Wonderland.

7 Wonders: Haute Couture AW16

We round up the best bits from this Couture season.

The Haute Couture AW16 shows felt especially timely. While the world is being turned upside down, and uncertainty and fear penetrate headlines, the fantasy of couture was a much welcome escape from the reality of our everyday lives; for a whole week, we were dreaming only of sequins, embellishments, pearls, beading, precious stones, and girlish ballgowns. It was a week that saw Winnie Harlow open exclusively for Couturíssimo, modelling looks by Sebastian Gunawan and Michael Cinco in an custom constructed glass sun house. A week when everyone rediscovered their love for Celine Dion (if it ever went away). And, of course, a week when the fashion world finally found out who the new Creative Director of Dior will be. An exciting season as ever, picking a top seven from AW16 was difficult. Still, someone’s gotta do it: so here’s our breakdown of this year’s best.

Chanel

After some mind blowing sets for his Chanel shows (remember the airport, the carousel, or last season’s all front row at couture?) you wonder if there is anything on earth Karl Lagerfeld can do that has not been seen before. And then Chanel haute couture A/W 16 happens and everyone is reminded once more of the man’s genius. While other designers were keen to show the process of making their garments throughout the latest womenswear and menswear ready-to-wear collections, all rough hems and toilles, Lagerfeld took it, of course, steps further when he re-created the secret world of the Chanel atelier at the Grand Palais, complete with the petites mains who were cutting, sewing and fitting models right before the guests eyes as the show progressed. It was not as polished, as grand, as extravagant of a set as we’ve come to expect from Chanel, but that’s what made the show so much more intimate, more personal, more special. It was a true homage to the seamstresses behind the scenes, the artists who make the dreamy garments take shape, the extraordinary women who spend weeks embroidering a dress, carrying on the legacy of the house. By building an exact replica of their workspace, full of fabric rolls, pins, cutting tables and mannequins, the craft and incredible skill of the petites mains as well as their integral part within the house was celebrated and honoured by Lagerfeld, who took his final bow alongside his main ladies, the première d’atelier. It was the perfect ending for a show that was a tribute to teamwork and collaboration.

The clothing, naturally, was unmistakably Chanel. Tweed suits were adapted for A/W 16 as culottes and three-quarter length sleeves accessorised with fingerless gloves which shielded the forearms from the cold. The not-quite-long-enough theme continued throughout, skirts, gowns and trousers cut just above the ankle, allowing for suede kitten-heel boots to peek out from underneath. While fabric was taken away from sleeves and legs, it was added to the shoulders. Yes, the power shoulder made an appearance once again! Angular or curved, the shoulders stood out, juxtaposing the sleek silhouette of the outfits. Fans of feathers too were used as shoulder adornments, making for a dramatic appearance. Delicate beading created cuffs on jackets, floral embroidery made for the cutest of dresses, emeralds sewn alongside bustiers and halter necks did away with any need for additional jewellery and we can only guess how heavy the full-sequin black vest and trousers combo that almost looked leather-like was. And when, after seventy looks it seemed that nothing more amazing could walk down the runway, out came Edie Campbell in a blush pink wedding-look composed of a sequin-and-everything-shiny jacket with a train lined with the softest of feathers and 7/8 trousers, of course. Pure bliss.

Christian Dior

Sometimes, things really are just black and white. Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux, the two designers catapulted to the helm of Dior after Raf Simmons’ departure showed that there is nothing wrong with that as their Haute Couture offering was completely monochrome and incredibly desirable. This palette cleanser of a colour-theme allowed for the focus to be solely on the construction. There was a grown up elegance to Dior’s couture offering this season, but there was also a sense of mischief and subversion of propriety within high society. There was kind of a blurring of lines, between the femme fatale and the innocent, pure virgin, the stereotypical female roles in literature, mixing dark eye make-up with tulle and silks, billowing skirts and plunging necklines. It was a collection full of contrasts: evening wear and flat, gladiator-like sandals, buttoned up necklines and exposed midriffs, corseting and free-flowing shapes, fabrics that were either see-through and light or heavy and opaque. Elsewhere, a prim-and-proper long sleeved blouse from the front revealed a completely exposed back as the model turned. Dior’s New Look shape got a new rendering too as pockets and ruching on jackets were manipulated to create the iconic silhouette. Surreal neckpieces added to the playful exploration between the traditional and the innovative.

