Haute Couture—what does it mean? Literally, “High Dressmaking.” So welcome to a review of the Fall 2018 High Dressmaking Week in Paris, where 34 brand new collections were presented. But when did this all start? Way back in the time of Marie Antoinette. The term Haute Couture didn’t come into use, however, until the mid 19th century, when it referred to the dress design work of Charles Frederick Worth in Paris. In order to qualify for Haute Couture, the high standards of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne have to be met. I’ll not list them here, but one look at the fabulous dresses will give you an idea of what they are. By the way, in Haute Couture, money is no object.
Zuhair Murad takes us back to Imperial Russia; rediscovers the luxurious taste of czars and czarinas, brings back the textures and patterns of the period, the rich fabrics (velvet, chiffon, duchesse satin) the colors (sapphire, gray, wine, khaki), the exquisite embroideries, which took thousands and thousands of hours to complete. Some designs capture the masculine, military element of the times, yet as Murad says, are sexy, giving confidence and strength.
Armani described his fall Privé collection as “couture…as it once was: the authentic essence of luxury and perfection.” And so it was. Classically sculptured evening gowns in black and cream, gave way to gowns fuchsia, turquoise and a plethora of pink, and ended in an explosion of ostrich feathers. For the younger generation, it was, in Armani’s words, an opportunity to witness the “true meaning of haute couture, going back to the catwalk as it once was.”
Mix Elie Saab, Gaudi, Art Nouveau, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Silk Chiffon, choose from a palette which includes jewel tones (emerald, garnet, amethyst), beaded embroidery, and ruffles, and you enter a third dimension of exquisitely feminine gowns and dresses.
For Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli everything in his show was larger than life, from the incredibly voluminous hair of Kaia, (super-teased á la 1960s) to the highly saturated colors—strawberry, bright tangerine, brilliant green. The vision he created is like a dream in which disparate elements are combined. “That is what couture is for me,” says Piccioli, “a place where you [can express] your vision of beauty, your intimate dreams.
When you hear Givenchy, you think of Audrey Hepburn’s smashing black gown in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. In Clare Waight Keller’s collection it appeared again. But this time a matching black hood replaced Audrey’s strands of pearls. Though minimalist was the word used to describe the lines of her clothes, some broke the mold, including some with an explosion of sequins.
Giambattista Valli sets his Haute Couture sights on the younger generation. As he says, “They have that kind of sense to wear haute couture like they are wearing jeans and a T-shirt. They don’t have any complex.” But unlike jeans and a T-shirt, a gorgeous turquoise or bubble-gum pink tulle gown (which may contain 400 yards of fabric), will be tough to dance in.