Suzy Menkes at Couture: Day Two
“Chapeau!” to Schiap’s new designer
“We are so proud of him,” chorused Valentino’s design duo about Bertrand Guyon, the couturier from the fashion shadows, who received a chorus of “Bravos!” for his Schiaparelli collection.
Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli were referring to the seven years the designer spent with them at Valentino. And they had reason to cheer him on, for Guyon hit that sweet spot between heritage and relevance.
Just a “simple” chiffon blouse became part of the streamlined “Schiap” elegance that opened the show. But amongst the clothes were touches of whimsy in dabs of the famous “shocking pink” in fur and the gilded sunbursts that were the signatures of Elsa Schiaparelli, the pioneering designer who made her mark in the 1920s and 30s.
Using a theatre set as staging was not to flag up a drama queen collection, but rather a nod to cultural life in Paris between the two world wars. This story was on one of the mood boards backstage, along with images of the young Elsa during her time in London, before she joined the Surrealist set in Paris.
“Elsa was very cosmopolitan – she was born in Italy and then lived in London, America and Paris,” said Bertrand, who had steeped himself in Schiap’s story. That panned out on the runway as tailored British tweeds or even a breast pocket with a Salvador Dali-style purse in the shape of an old-fashioned telephone dial. These clothes were not theatrical, however. Rather, they were comprehensible, if dressy. There were day clothes with tailored trousers and fancier jackets, while evening gowns had grace, elegance, and great exit lines with bared backs framed by sparkling straps.
The big story was brocade, which gave shimmer and texture to trousers or mid-length skirts. Lightness – say a chiffon dress draped with nude pleating – was another delicate touch. There were also little references to Guyon’s own back story: his time at Givenchy with Hubert himself and with the founder’s successors, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, which was followed by a period as Christian Lacroix’s right hand.
With all this weight of the past, the collection might have been heavy with references. Instead, each dose – including the famous vivid pink – seemed well judged. I loved the glancing references to the drawings of Christian Bérard and a discreet version of the sunburst embroidery taken up by Yves Saint Laurent.
Reviving images from the past often leads to a fashion flop, but if some of the daywear seemed too literal, the general impression was of a fresh fashion culture whisked into a light soufflé.
Diego Della Valle, who owns brand Schiaparelli, has waited some time for this moment. So has haute couture, which, if it is to survive through the 21st century, must be more than a brand ambassador and embrace the needs and desires of genuine clients. Meg Ryan, sitting front row withGame of Thrones star Carice van Houten and fashionista Daphne Guinness, proved that sophisticated women are drawn towards these clothes.
Was this one of those fashion moments that marks history? No. But the lightness and sensitivity of an embroidered golden jacket with slim trousers, the brocade dresses sculpted to a mid-calf hemline, and the bright pink, pale blue and black patchwork fur coat all created a lust for loveliness. And that is the true art of haute couture.
Christian Dior: Earthly Delights
Rich leafy greens, earthy textures, and dress surfaces like a flock of bird feathers… The Dior couture show was indeed the “Garden of Earthly Delights” that designer Raf Simons had intended. Midsummer sunshine turned into an artwork the exquisitely painted transparent tent, centred in the gardens of the Musée Rodin.
The Hieronymus Bosch triptych of Adam and Eve and its terrors of eternal damnation might seem a doubtful lure for an haute couture client. Yet taking a single, wide sleeve from Flemish painting and using it as a one-arm cover had a powerful effect as the models clutched it to their bodies.
This Dior Autumn/Winter couture collection saw Simons reaching further and deeper into his knowledge of history, from ancient to modern.
“I came from Antwerp, I studied Flemish art – my challenge was to make the heavy lighter,” said Raf backstage, as models fanned themselves and the designer greeted celebrities, from Lupita Nyong’o to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
Simons referred to influences from the architecture of the past, which inspired a luxurious amount of fabric in the clothing. His challenge was to bring all that into the 21st century – starting with the idea of dragging historical robes into an airy coat for today.
Some pieces were sensational, particularly when caught in the sunlight through the painted tent. A dress would parade by, with triangular long sleeves, a swooshing skirt and the surface dappled with the tiniest feathers – the handwork of Dior’s incomparable petites mains. Or there might be a pale wool coat, the colour like faded Delft china, with just one thick, wide, fur sleeve.
Having seen “Dior and I”, the behind-the-scenes movie by Frédéric Tcheng, I was sensitive to the idea that because Raf himself does not sketch, there must have been an exceptional complicity between designer and handworker. Between them they would have envisaged and produced a regular tailored jacket but with a dense and delicate surface.
Sometimes the meld of grandeur and body-conscious clothing reached danger point, as when a dress was slit at both sides from waist to ankle. That idea looked better as the original mediaeval tabard. But chain mail was effective as a metallic vest slipped over simple pieces. Throughout, the jewellery spoke of the military, as a ball and chain dangled over a waft of a white dress.
The most impressive thing about Raf’s approach is his daring. Here is a house with a famous legacy, but the Belgian designer always wants to take it somewhere else.
The design duo at Valentino may have seeded the concept of the long-sleeved, floor-length dress. But Raf did this look with both bravado and elegance.
I would have liked to edit the show – as the clients will – pulling out the plums. But the fruit of the Raf Simons imagination gave a fine taste to this Dior collection.
Giambattista Valli: A Twist, A Glow, A Feast for the Euroset
Zebra stripes askew on Giambattista Valli’s signature runway carpets were the first clue to his off-key couture collection.
Then there was the mood board backstage, where the beautiful-and-doomed Talitha Getty in the drug-fuelled 1970s faced off the artistically eccentric Peggy Guggenheim.
“I like the idea of contrasts – like I did last season,” said Giambattista, as he showed me the exquisite details of silk brocade, metallic raffia and outsize earrings that shrieked ‘artsy’.
But none of this prepared me for the huge hunks of tulle in fluorescent orange or acid green – skirts that ended the show in a puffball fantasy. They also created a daytime geometry, as a ballooning top was balanced by narrow pants.
As unlikely as it might seem, Giambattista pulled off this heady concoction of clothing, and elevated the idiosyncratic to an art form.
Jessica Alba, sitting in the front row amongst Euro-glam clients, gasped at the jubilation of it all.
Valli is arguably the house – leaving aside Chanel – that is most successful in creating pure haute couture, meaning that it is aimed at individual clients and at brand burnishing in equal measure.
How impressive it is that Giambattista, with no brand heritage, has on his own energy built a couture house with exceptional workmanship and a fashion following.
This show was too long and, unlike the bouncy tulle, started to sag. But there were always powerful pieces: tunics with gleaming, embroidered blossom branches worn with the simplest of narrow pants; or a cute dress, its short skirt opening up like flower petals over a slim, lacy skirt.
These twists on classics were given a touch of eccentricity by the giant earrings or funky Guggenheim-esque sunglasses.
Bringing a twist to tradition and pepping up conventional couture is what ‘Giamba’, as his young clients call him, does so well. And this acid-house glamour was particularly dynamic.