While the clothing was an undeniable success, something, or more like someone else, stole the show. As soon as she appeared outside the venue and took her seat in the front row, the whole of social media buzzed, and continued to do so for the remain of the couture week in Paris. It was, of course, Wonderland’s guilty pleasure, Celine Dion. Forget Cameron Dallas and other heartthrobs, our hearts keep going on for Ms. Dion. And to steal the thunder for the beautiful show even more, a few days after the show, the rumours about Maria Grazia Chiuri taking the top position at the house of Dior were confirmed. While we wait in anticipation to see what Chiuri conjures up for the house, we ought to applaud the Meier and Ruffieux design duo who filled Simons’ shoes very well indeed in the meantime.

Fendi

When a major fashion house celebrates its 90th birthday, it’s surely not going to be a quiet affair. Even less so when Karl Lagerfeld is in charge (how on earth does he manage to juggle all this work is still, and will always be, a million dollar question.) And so, jetting everyone off from Paris to Rome on a chartered plane fitted with Fendi branded headrests, the anniversary couture show was to take place on the Trevi Fountain. Yes, on. A see-through runway was built atop the pools, making it appear as though the models were literally walking on water, defying logic, transforming into some supernatural beings. How apt for a show titled “Legends and Fairytales.” Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturing Fendi metamorphosed their models into fairies, forest creatures and animals inspired by a fairy tale book titled “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”, one of Lagerfeld’s favourites as a child. It truly was a magical spectacle. It had theatre, drama, fantasy and a story, a completely enchanting show without being gimmicky. There is no doubt in the brilliance of Karl Lagerfeld’s mind and imagination. Who else would get models to walk on water? Who better to create a fairytale collection than a man who dresses real-life princesses? The show was a triumph, one that will go down in history as one of Lagerfeld’s best. And he’s had a lot of magnificent shows…

But let’s talk dresses. There were a lot of dresses… Those adorned with illustrations from children’s books, princesses, meadows, forests, night skies and castles. There were billowy tulle dresses embellished with mink fur flowers, there were those made of lace and net, almost fit for a mermaid, some sweet, some more tough, complete with a cape, ready for action. Then there were the fur dresses. They too were the means for telling a story. The animal skins Fendi is famous for were patchworked into elaborate scenes, folded into flowers and leaves that enveloped one of the models as though she was a part of a wild flower garden, some were died and painted to look like a wintery sky. Some were even made to look like lace – the dress that looked like lace was actually lamb skin after a very laborious process of having 5000 holes hand-poked through it. While the use of fur remains very controversial, one has to appreciate the immense skill and the countless hours it takes to create these pieces. They are artworks in their own right and no one does it better than Fendi. Here’s to another 90 years!

Vetements

Since exploding onto the fashion scene back in 2015, Vetements have turned the industry upside down. Everyone knows who they are, everyone recognises their clothes, everyone has an opinion, whether they love it or hate it. There seems to be a complete infiltration of the fashion and music world by the brand that is simply just called ‘clothes.’ Their clothes sell out within minutes, they appropriate a logo and suddenly, “DHL” is the coolest thing you can wear on your t-shirt. They cast other designers to star in their shows. They stage a collection in a Chinese restaurant. They mix menswear and womenswear to the point when you don’t even know which is which. They have shaken up the ready-to-wear system and now they have taken on haute couture. Brace yourselves, the revolution is here! Of course it wasn’t like any other haute couture show. Vetements are not ones to succumb to tradition and conservatism. They are not even the ones who created the collection, really. Instead, they teamed up with the best in shoes, denim, tailoring, sportswear, performance wear and even velour. All in all, 18 brands helped to put this collection together, brands that have never even staged a ready-to-wear show, let alone the made-to-measure, uber luxurious and way beyond most of the population’s price point, couture show. Nevertheless, it was a talk of the season.

