Couture Week Recap: Spring 2019

Are you a couture fan? Ok, let’s back up a bit… do you know what couture is?

couture: the design and manufacture of fashionable clothes to a client’s specific requirements and measurements.

haute couture: the creation of exclusive custom fitted clothing. Haute couture is high-end fashion that is constructed completely by hand from start to finish. It is made from high quality, expensive, often unusual fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail. Only the most capable and masterful sewers work on these pieces, often utilizing time-consuming, hand executed techniques.

Every year biannual haute couture shows are held in Paris. Every January and July. They are the most exclusive and expensive displays of high-end fashion. These shows are truly a showcase of the rarefied craftsmanship for fashion editors and the world’s wealthiest shoppers. Many celebrity stylists use these shows to source look for celebrity red carpets.

The ready to wear shows in each fashion capital (NYC, Milan, London, Paris) often represent the zeitgeist. They show on the runway a version of what can be produced by the lines for sale to the masses. A piece from a ready to wear show averages between 50 and 100 hours. In contrast haute couture pieces may take around 300 hours, and can range in price upwards of what you would ever see in a store. Haute couture pieces are often an exact interpretation of what the designer was inspired by, and have a more exaggerated form in fashion. The materials used in couture are always more opulent, and extraordinary. For example, a ready to wear show may show a dress with metallic gold inserts, the haute couture version would have mirrored gold metal inserts. Houses/lines see a much higher return on their investment with ready to wear lines, and often see a loss on haute couture collections, but benefit from the exposure across the world that they gain from the more over the top shows, and pieces.

Haute couture also has a political element. There is a governing body that controls who is accredited to be an official couturier and who is invited to be a couturier for the season or year. Brands must abide by many rules to be selected as an official couture house. Such as:

  • design made-to-order for private clients (includes one or more fitting)

  • have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least 15 people full time

  • employ at least 20 technical people in at least one atelier or workspace

  • each season (twice a year) present a collection to the Paris press, comprising at least 50 runs/exits with outfits that are both for daytime wear and evening wear

This January, the Spring 2019 shows were as ever, unbelievable. I loved that while still utterly aspirational, they didn't shut out the real world and its influence. Several houses (most notably Valentino) leaned into racially diverse casting, a relatively new concept for haute couture shows, and many showed themes of women helping other women (Dior’s women acrobatic troupe), and we can’t forget Viktor & Rolf’s literal statement gowns, that could easily be taken as a comment on current affairs.

Below are some of my highlights and thoughts from the January 2019 presentations.

Valentino Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2019

Let’s start with the best, who were definitely saved for last!

Let’s start with the best, who were definitely saved for last!

Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino again proved he is the man! I was absolutely deceased over his use of jewel tones. Separates and gowns alike in the rich hues, some printed, and many cut from delicate lace were all a sight to behold. I also loved, loved, LOVED the looks that included the feather eyelash extensions (done by Pt McGrath). I hope to find an event to try that look for ASAP!

The embellished detailing, and the fact that I hear PP asked each seamstress to name each piece after a flower or emotion just blows me away.

I will be incorporating all these colors, ruffles, and delicate nods to blooming gardens in my upcoming looks!

Also, Naomi was back! Walking for the Valentino runway for the first time in 14 years!

Givenchy

Claire Wright Keller said she approached her spring couture collection,

“[It’s] about really starting fresh. Really cleaning the house. I wanted to start with nothing, and then put incredible color in it, incredible techniques, all about silhouette, architecture, structure and just beauty.”

The result was, in my opinion, not a total start fresh and overhaul, but a beautiful, bold showing. It felt reminiscent of her first collection last year in that it included co-mingling of sharp, architectural lines with softness and light. I love the message I take away from her looks, that power dressing, especially for night is back. The cultural stand I saw, was a node to the self-directed women’s empowerment. Often times evening wear feels a needs to be traditional, romantic, airy, CWK disproved this solidly. Yet, I was not the only one confused that she seemed to draw too much inspiration, especially since this wasn’t a derivative collection, from others. Big tent like gowns seems like Valentino’s turf, and the bow backpacks were to die for, but much too Galliano to be shown on a CWK runway… just my feelings. Overall, I can’t wait to emulate these looks and feel like a sexy, confident, boss wherever I manage to go while channeling this vibe.

