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Fall 2023 Couture Week Day 2: What Defines Haute Couture
Highlights from Day 2 of Fall 2023 Couture Week in Paris
In fashion, there is no designation more refined than “Haute Couture.”
Since 1945, a dedicated commission run by the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture under the auspices of the French Ministre de l'Économie, des Finances et de la Souveraineté industrielle et numérique has decided who is eligible to become a member of the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM) and hence eligible for the legally registered designation of origin as “Haute Couture.” Not surprisingly, the FHCM is highly selective, usually admitting no more than one or two members at a time.
What defines “Haute Couture” exists within the realm of the maisons that make up the FHCM membership. While there is freedom of brand expression, the characteristics of “Haute Couture,” according to FHCM, are unmistakeable:
Its primary field of interest being handmade work accomplished within these Houses’ workshops, a laboratory for ideas and techniques, a space where creativity can flourish freely : this is Haute Couture, whose international renown has always remained true to itself and has contributed to making Paris fashion capital of the world.
Haute Couture stands out by the uniqueness of original models created each year, and the customization of these models which are then crafted to fit the client’s measurements.
As we saw with Day 1 of this year’s Fall 2023 Couture collections, the creative point of view of individual design houses predictably varies with unique assertions and aesthetics from collection to collection. Some are deliberately conceptual and avant garde; others adopt a more realistic lens that tend towards the more marketable side of fashion when it comes to vision but nonetheless produce work of impeccable quality and the highest craftsmanship.
Whereas Day 1 of Fall 2023 Couture Week felt dominated by the bold and abstract, Day 2 of Fall 2023 Couture Week was quieter, more subdued. While not every designer is out to make a big splash, each collection brought a refined perspective and a range of sellable looks that more easily translate into the real world.
Chanel Fall 2023 Couture
It’s hard to beat the paved streets of Paris for a runway show, especially one so deliberately evocative of core Parisienne style, grace, and ease. The Chanel Fall-Winter 2023 Couture collection felt decisive yet nonchalant. After all, Virginie Viard has nothing to prove after over four years at the creative helm of fashion’s most iconic brand. As Viard stated in the show notes, “Playing with opposites and contrasts, with nonchalance and elegance, is like standing on a line between strength and delicacy, which, at Chanel, is what we call allure.”
From a strategy point of view, the Chanel Fall 2023 Couture collection was fully on brand in line with Viard’s Chanel-as-luxury-lifestyle approach. It was straightforward and street-worthy. Defining Parisian allure may belie words but every look in the Chanel Fall 2023 Couture 48-piece collection oozed effortless style and simplicity. It was a smart, highly wearable version of couture, with all the Chanel artisanship one would expect.
As always with Chanel, the narrative of the collection, as detailed in the show line sheet, was strong. The story was a “portrait of a sensitive yet bold Parisienne” who took a holistic approach to life, “subverting academicism and bringing together what is so often separated, classified and hierarchised for the sake of convenience.” Oddly, urge against “academicism” felt palpable in the balancing of hard yet soft materials—the tweeds, silk chiffons, organza, and lace—throughout the collection.
While there was nothing shocking in this collection, the craftsmanship of the Chanel couture house was unmistakeable. There were tweed skirt suits and floral dresses that could easily transition from day to night. Standout looks were all interpretations of coats, including Caroline de Maigret’s opening chic double-breasted navy tweed coat, the red tweed Principal boy jacket (complete with dog), and a consummately elegant navy coatdress edged with chiffon.
Styling wise, the models’ makeup was minimal and accessorizing was jaunty yet predictably effortless. Each look brought hat perfectly imperfect je-ne-sais-quoi one expects of Parisian style.
Alexis Mabille Fall 2023 Couture
Alexis Mabille’s Fall 2023 Couture collection brought a contemporary approach, full of dressed up, easy-to-wear styles. Going with his sweet spot for evening wear and red carpet, Mabille put together a clean, relatable 44-look collection that will be highly accessible to his high-end clientèle.
The theme of the collection was “Mondaines,” which roughly translates to “socialites.” However, as any reader of 19th-century literature is aware, the word “mondaines” is more often used in the context of “demi-mondaines” or women who work at brothels, though that was not the denotation Mabille was after with this collection. The designer’s muses were iconic—namely, Bianca Jagger, Nico, and Nan Kempner—women who shared “a zest for life très naturel,” as Mabille told Vogue.
The show took place at the Paris HQ of auction house Christie’s and featured white-walled rooms that gave the show an unfettered, classic atelier show appeal. Free from the fuss of most modern runways, the minimalist aesthetic of the venue allowed the audience to focus on the story of the collection and the craftsmanship of the clothes themselves.
The silhouettes were, for the most part, relatively contained when compared with previous seasons. There were elongated column dresses, curvy, masculine-feeling tuxedos, and toned down dresses that quietly played with proportion through asymmetry and cut, rather than volume.
Alexandre Vauthier Fall 2023 Couture
Alexandre Vauthier’s 2023 Fall Couture collection was very much embedded in the world in which we live. That is to say that Vauthier eschewed the color palette from his Spring collection, which featured bright pinks and neon green, in favor of a monochrome perspective punctuated by hints of gold and bronze. According to Vauthier’s own words, this was a deliberate effort to ground his work in essentials in a world that is increasingly noisy and harsh. To us, this does not appear to be a part of a ‘quiet luxury’ story, though Vauthier does note that this is not a time for opulence, so not much of an effort to find balance in an increasingly unbalanced world.
Vauthier evolved his narrative from the strong colors of previous collections to focus on the power of cut, giving us strong silhouettes underpinned by exact execution and construction. Perhaps while looking to hold a mirror to the world, as well as give us a shield against it, Vauthier gives us strong draping and capes, and movement that point to elegance amid fluid movements.
Despite or perhaps because of the more muted color palette, one of our favorites was a textured and belted golden robe paired with loose fitting trousers. Gold is a color of generosity and compassion, as well as dignity and power, and the color not only stood out in the monochrome collection but gives us hints of optimism in an era of many shifting sands.
Armani Privé Fall 2023 Couture
If you want a change from “quiet luxury” and a more restrained view of luxury’s point of insertion in the public space, then the Fall 2023 Armani Privé Couture collection is your tonic. The collection embraces reds, golds and silvers and gives us an optimistic East Asia narrative to chew on. Moreover, it ends like many of our favorite couture shows, with a true bang.
The collection features precise execution, as you might expect, and bold if not traditional shapes. However, these designs elegantly exhibit strong East Asian inspired images in gold and silver, which are paired with roses in a number of instances. We cannot feel that these entirely wearable looks convey a very positive outlook on the world.
The collection ends with a crimson bridal gown that featured red flowers covering a sparkling white bodice.
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