One of my favorite facets when considering couture season is the element of absolute unattainability that typically reveals itself as each hand-sewn applique begins to tell the story of the decidedly breathtaking dress or blouse–at times, even head piece–that I will never own.
Call me naive and nostalgic but it seems like when held up against its more practical, durable, obsessed-with-making-the-sale cousins, couture week has maintained the dexterity to speak to the true indie spirit of the fashion week ethos. It’s a show, it’s a gallivant, it’s a spectacle of esoteric creativity that elicits some of your own. It makes digesting the other stuff–that which sprinkles into the expensive specialty boutique or luxury department store and then subsequently into the high street shop of your neighborhood that much easier. It is not for you to own. It’s not even really for you to want to own. That is, of course, until Raf Simons revealed his idea of couture utopia last season for Christian Dior and generated a 24% spike in sales for the legendary house.
Naturally, when your neighbor–historically an equal, who has been subsisting on the same exact plane as you have for years–strikes success in some curious way, you’re inclined to mimic the formula. But when that formula includes the domineering fashion week buzzword, “wearability,” even in the couture climate, does the artfulness of the season get lost?
I’m not sure. Take the nude double-breasted Armani Prive jacket in slide 1 and the consequent pants in 2. Plain indeed, but it doesn’t necessarily take much scrutiny to recognize the eloquently stitched seams and what is certainly very, very fine silk. Raf Simons (slides 3 through 6) tethers to his characteristic whimsy (notwithstanding an audible nod to exposing and celebrating the female body) and Giambattista Valli (slides 7 through 9) follows suit in a series of naked, stupefying, categorically lust-worthy gowns not unlike his mainline designs but certainly exhibiting a different blazon of panache.
It is where Maison Martin Margiela (slides 10 through 12) cloaks his models’ faces (an obvious, recurring attempt to explain that his clothes are not about the girl, they’re about the clothes) and puts jeans on them that I’m left to wonder if–even in spite of the escapist, embellished blouses, bibs-cum-tops and a conceptual, critical eye–yes, the artfulness gets lost.
Cathy Horyn offered a shrewd point of view in reviewing the collections and perhaps more specifically the ambiance circumventing them when she wrote that “[C]outure is fundamentally what you don’t see: the way a garment is constructed, the reason it’s done by hand, and how that literally gives shape to fashion.” This, of course, has nothing to do with wearability and everything to do with unilateral luxury.
While I can agree that couture may be about that which we don’t see on the clothes, the under-blazer transparency at Armani, the breasts by Raf, the legs by Valli, the midriffs at Margiela and the negligee at Valentino (slides 12 through 15–and the poncho/pant combo speaks to the previous question as well), make it ironic to note how much we do still see–anatomically speaking, at least. Perhaps this is where the guile gets lost on me. If I bear a sheer white tank without a bra underneath it, am I conceivably living in the vein of couture? Probably not.
Maybe, to Horyn’s point, it is precisely in the use of Chanel’s ubiquitous, head-to-toe tweed (and in the case of this collection, suede–see slides 16 through 19) that a series of unrecognizable-as-couture looks could plausibly yell price-upon-request and still holster an unshakeable, artful sense of I will probably never own you, but I think I definitely really want you. So is that what it’s all about?
Images courtesy of Vogue.com