The color. The architecture. The detailing. Amazing.

The color. The architecture. The detailing. Amazing.

Iris van Herpen

The Dutch designer has to be included in my roundup… this year the designs were legendary. Inspired by celestial cartography and astrological chimera, the highlights of this show included the barely there organza printed with cloud like patterns and dresses that resembled butterflies.

Chanel

Wow! Chanel always stuns, especially in the bringing to life of the backdrop for the shows. This year was no exception. Despite Karl being missing (apparently he was too tired) the show left no detail out. The Grand Palais was transformed into the French Riviera, complete with a villa palm trees and a swimming pool. The perfect setting for every look, included the finale - a bridal SWIMSUIT. Yes, please, I will be renewing my vows at our home in Cabo in this look one day if I get my way! The setting also included urns of pink roses, another setting nod to the actual looks. So many of which were inspired by flowers.

I will take the whole look for our 5th anniversary please and thank you. My husband wanted to get married in Cabo and not do a big wedding anyway… I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do some many wedding looks, and celebrate with all our friends and family… maybe if this had been out then I could have done a beach wedding!

I will take the whole look for our 5th anniversary please and thank you. My husband wanted to get married in Cabo and not do a big wedding anyway… I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do some many wedding looks, and celebrate with all our friends and family… maybe if this had been out then I could have done a beach wedding!

Dior

Fashion is often compared to a circus, and this time Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri took it literally, creating looks inspired by the big top and harlequins. I loved the ring master jackets, and even more so the more subtle circus nods; the Pierrot the clown eyelines, the tulle ruffs, and the drama.

Balmain

Olivier Rousteing unveiled his debut couture collection for Balmain, the brand’s first couture showing in 16 years. I was beyond floored to see all the all-white outfits. I loved the statement. I also couldn’t be more obsessed with tracking myself down one of the pearl bracelets with the super size BB on it! Perfect for my initials and love of subtle accessories!! Would you believe he and his team appliqued more than a million Swarovski crystals?!?! This was a debut I can 100% get behind. Now, bye, I am off to find a way to work those clear sunglasses!

Many found the collection too futuristic… including that if you wanted to watch live you had to download the new Balmain app… but I liked the alien-like chic air. The brand has a cult celebrity following for a reason. Their ready to wear shows and pieces were already luxe, and flashy, and jumping to haute couture they didn’t disappoint. I found the pastel colors so aesthetically pleasing. I did hear lots of criticism of the fan like placement of tulle, and the overwhelming silhouettes. I was shocked to hear that many felt it was too extra, even for Balmain!!

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I love this! Would kill for this look!

I love this! Would kill for this look!

Giambattista Vallit

This was not my favorite this year. I love his tulle creations like no other. But felt I had seen much of this year’s show before. Absolutely stunning colors and handwork, as always, but I would love to see reimagined shapes and ideas in July!

Viktor & Rolf

Viktor & Rolf adorned their voluminous tulle gowns with graphic statements. Including the very ironic “Less is More”. These dresses immediately went viral all over Instagram. Whether they were bold statements about the state of contemporary life, or just an attempt at online virality (#mood was most commonly used), the designers certainly got everyone talking. The collection was appropriately named “Fashion Statements”. While this isn’t the first time a high fashion brand has taken inspirations from the Instagram generation (Vetements endlessly trolls everyone else in the industry, and hellllloooooo Maison Margiela’s selfie stick shoes as just two examples); I wasn’t thrilled. At first, yes, I too loved the colors, slogans and the cheekiness. But as the images kept being shared I started to feel taken advantage of. They knew we would go gaga for the juxtaposition of period dresses (ruffs, leg of mutton sleevs etc.) against the slogans pulled from Instagram.. and it just felt cheap. While I usually love street art counterbalanced against serious couture this time the collaboration fell flat. I believed it to be too trite and manipulative. Knowing my reaction and trying to control me sharing it, the obvious desire to be viral, to me feels like the antithesis of couture. I want to see their art. Their inspiration. Their creations. Not just be played into to garner likes and publicity. Maybe I am wrong, if so, let me know how you feel and maybe I can be convinced!