Men’s Fashion Week may have only just finished, but Spring 2020 Haute Couture made a rapid start with Schiaparelli kicking things off. This was designer Daniel Roseberry’s second couture show since joining six months ago. There were plenty of playful moments, dedicated to Elsa Schiaparelli’s Surrealist background. Rhinestone ‘bone’ embellishments adorned arms and a large organza collar gave the impression that the model’s head was in the clouds. The tailoring was strong but, mixed with modern swimsuit stripes, it required a little more couture and less pret-a-porter.
What really excited everyone on day one resulted from of a collaboration between Maria Grazia Chiuri and Judy Chicago, creator of The Dinner Party. In the age of #MeToo, feminism is very much ‘in vogue’ – feminist books take up acres of bookshelf space, Gwyneth Paltrow has (controversially) released a vagina-scented candle, and the first Vagina Museum, created to combat misconceptions around female genitalia, has opened in the UK. Since Chiuri is one of fashion’s most vocal and high-profile proponents of women’s rights, it was only a matter of time before she brought someone as exciting as Chicago into the fashion fold. Chicago’s most famous work, The Dinner Party, an art installation functioning as a symbolic history of women in civilisation, is comprised of 39 elaborate place settings for 39 mythical and historical famous women. Since Chiuri’s debut as Christian Dior’s creative director, her shows have grown in thought-provoking feminist debate, most famously illustrated by her ‘We should all be feminists’ t-shirts.
Here, in Paris, Chiuri and Chicago populated the catwalk with 21 banners asking the main question ‘what if women ruled the world?’, leading on to such questions as, ‘would old women be revered?’, and ‘would the earth be protected?’ in order to challenge the audience. The clothes were, as ever, beautiful. But, unlike previously, with her famous t-shirts and surrealist quote tattoos, the clothing took a backseat. Its Greco-Roman style matched well with Chicago’s concept of the worship of goddesses. Yet, the art clearly overshadowed the clothes. But then Chiuri is quoted as saying that the catwalk is not just a place to sell clothes; it is “a space in the culture, like a gallery.” She has never come across as cynical in her desire to highlight women’s causes through clothing. Having achieved greater awareness of these important messages in turbulent times, her motives are irrelevant.
From one major Haute Couture player to another, Chanel was the stand-out show on day 2. Like Dior, the set-design, or art, has a tendency to almost overshadow the clothes. But a Chanel show wouldn’t be the same without the anticipation and wonder of which location, connected to the brand and Coco herself, we’ll be transported to. For this season, we were taken back to the cloister garden of the Abbey of Aubazine, the orphanage where Coco Chanel spent part of her childhood, after the death of her mother. Almost one year on from the passing of Karl Lagerfeld, Virginie Viard made clear the difference in her approach now that Chanel is very much under her control. Describing Lagerfeld’s opinion of Aubazine, she said that “Karl didn’t like those things. He always said, ‘Oh, it’s ugly, ugly! But I said to myself, I must do this.” Her passion for doing things differently lead to the exact recreation of the garden in all of its unkempt nature, a perfect contrast to a whole raft of prim models, in neat black-patent shoes with built-in white ankle socks.
On the penultimate day of the 4-day event, Jean-Paul Gaultier showed his final catwalk spectacular. As ever, it was fun, frivolous and full of talent from someone who has been in the business for half a century. Suit jackets now become of surrealist art worn as a bib on a dress. There were bizarre placements of belts, wrapped round breasts and legs. And corsets and suspenders were on display. It was a magnificent grand finale of more than 200 looks embodying the diversity, recycling, sustainability and gender fluidity that seems so modern but have always been in his shows since his first in 1976. No need for us to worry, though, Gaultier has assured us that haute couture will continue under a new concept. As a designer who has constantly pushed the boundaries, it is safe to say that whatever Gaultier turns his hand to, it’ll be an exciting journey to follow him on.
But as Gaultier departs from his eponymous label, fear not, as fashion can look forward to the return of another great. Balenciaga is set to return to the Couture schedule in July, 52 years since its last couture collection designed by its founder, Cristobal Balenciaga. The hotly anticipated collection is sure to be the star of that season.
About Our Author: Katie Calvert's background is in fashion and textiles with a first class honours degree in Fashion Communication and Promotion and experience in trend, PR and events. She decided to take the plunge back into education in 2015 to complete a Master of Arts in Multimedia Journalism. Using these newfound skills and her love of fashion and culture, Katie has been freelance writing for over a year.