“Essence and truth nestles in dreams, where time does not exist and reality is the result of imagination. Haute Couture lives of imagination as well, distinguishing itself from attentions and rituals that place themselves out of time” mused the printed notes inside a white booklet on the off-white canvas chairs at the Valentino Haute Couture show on the upper floor of the Salomon de Rothschild Hôtel Particulier.
In this season of high expectations with the début of Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior and Pierpaolo Piccioli going solo at Valentino, dreams and imaginations are the very essence of this art of extreme handicraft, perhaps ushering a renaissance for haute couture. Where a Chanel strapless dress required at least 200 hours by embroidery specialists at Montex, and combined over 3,000 elements of thread, silver stones, strass, and ribbons, and over 700 hours of work with marabou and ostrich feathers at Lemarié. If that dress – a strapless sparkling corset top with feathered skirt known as number 55 in the lineup – can’t conjure reveries and imagination, what in fashion can?
In the middle of the sumptuous Musée Rodin gardens, Dior stirred the dream potion within the large reflective tent where guests circumnavigated a maze of greenery, often running into stilt walkers in grey suits before entering a complex garden labyrinth complete with divergent paths, circle benches, and a giant magical tree with wish notes, poems, ornaments, and personal souvenir items like stars and moons.
The air was moist with the scent of fresh ferns covering the walkways. Grazia Chiuri entered the mystery of this secret garden of Dior DNA, to write a new chapter for the atelier based on the house lexicons but translated into a current vocabulary for the millennial generation. That meant the famous 1947 rigid signature A-line Bar silhouette is now transformed into black tight jacket with loose skirt, as a hooded black jacket or as a cape with long skirt. Models wore different transparent face coverings evoking a masked ball from the distant past. Layered, pleated, tulle-covered, embroidered 3D flowers found their way on to spaghetti strap evening dresses, alongside flowers so vivid it was as if they came directly from the maze garden.
“In the labyrinth we will find the right way,” wrote the Belgian poet Henri Michaux, quoted in the show notes, but it was not clear from this début where the future lays. How much of the Dior legacy to carry forward each season remains the central question for Grazia Chiuri, just like deciding on the proper turning within this maze. Certainly customers can find plenty of clothes to order, especially the ‘daywear’ reinterpretation of the Bar codes skirt suits as well as the easier feel of the evening offerings.
Set in the hallways and small salons of a 19th century mansion, against a simple backdrop of seminal works by contemporary painters from the private Tiroche DeLeon Collection, including Liu Wei’s 2012, “Beyond the Sky Limits No. 2,” and Shariar Ahmadi’s 2011, “Untitled,” Pierpaolo Piccioli didn’t need much accouterment to deliver a highly emotional and poetic show with masterfully cut long silhouette dresses. Each of the dresses flowed to the floor with little interruption at the waist, in soft pastel colors with subtle and delicate embroideries or a tulle overlay where their linear forms and light colors were perhaps reference to some of the paintings that decorated the walls. Gone were much of the more rigid silhouettes of the past and their accompanied heavy-handed embroideries. Along with Maison Margiela, this was one of Paris haute couture spring season’s best shows, with Piccioli delivering the dream and the ethereal clothes – a light yellow off-shoulder pleated gown, white silk floor-length tabards, or a light olive dress with tulle embroidered overlay – without much fanfare, and with featherweight fabrics brushing against the air as the models walked by.
For Maison Margiela Artisanal, John Galliano offered a narration of the story of clothes by exposing the framework of a dress or a trench coat and stripping it to its bare bone structure with just the black seam skeleton in a masterful display of deconstruction and reconstruction to the tune of Joan Baez’s 1975 hit “Diamonds and Rust.” Using the latest technology of social media where selfie photos can be animated, Galliano reconstructed the clothes building layers upon layers like the classic French layered ‘mille feuille’ cake and its tiers of puff pastry and cream, with black or white tulle embroidered with images of scattered faces overlaying a black wool coat, or on the back of a black jacket. The designer made couture versions of menswear staples like the cropped boat neck double-breasted wool felt pea coat, or the red cut-out trench.
In the center of the Grand Palais, Chanel created a world of its own – a special Art Deco salon – with a completely mirrored set that included mirror floor, giant vases of white Calla Lilies, and a circular rotunda that reflected the audience looking at the new linear tailoring of the Chanel suit, now with a slightly raised waist with a silver belt and a broad shouldered jacket on top of a straight skirt cut just above the knee in mint, peach, lavender, or light yellow. Myriad feathers adorned the eveningwear that ranged from a silver sparkling jacket with marabou skirt, or a tier feather ruffle short-sleeve dress. A standout was a simple white feather cropped cape over a glass-embroidered corset dress with matching suede thigh-high boots. Haute couture is a unique world of its own because of the intensive labor to make each garment, be it for the show, or adapted on the customer’s body.
Written by Long Nguyen
Photographer: Pierre Dal Corso
Stylist: Long Nguyen
Model: Nadine Strittmatter for Next Management, Paris
Hair: Alexis Parente for B Agency, Paris
Makeup: Christopher Kam for Airport Agency, Paris
Location: Galerie des Trois Bornes, Paris
Beauty Notes: DIOR Diorskin Forever Perfect Makeup Everlasting Wear in 021 Linen and 024 Soft Almond, Dior Prestige La Crème Exceptional Regenerating Cream, and Dior Vernis in 306 Trianon. CHANEL Les 4 Ombres Multi-Effect Quadra Eyeshadow in 258 Tissé Ombre de Lune and 238 Tissé Paris, Inimitable Intense Mascara in 1o Noir, Le Crayon Khôl in 64 Graphite, Stylo Yeux Waterproof Long-Lasting Eyeliner in 919 Érable, Rouge Coco Ultra Hydrating Lip Color in 422 Olga, 410 Catherine and 412 Téhéran. OUAI hair oil. DRYBAR Triple Sec 3-in-1 Texturizes Amplifies Refreshes. BUMBLE AND BUMBLE Thickening Full Form Mousse and Surf Spray.