PARIS – The haute couture calendar was launched on Monday, but the week really kicked off on Sunday evening with Pieter Mulier’s new presentation for Azzedine Alaïa. Appropriately for a house that has always thumbed its nose at the “right” way of doing things, it was a sexually aggressive and unapologetic attack on the fake property that relentlessly creeps into public debate, reducing women’s rights, gay rights and minority rights. in general.
Latex as a weapon! The very ridiculousness of the notion shows how all these hard-won rights seem increasingly fragile. And where the hell does fashion stand in such a situation when Paris itself is torn apart by riots provoked by the police who shot dead a North African teenager? Good God, am I invoking relevance, haute couture’s pet peeve since I’ve been attending the shows? He has always been obsessed with preconceived ideas. 0.0001 percent leniency. Promotional platform to boost perfume sales. Or — the more positive twist — a laboratory of pure creativity, uncompromised by commercial concerns. I’ve seen couture take fashion to Olympic heights. I saw him reduce fashion to a rich old lady. Either way, it’s become the go-to spot on the fashion calendar for a particular type of show.
Mulier has reserved a bridge. Third time in a few weeks that a bridge over the Seine has been proposed as a footbridge. Which, in fashion terms, means it’s a trend. But why? Well, bridges cross an obstacle to get us from here to there, and that’s what Alaïa did in a funny way. You start herein bourgeois, and you end up there like a minx dressed in latex. Does this transformation hire a woman in July 2023? It’s a notion that has been nibbling at the heart of French fashion ever since Yves Saint Laurent dressed Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour. But Mulier tapped into a darker subtext. Alaïa revered the golden age of Hollywood. Josef von Sternberg directing Marlene Dietrich? Alaïa’s obsession! Mulier’s interplay of masculine tailoring and feminine corsetry captured the essence of this obsession, with nipped-in waists and chunky, multi-buttoned officer’s coats perverse counterpoints.
In an interview at FinancialTimes on the weekend, Mulier has dismissed the idea of sportswear but here is Vittoria Cerretti in a white tank top and black suspender pants. But it wasn’t the gym I was thinking of, more of a suspended Charlotte Rampling and Liliana Cavani’s unsettling ‘The Night Porter’ fetish that made the pulse of thousands of club kids vibrate in the early 1990s. seventy. It was a reminder of how Alaïa’s clothes were often purely fetishistic and how true Mulier was to their spirit. Suspenders, boots, belts, seams, pencil skirts, black leather, latex… constraints. And a pillbox hat. Think about it: in a classic Hollywood movie, this is what the hotel messenger wears, the character who sees everything, says nothing and keeps secrets. But Mulier was in the mood to spill secrets, to force confrontations, to unleash an argumentative wit.
Fashion feeds on particular synchronicities. On Monday, Thom Browne’s soundtrack included “Night Porter,” a gothic waltz by British cult band Japan, which sat comfortably alongside opera tunes that Browne also selected. After all, he presented his very first couture collection in the first opera house in Paris.
But the musical motif that underpinned the show was “Fade to Grey,” the 1980 track by a band called Face, whose leader, the late Steve Strange, was responsible for the club kid phenomenon that still haunts today. Richard Sharah’s makeup for the song’s original video was taken from the models on Browne’s catwalk. Echo, beware. Browne is not a literalist.
Still, he was unusually open when talking about the story that drove his show. It was the kind of 1930s kitchen sink drama that would have thrilled Azzedine: a woman who has lost all hope, setting off on a train for who knows where, brought back to reality and the faith that there is will have something better. A typical Browne cinematic script. But it was tight, and that tightness was reflected in the clothes. The “eye-rolls” he always referred to in anticipation of critical antipathy weren’t so much in evidence here. Instead, a string of gorgeous coats over short dresses, thigh-high tights and skyscraper shoes. “A real couture look,” he called it, with the presumed presumption that the personalization with which couture appeals to its customers requires a major degree of accessibility.
Brown has always delivered a sharp custom edge with his clothes. This is how he started his business two decades ago. From then to a half-billion dollar company now? Maybe he’s as shaky as we are. Showing couture in Paris was an extraordinary and unexpected culmination of this arc in her career. And, with all the invitation to excess that couture could have offered to the most excessive designer, it was a surprisingly disciplined collection that he showed. It was lavish in execution but pure in design. A golden lily, in fact. Perfect for Browne’s commitment to bringing American sportswear to the pinnacle of fashion.
While designing her latest collection for Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri was drawn to neo-classicism and a quote from Christian himself, that it was not the idea of ”antique” that appealed as much as the concept of “apparent simplicity”. What a simple definition of the essence of couture! An effortless effect supported by a masterful and invisible technique. With Chiuri’s new collection, ‘ease’ unfortunately translated into blandness with a sleepy sequence of ivory and beige dresses in hand. Black inserted himself as abruptly as the raucous cry of a crow in the middle of a vaporous madrigal.
That’s not to say there wasn’t beauty in Chiuri’s designs. She transformed the classic pleating of ancient Rome, beaded and embroidered sheer dresses to sparkle, dazzled a cape with crystal tears. And she deconstructed the house’s iconic Bar jacket so that it floats around the body in a masterful expression of soft tailoring. But the soundtrack was alive with Christine and the Queens, Fever Ray, Björk, provocative and militant female voices. And Chiuri’s collaborator for the season was Italian artist Marta Roberti, whose work captures an energetic animist spirit in the relationship between women and animals, reflected in the tapestries that lined the room’s wall. Where was this energy in the clothes? It seemed like a missed opportunity for Chiuri to assert the primal power of women in her current way, especially at a time when women’s rights are as threatened as any other so-called minorities.
The threat Daniel Roseberry had in mind in Schiaparelli was more species-specific, less gender-specific: AI, the pet peeve of our unbalanced age. His response was to create a collection that was clearly human-made but also so idiosyncratic that, in an ideal world, the AI would have no hope of replicating it. Surely, Roseberry just might be a designer who could resist the predictive essence of the Eye in the Sky for its capricious ability to wrap one model in a slinky or another in a skirt made up of a dozen pigtails. Familiar things become very special things in his hands. But it’s actually the seductive alchemy of fashion.
The feeling persists that Roseberry has not yet settled in Schiaparelli. He is always delighted by the surrealism of the story of the house, by the opportunity he has to marry Elsa’s crazy brilliance with his own fantasies and the technique available to him. Transform the paint stains on the walls of artist Lucien Freud’s studio into a huge hand-painted down jacket? No problem. It may have meant something that the outfits that meant the most in the Roseberry Monday show were the stark, beefed-up architectural pieces that opened the show. But then extravagance took over, with a gigantic mohair yeti hair squeezed by carved wooden hands, or a “palm tree” with fronds of black goat hair. What are you actually looking at? It’s a bizarre marvel, the point being that the AI can get the hell out of it if it thinks it can replicate that spirit.
Relevance? It’s a stone’s throw away, while Paris burns at the gates of the city.