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Fall 2023 Couture Week Day 1: On the Couture Paradox
Highlights from Day 1 of Fall 2023 Couture Week in Paris
The recent Paris riots must be an elephant in the room at this year’s Couture Week. It is already a constant irony that this most prestigious of events among the luxury maisons takes place just before the 4th of July and a week before Bastille Day. But this year’s Couture Week hits a little different, being at once historic, marking the much-awaited couture debut Thom Browne and, well, awkward, given the tumultuous global political and socioeconomic landscape.
Haute couture works best when it is narrative and steeped in vision. Designers take their own perspectives on how fantastical or realistic to go but without vision couture is merely dressed-up prêt-à-porter. Conveying narrative through a sequence of garments requires the highest level of skill, planning, and imagination—and perhaps also equal parts genius and madness.
The paradox of couture is that it is half-art, half-marketing. While the origins of couture supposedly dates back to the 19th century and Charles Frederick Worth (though many would argue it was actually way earlier), the Fédération Française de la Couture organized the first recognized Paris Couture Week in October 1973, separate from Prêt-à-Porter and Menswear as a fundraiser for the Palais de Versailles. Over time, the myth-making enterprise of fashion has made Paris Couture Week into an artistic extravaganza all its own.
Now, everyone has different expectations of couture. Some people judge couture by its avant-garde, out-of-the-box imaginativeness; others view it more flexibly, almost as a high-end proof of concept to test creative ideas before sending them to full market. Either way, there is no denying that Paris Couture Week is the height of fashion; and this season is already an exciting one.
Schiaparelli Fall 2023 Couture
It is important to study the time series that designers present, looking at how the narrative and messages of their collections evolve from show to show. What do consistencies in messaging tell us about the designer and their point of view and what do novelties–sometimes big and sometimes small–communicate? In his Haute Couture Fall 2023 in July, Daniel Roseberry gives us something embedded with the long-standing themes of Schiaparelli, but eschews some of the shock and awe of Spring 2023 to give us, using the words of the line sheet: “impossible not because it's not wearable, but because it's so extraordinary.”
The narrative adjusted a bit in this Spring 2023 as Roseberry did not look to top the faux taxidermy lion’s head that adorned Kylie Jenner and sparked so many strongly worded opinions. Instead we got something more muted, more wearable perhaps. We did see Cardi B appearing at the Petit Palais in a dramatic (and this would not be a discussion of a night with Schiaparelli without using the word “surrealist”) velvet bustier topped with a coat comprised of layer upon layer of wool tufts. Yet, on the runway, we saw a very slightly more muted story if only by a degree or two.
The production of the collection was also a departure for both Roseberry and we guess about any other collection produced for Spring 2023. In the line sheet, Roseberry noted that the collection was not produced over a long period of time from an agreed upon plan of action but it was, “put together in the days leading up to this show.” This seems an appropriate pace of work in a world where our societies and cultures are buffeted by unexpected changes at quick intervals, requiring short-term decision-making, an ability to adapt on the fly, and accomplish more with less.
Despite the rapid fire manner of the collection’s assembly, it is cohesive and full of Schiaparelli regulars such strong accessories and regular nods to the influences of Lucien Freud, Matisse, and Dali. We see lots of black, lots of white, lots of gold, and even a bit of color.
Here is a video of the full Schiaparelli Fall 2023 Couture show.
Christian Dior Fall 2023 Couture
Maria Grazia Chiuri is, in a word, smart. She is well versed in the business of fashion and knows what is marketable and what isn’t. Chiuri is rarely one for abstraction. For the most part, her collections for Christian Dior are always sellable, including couture. This season’s Christian Dior Couture Fall 2023 was a powerfully simple take on classicism, blending inspirations from Greek and Roman antiquity in a way that felt highly relevant and timeless.
This 65-look Fall 2023 Collection bordered on the practical, with a bevy of wearable styles appealing to women of all ages. The looks were pristine, sculpted, and perfectly tailored. Chiuri’s well-known reinterpretation of the heritage Dior suit was articulated for the modern age in matching jackets of various lengths over dresses and long skirts.
