I don’t know why when I think about couture season in Paris I expect to be shocked. Couture is never really about the excessive grandiosity (though the price-upon-request tags should suggest otherwise) that I have naively tethered to it so much as it is about the art of the craft — a celebration of the specialists who, with their repertoire of unique skill sets, allow for such a season to subsist.
I do, however, know that one of two things is happening relative to couture. Either ready-to-wear collections, like those of both Vika Gazinskaya and Rosie Assoulin, are becoming more elaborate — highlighting the techniques of the anterior specialists who use not machines but their hands in a capacity that current consumer-driven clothing has not, or the bi-annual season that takes place in Paris is stripping away the layers (pun intended) to be considered in line with their more marketable, four-per-year-collection counterparts.
This isn’t to say that the garments are getting any cheaper but where wearability is concerned (and it always is), the current season appears to function as a sequel to the one that came last July, which purportedly came as a result of Raf Simons’ success at Dior the season before. Make sense?
A brief interlude for context: when Raf Simons took command at the House of Dior in 2012, he focused not on what would elicit the most exagerrated gasp but on what would please both the eye and pocket for his first couture collection. As a result, the house saw a 24% spike in made-to-order goods.
Last season, I conjectured that his success may have propelled change for his contemporaries thus resulting in a more functional season (jeans at Margiela, lace slips at Valentino, blazers at Armani) of couture clothing. But in a particularly curious change on the trajectory of gourmet fashion, both Christian Dior and Chanel showed sneakers with their collections this week.
Where Simons for Dior only implemented his comfortable footwear on three models, Karl Lagerfeld deigned not to subject his women to the wrath of heels at all. Interestingly, that decision did not deflect the allure of the clothes which were still dramatically in line with the Chanel ethos — perhaps in fact projecting only the future version of this woman. But why did the designers couple their looks with athletic footwear to begin with?
Karl Lagerfeld’s Spring 2014 show for Chanel and the selection of white dresses embellished by graphically inserted palettes of varying colors of paint made one blaring comment on the relationship between life and art — that the former imitates the latter. In the case of this week and couture, his collection reversed the point, using the fundamentals of couture season — the artistry of fashion — to suggest with just the right dose of irony that art imitates life.
When scrutinizing a selection of clothing that has been rightfully typecast for its spectacular but predictable use of hand-stitched beadwork, embroidery and embellishment (this conversation may hearken back to the one we had last week on whether gowns are “fashion”), maybe the deliberate choice for sneakers offer that inexplicably expected sense of shock value I look for in couture. Or, you know, maybe the models just demanded a respite from the bodices and pounds of paillettes.