There are few more joyous occasions in fashion than Paris Couture Week, although this year’s flamboyant celebration of clothing and artistry has been somewhat hampered by the depressed economy and the impending departure of one of the genre’s greatest voices, Christian Lacroix. The fact that he was able to put on a show at all is the big story of the week; suppliers and industry friends helped the designer piece together a last-minute collection and presentation for what could be his last couture show if his brand doesn’t find a backer quickly. It demonstrates an odd sort of collegiality among fashion industry workers that many on the outside looking in might overlook in the midst of so much glitz and fabulousness – it takes an army of people to make this happen for us a few times a year, and they work extremely long hours for really modest pay. That so many of them donated their time, skills and goods to Lacroix to put together what may be his final show is kind of touching, particularly in an industry known for ego and elitism. He’s not the only one to put on a show for fashion editors and couture customers this week, though – we’ve got a rundown of the best looks from the best shows, after the jump.
Since this may be Lacroix’s last appearance, I thought it was only fitting that he went first. His collection was based mostly on fabrics and other materials that he already had in his atelier, which mostly resulted in looks far more restrained and widely understandable than average for the haute couture master. Perhaps the more accessible looks will help Lacroix’s label find investors; one can only hope. The bright spot of hope was the small collection’s final look – an intricate wedding dress worthy of the Virgin Mary rendered in stained glass. It was so thoroughly and classically Lacroix that it almost reasserted that the man intended to soldier on and make beautiful clothing.
I suspect that I may have been the only one that felt this way, but I just wasn’t feeling the majority of Chanel‘s collection. Sure, the 60+ look presentation was chock full of beautiful clothes; some of them were even breathtaking. And I know it’s a Chanel staple and part of the brand’s history, but I just don’t care to see more than a dozen versions of a wool skirt suit when I tune in to see Haute Couture. I want drama, I want a challenge, I want something I can’t wear to the office. As the presentation went on, things picked up nicely, but front-loading the suits made me feel like I had to wait quite a while before anything dramatic came along. And when it did, it was standard Chanel couture – lots of white, ivory, black and silver in looks that were thoroughly French and thoroughly intricate. Lace and beading abounded; I only wish that we could have skipped the suits and gone straight from the fabulous.
I don’t associate Valentino with haute couture in the same way that I do Lacroix or Gaultier, but I was immensely impressed by their collection. It was full of enough black lace, darkly beautiful silk roses, and jet beading to choke a goth, but despite the somber palette, the mood of the show was surprisingly youthful. Lace mini dresses and black rose-themed cocktail attire are on my fantasy list of night-out options, and Valentino’s stable of master couturiers realizes those options masterfully, in a way that is both young and extravagant. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s really pretty.
Another couturier choosing to not reinvent the wheel for this season was John Galliano at Christian Dior. Which is not to say that it wasn’t totally sublime – oh, it definitely was. The collection was a throwback to New Look Dior, simultaneously intricate and deconstructed in its use of corsetry and underpinnings as important elements of each ensemble. The colors were vibrant and cheerful, contrasting beautifully with the ivory and black base garments. This collection was a reminder of what couture is all about – extravagance, intricacy of construction, and clothing that can legitimately considered an art form. From the brilliantly enormous hats to the masterfully tailored coats and corsets, no collection reminded me more that couture is a single piece of clothing made for a single customer.
Jean Paul Gaultier
Ahh, I saved the best for last. From Brigitte Bardot to Barbarella, Jean Paul Gaultier gave us a collection loosely based on the screen sirens of yesterday and today. And the clothes were full of film fantasy – alligator overalls, floor-length fur, mini dresses that appear to be made of liquid metal. Gaultier is a master of the outrageous and fantastic, and he makes the clothes that I wish I could wear, if I had an endless budget and the self-confidence necessary to pull off something like a sequin-covered sailor shirt. Anyone that can conceive of such amazing garments not only wins at couture week, but wins at life.