There was no attempt at genderless fashion. Yet any of these looks were subtle and minimalist to the point that they could flex for any gender, just as the togas and tunics from antiquity.
It was a highly cohesive collection. The focus on monochrome whites for the first set of looks made the first non-white beige outfit stand out like a contrast colour.
The continuation of modest hemlines from Resort 2024 feels like a natural shift from the Spring 2023 sheer trends.
Here is a video of the full Christian Dior Couture Fall 2023 show.
Iris Van Herpen Fall 2023 Couture
Iris van Herpen is consistent. Her version of couture features a sparing number of pieces infused with meditations on our relationship with nature and our future as a species. For Fall 2023, this consistency comes through in a highly inspirational reflection on our evolving relationship with a changing planet and the sea. This 16-piece collection reflects on a world where our species physically and artistically interacts more with the sea in a truer or at least more intentional aquatic symbiosis. You can also say that by looking towards the future with such parsimony, Iris van Herpen also shows the world of haute couture a model for doing more with less.
Iris van Herpen is known for fusing technology with traditional craftsmanship to tell stories about innovation. She references projects such as Oceanix to build self-reliant and circular dependent cities on the ocean and amazing R&D by aquatic architects.
But, of course, Iris van Herpen is also an aquatic architect. This collection features strong geometric shapes floating over transparent tulle to invoke images of movement akin to constantly moving waves and the life of the ocean.
Our favorite was a diaphanous, white gauze-like dress whose appreciation requires seeing its movement rather than studying a still. Evoking ocean currents or perhaps even the jelly-like movement of some sea life, it takes us to a world where our physical appearance may adjust to a new reality. In this reality, our species will need to integrate more closely with the ocean that covers 70 percent of our Earth, particularly for those originating from countries sitting beneath the water already such as The Netherlands, Iris van Herpen’s home country.
Here is a gallery of the full Iris van Herpen Fall 2023 Couture collection.
Thom Browne Fall 2023 Couture
It’s not hard to see why Thom Browne is the designer of the moment. As chairman of the CFDA and a cult designer in his own right, Browne’s first foray into couture at Paris Couture Week yesterday was destined to be historic. And it did not disappoint.
Browne’s Fall 2023 Couture felt like a perfect execution of how one would think an American-made couture collection should feel. This was on purpose. According to the line sheet, the collection contained “elements of classic american sportswear filtered through the lens of couture.” The story of the collection itself was a rich psychodrama about a woman fantasizing at a train station, thinking and dreaming about her problems. As the line sheet notes, “…one night only…at the palais garnier…a solo traveler…on a lonely platform…fades to grey…” Even it is most conceptual moments, Browne’s couture universe was narratively clear and all encompassing.
The staging of the show at the Opéra de Paris, which literally switched the positioning of the models and the attendees between the stage and audience, felt operatic even if the show itself was not opera-influenced per se. The audience contained over 2,000 2D cut-outs “in thom browne uniform,” as the line sheet stated, that did not look unlike the designer himself.
The storytelling of the collection was clear, visionary, and incredibly cohesive and well articulated from look to look. There were identifiable characters, including other passengers, pigeons, a train conductor, and the bride-as-train. There was no mistaking the course of the plot and the moment of climactic turn after the dark vision of the woman in Edwardian dress appears.
The clothes themselves functioned as characters in the drama, rather than as simple costumes or adornments. The collection was a masterpiece in shades of grey, playing with proportions, silhouettes, and patterns in a beautiful expressionism that felt concomitantly stark yet subtle. The multitude of Thom Browne grey coats and suits in interpretation, along with the variety of passengers and pigeons in an array of patchworks, brocades, and embroidered coats and short-suits, illustrated the dreamscape of the protagonist’s thoughts and showed the evolution of her feelings as the story unfolded.
Here is a video of the Thom Browne Fall 2023 Couture collection.
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