Staged in Galleries Lafayette, in the middle of the shopping floor, amongst racks of Victoria Beckham, Saint Laurent, rows of Hermes perfume and designer bags, a nod to the collaborative theme of the show for sure, the looks started going down the runway. Super oversized tailoring on girls, teeny-tiny leather shorts with almost crotch-high boots on boys, shrunken Levi’s overalls and a few sizes too big denim jackets, shiny green, purple and pink Manolo Blahnik boots that reached the waist and sported pockets, tracksuit bottoms tucked into yet more super high boots, the inevitable hoodies with the super popular ‘Antwerpen’ emblazoned across the chest, almost like something tourists would buy from any souvenir shop in Belgium for a few euros (though if you want to pretend it’s Vetements, get the largest size possible to achieve the you-cant’-see-my-hands-because-my-sleeves-are-way-too-long look) and then the much awaited velour onesies, with “Juicy” spelled on the bums in diamantes. The show finished with the biggest puffer jackets, courtesy of Canada Goose, you could imagine. It was fun. It reintroduced brands such as Champion, Eastpak, Lucchese, Brioni, Church’s and Mackintosh to the teenagers that are lusting after their clothes. Whether it was couture is debatable, but it did stress the need for collaboration, it acknowledged that there are some who are better at certain things, and teamwork is a great way to bring these people together and create the best possible version of what you’re trying to make with the help of others. Maybe this appreciation of others is what is needed today, and Vetements are showing that through fashion. If anyone is paving their own way in the industry, it’s Vetements.

Valentino

While it is the end of an era at Valentino, with Maria Grazia Chiuri leaving Pierpaolo Piccioli to lead the house on his own, their A/W 16 haute couture show ensured that they are going to part ways with a bang. Their Renaissance-themed show alluded to rebirth, a new era, a bright future for both Valentino and Dior. We sure have a lot to look forward to. For now though, we have the stunning couture show to pore over. Returning to the greatest era of Italian history and celebrating the 400th anniversary since the death of one of the greatest playwrights ever known, the collection was an homage to Renaissance nobility, William Shakespeare, knights and queens. A history lesson through clothing. Who says fashion can’t teach us anything?

The first half of the show was considerably somber, all black and white, high ruffs, leather boots, clerical capes, shirts with split sleeves tied together, like something knights would wear underneath their armour. There was a lot of tight trousers in velvet and leather, the girls ready for action in the uncertain world of the fifteenth century as of today. The leather boots which accompanied all the looks, from gathered, ballon-type skirts, to the Valentino-famous ethereal floral creations, too suggested an alertness, the willowy duchesses and noble women prepared for anything that could come their way. The jewellery also suggested power, necklaces and chokers looking like sashes on which badges of honour were displayed, with some pendants looking like skulls or something pillaged from a battle. The hair style, a slick ponytail fastened and adorned with gold coil around the face was yet another element adding to the image of a powerful woman. But the toughness was offset by the delicate lacework lining white shirts, white fur stoles, cutouts, sheer fabric, a dress embroidered with unicorns, birds and flowers, some sensuously shimmering numbers and seductive black gowns. Then there was the injection of crimson red. Somewhat violent but also very passionate, it reminded one of the great tragedies of Shakespeare, the obvious Romeo and Juliet in particular. Closing the show was an enormous taffeta cape, with an exaggerated ruff around the neck and wide skirt underneath, all in the same tone of crimson. Whether violent or passionate, it was certainly highly emotional, regal and intensely powerful. A metaphor for what is happening at the house?

