onto another to create a cohesive dress with a short train.
Despite all the mixtures of fabrics, periods and manners of dressing, they made for a controlled collection with a serenity that demonstrated John Galliano's confidence in bringing the Margiela heritage forward, albeit at his own pace. Even the makeup lacked the drama — just a red eye shadow here and there, with the occasional red splash across the face. Although these clothes can be adapted for the ready-to-wear customers, a question remains as to whether these references to historicism are what the new generation will appreciate when they have Vetements that pays direct tribute — and is perhaps more in line with the minds of youth today.
Jean Paul Gaultier
This was Jean Paul Gaultier at his best: draping, cutting and tailoring clothes on the bodies of the models without any overwrought themes that he often uses to steer his shows. The show was comprised of great pieces in rich palettes of dark brown, gold, deep burgundy and more, with a wide range of textures. Standouts included a beige pleated gown that was accented with large lapel fur cape, a rectangular corset dress with feathers and a simple olive parka coat with fur lining over a dress. The series of print chiffon dresses near the end was simple and sophisticated.
Gaultier started his career as an irreverent designer disrupting the norms of beauty and accepted standards, but he always was a master cutter whose pinstriped suits were unrivaled for both their fashionable silhouettes and the tailoring. Now, with just two couture seasons a year, he can concentrate on showing his knowledge of craft to create clothes his clients will want to purchase again and again.