Good question... This most recent round of Couture presentations for Fall 2014 further defined the new as well as begged the same nagging question, "What constitutes Haute Couture?" It should be more than the sticker price. If you read the reviews of the collections on Style.com or in the New York Times you might think that there exists a collective brilliance that centers in and around Paris' Grand Palais. Names such as Chanel, Armani Prive', Versace, Givenchy and Valentino represent the 21st Century concept of Haute Couture, or they certainly used to. One must be vetted by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture to be accepted and invited to show. One must have a certain number of models (styles), the models must be made predominantly by hand, a minimum of Premieres d'Ateliers and Petit Mains working under them (the seamstresses and tailors) in order to technically apply. The larger question is a creative one but that's purely subjective though the Chambre Syndicale... is designed as an objective body of what at least used to be of the most stringent and high standards. All of these conditions as it were are neither here nor there when looking at an actual Haute Couture collection. Just for the record, I apprenticed at Givenchy Paris when Monsieur Givenchy was at the wheel. While there, I sat as an apprentice assistant and watched 2 Haute Couture collections and 2 Pret a Porter collections conceived and created.
At Dior, Raf Simons' re imagined Marie Antoinette was yet another trudge down a chic cul de sac. With his Resort collection I started to change my mind about him and the validity of his message. His recipe for modernity left me starving in the beginning and only began to tempt me with little bonbons that started to become cupcakes if not full on cakes with lavish decoration. Fall and Resort gave me a jolt like the best of his last work at Jil Sander. The double dresses that laced and played color contrasting duets in a single piece pointed to a path out of the thicket he's busily created since taking charge of the house. To my dismay, the collection shown a couple of weeks ago was so silly in proportion, detail, and (tired) concept that my eyes glazed over after the 10th exit. His explanation of drawing from the past to create a language that is new and modern was little excuse for these sad sack dresses. Over lunch with a great friend we got down to the nitty gritty of the discrepancies that pass undetected by "knowing" eyes. Poor construction, a paucity of creative curiosity and the fact that ultimately this demi-couture may very well become just good enough for a public no longer even aware of what this highest form of craft used to mean. I was distracted by the shape of the skirts that suggested panniers but without the structure underneath to hold them up and out. Beyond that there was the question of proportion that was exaggerated beyond reason as the shirts shot out in some cases well below the low hip and then stopping at the shin. Very bottom heavy milkmaids in dresses that read more as upholstery than rich fabrics. Still it was passed off as a deliberate manipulation but read to my eyes as just lazy, crazy chop shop drag. There was more said on this and other subjects but that's private.
|Chanel Alexis Mabille|
Chanel didn't fair that much better. Lagerfeld's was a collection of tweedy ensembles molded into rounded shapes like a series of ellipses. Coats over dresses and suits were all rounded front, side and back, shoulders, sleeves, you name it it was molded to a round plumpness that made the thinnest of his models look short fat and dumpy. The strangeness of shapes culminating in a series of stark white dresses at the shows end didn't suggest so much the future as it did an undecipherable present. Lagerfeld can do no wrong and the press never came close to taking him to task. Rarely, do they. It seems that everyone is so convinced of his brilliance that they fear questioning his authority, much the same as that of editors at most of the big mags. Think Anna Wintour and extrapolate from there.
Armani Prive' was just old. The shapes, the tame jackets that were straight out of his archives from 20-30 years ago and splashy beaded numbers were saying not so much about the future as they sat sleepily in the past. The sound was more the sharp outtake of a yawn. There looked to be no future there, only a past whispering its authority.
Alexis Mabille was just ugly. This young man who looks like a student or some one's kid has consistently delivered stillborn collections for years now. Poorly conceived, wretchedly executed and totally lacking in chic, his clothes leave me annoyed. There is no mystery there. Enough.
Versace is, well, Versace. Think of the girls who service oligarchs or Naomi Campbell and you get the picture. Vulgar displays, the lead foot instead of the soft touch, the obvious over the implied, blood and sweat instead of ease and elegance and you get where I'm going with this...
The exceptions to this curious state of affairs would be someone like Giambatista Valli. His collection that played a symphony of stripes in black and white with his signature shots of yellow were a treat. It looked to me as though it were the collection that should have walked down the Dior runway. Valli is a clever iconoclast with marvelous technique that gets better with time but is it Haute Couture?
Ralph Rucci, the American Couturier based here will never lower his standards which are some of the most staggeringly high in existence. He shames the "competition" just by his mere existence. Valentino is another that shames the competition. The work coming from the team of Pierpaulo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri is exceptional in so many ways, but they are worthy of their own story as they showed us again what the Couture can and should mean for today and the future. Just look closely. You can't miss it.