Schiaparelli

The Schiaparelli shows are all about a theme. Bertrand Guyon, the creative director, takes it and runs with it, making sure that there is no doubt what that theme is. A great fit for a house synonymous with playful, surreal and extravagant garments then. For A/W 16, Guyon picked his concept straight out of the house’s archive, taking on Elsa Schiaparelli’s circus collection of 1938. And so the show began, full of exotic animals, stars, fireworks, acrobats, astrology and colour. There was a clear story through the show, the various ringmasters announcing their next acts in black skirts and dresses, all hard shoulders and slits up to there, some even had the acts embroidered on their jackets – there was the weight lifter, the acrobats, the horse trainer, the clown, the unicyclist. Then the next ringmaster announced the arrival of the exotic animals, again, displayed proudly on a velvet dress – zebras, elephants, lions and butterflies. In between were the acts themselves. The astrologist in a black backless gown with star constellations and angels, the butterfly lady in the best puffa jacket ever, butterfly wings spreading across the torso. Elsewhere, large peacocks were embellished on dresses, there was a Picasso-inspired boustier, fun shimmering cocktail dresses with rainbow fringing and matching purses. There was a lot of shimmer, sequins and glitter. It definitely was a show!

But it was not all outlandish designs. Guyon presented a great offering of gowns, pretty much red-carpet ready, about to be fought over by every single across in Holywood. There were still obvious tongue-in-cheek elements in these designs though, the ballerina-pink gown, all draped and toga-like, super low cut with an exposed back, with a subtle flash of pink on its super-sculpted shoulders when the model turned. There were eye, lip and even lobster brooches scattered on the clothes, adding that little bit of humour, or a giant velvet heart stuck to the side of a bright pink gown. There was simply no holding back on the embroidery – fireworks exploded all over dresses and jackets just like at a funfair, which is exactly what this collection was all about. It was a celebration, an embrace of fun, play and childhood. It was sometimes surreal, sometimes somewhat cubist, even impressionist. Elsa Schiaparelli would have been proud.

Jean Paul Gaultier

Who would have thought the woods would be such an inspiration for haute couture this season? While Fendi created an enchanted forest, Jean Paul Gaultier transformed his girls into trees and creatures you’d find in any woodland. Well, a fashion-conscious woodland where Coco Rocha, Anna Cleveland and Soo Joo Park run rampant, where lumberjacks wear tartan gowns and even the birds turn into birds of paradise in neon green and orange. The tourists of course can only enter with the appropriate gear – a beaded, silk backpack with a fox fur hood and a tail attached to it. Naturally. As always, it was an all-star cast, maximum drama and maximum fun, a slight relief from all the serious looks of haute couture.

The back-to-nature theme of the show was already hinted at as guests sat down in front of a wooden catwalk. Then out came the trio of looks – a catsuit, a trench and a gown, all with an all-over wood-grain print, as though they have surfaced out of the flooring, merging with their environment. Then followed the furry animals, in skins of white, burgundy and green, complete with colour matching tights and heels, fur halos enveloping their faces and hair built up into nest-looking buns. There were also the more glamorous animals, the rare birds in flowing dresses printed with leaves and trees as though the models were flying amongst them in the wind. There too were wood-printed evening gowns in deep, chocolate brown, reminiscent of the oldest trees, the most precious wood one can find. But it wouldn’t be a Jean Paul Gaultier show without the party animals. Out of the dark brown and green shades suddenly emerged pops of vibrant colour – the lime green, the bright orange, the silver sequinned ensemble, blurred floral prints and the shine and sparkle of metallics. A somewhat of a progression from day to night in JPG’s forest, from the quiet, tranquil place where elegant animals stroll around, their furs beautifully kept, feathers tousled, to the wild, show-offy, night-time creatures who bring out all their spectacular textures and colours out in the shine of the moonlight. At the end, the queen arrives. The most beautiful of brides/birds/pixies, in pure white, a dove-like vision, all transparent voluminous sleeves and peek-a-boo skirt panels, almost as though shrouded in a mist. The most stunning of creatures, gliding through the ball like a cleansing spirit, getting everyone ready for the next day, when all starts again.

Words
Barbora Kozusnikova
7 Wonders: Haute Couture AW16

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