At the present time, where the word collaboration is repeated every day in the fashion business, it is refreshing to replace it with dialogue. valentl nuance changes everything. It is not about printing the logos or superimposing the identity elements of two firms (there are innumerable recent examples) but about confronting concepts, exploring archives and formulating a coherent response after the process. When Jean Paul Gaultier retired from haute couture exactly two years ago, he wanted his legacy to dialogue with the work of current designers he admires. The first conversation was held last season with Chitose Abe, alma mater of the Japanese brand Sacai, whose functional garments with deconstructed patterns merged with the classic keys of the French designer, from the corset to the tattoo print. On this occasion it has been an old acquaintance of the house, the Belgian Glenn Martens, creative director of the cult firm Y/Project and of the much more massive Diesel, in charge of “celebrating”, in his own words, the aesthetic heritage of Gaultier. And it has done so with a spectacular collection in which the hallmarks of both were integrated in an unconventional way: the mythical Gaultier sailor stripes were molded with small stones, as a trompe l’oeil on oversized suits on the hips, corsetry ribbons They made up huge fabric lattices that fitted the silhouette and the knitted dresses were tied around the body, revealing unexpected areas of skin.
Martens worked at Gaultier before taking the creative lead at Y/Project and knows the firm’s story inside out. This is precisely why it has taken almost two years to shape his first and only foray as a guest creator, establishing a deep dialogue between Gaultier’s optimistic celebration of sensuality and his own vision, much more dramatic and conceptual, built on the basis of of twisted patterns and deformations of the silhouette. Both approaches to fashion may seem antagonistic but, as Martens demonstrated in his show for Y/Project, held last week, they are not so: there he subtly introduced some of the French designer’s archive garments, which were perfectly integrated with your proposal.
Deformity and drama, although from a much more ironic point of view, have been the hallmarks of the Dutch duo Viktor & Rolf for more than thirty years. With a lucrative perfumery division, designers use haute couture as a visibility tool. More so today, if possible, when more and more firms seek virality by designing pieces that, hopefully, will circulate through the networks in meme format.
On this occasion, however, it is difficult to win the battle: his idea, that of expanding the volume on the shoulders until the neck disappears, languishes in the face of other much more viral proposals such as the powerful visual magnetism of Schiaparelli or, more simply, the opening of the Chanel fashion show with Carlota Casiraghi galloping. The duo has been based on the archetype of the vampire, specifically Nosferatu, to develop all kinds of garments, from blazers to robes, which could be described as functional when stripped of the armor that raises the shoulders. The sensationalism is necessary, but not sufficient, at a time when ingenuity sets the tone for too many presentations.
In Valentino, Pier Paolo Piccioli does not approach the female body to dramatize it, but to honor it. With a collection entitled ‘Anatomy of Couture’, presented at the firm’s salons in Place Vendôme, the designer has played to transform the still rigid ideal of haute couture beauty with models of different genders, ages and sizes. Meanwhile Kim Jones told after her parade that “the idea of being inspired by Rome not only has to do with the roots of Fendi, but also with feminine power”. In this, his third couture collection, the designer returns, as in the previous one, to the vast imaginary of the Italian city, headquarters of the firm, this time contrasting past and future, antiquity and innovation, with flowing velvet dresses in which the image of a sculpture or with Roman tunics meticulously constructed with small crystals to masterfully reflect light and movement can be sensed, in an almost phantasmagorical way. The models, dressed as empresses of the future, paraded under a church dome constructed of wires. Jones’s work in sewing has nothing to do with the majesty of the garments, but with the small details that make it up; from hand-engraved leather garments that evoke Corinthian columns to accessories decorated with tiny volcanic stones or subtly printed silk dresses for a hologram-like effect.
The Lebanese Zuhair Murad and Elie Saab do not intend to subvert the canons of this sector, basically because haute couture and brides are the basis of their business. The first was inspired by 13th-century pirate stories to sign a proposal full of golden brocades, tulle and taffeta skirts and dresses with lavishly embroidered corsets. The second left behind its classic pastel colors to enter fuchsias, greens and blues, in a collection inspired by the arrival of spring, that recurring story that serves as an argument to talk about optimism and, in the case of Saab, the return to the parade and in contact with their clients, eager to show off their impressive designs again.
If the first two days of haute couture have been marked by restraint in designs and the relevance of creative processes, the last two have been defined, with uneven results, by sensationalism and experimentation in techniques and ideas. Curiously (or not so much) the first part was starred by two women, Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior and Virginie Viard at Chanel. This second has been dominated by men and their different ways of looking at and approaching the ideals of feminine beauty.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.