Les incroyables and les merveilleuses were “members of a fashionable aristocratic subculture in Paris in the late 1700s.” They celebrated luxury, dressed extravagantly—the images you might associate with that period are probably correct: floaty, tendril-light dresses, wide trousers, sharp jackets. They were reacting to the end of the French Revolution, latching onto newfound luxuries and decadence in a self-indulgent effort to combat the hardships of revolutionary times.
John Galliano’s earliest collections referenced the French Revolution. At Maison Margiela, the designer had yet to feature the epochal event. Revolt was an apt description for the collection: this wasn’t the prim, prissy couture portrayal that we’ve seen from the other designers this week. Galliano’s collection was a celebration of eccentricity, a delightful counterpoint. Revolt, as Tim Blanks highlighted in his review, is a sign of the times. The xenophobic, racist, homophobic Donald Trump rising in America; post-Brexit marches filling the streets of London; angry citizens of Baton Rouge taking to the streets to show solidarity and resilience in light of Alton Sterling’s horrific murder, yesterday evening. Revolution is intrinsic to the Margiela brand. Margiela’s always been about going against the grain, anti-fashion some might say. No wonder Galliano draws on dadaism in his collections, the anti-art movement aligns itself with the core values of the brand.
Galliano launched heroic statements down the runway: sleeves reaching below the knees; a bias-cut dress with a tulip print worn with a chainmail bralet; a billowing silk georgette skirt; a yellow coat with a black and white train draped across the back. There was a lot to assimilate, and sometimes you didn’t know how. But it wasn’t eccentricity for eccentricity’s sake. It was about showing the power of the Artisanal collection—to craft the unthinkable and make it look worthy. Obviously, there were a few simply saleable examples in the collection, but overall this was about being the opposite to everyone else, reacting to the normcore-filled world. Bravo, Galliano!
Eccentricity at Margiela
Going from Galliano’s bravado to Elie Saab must be a shock to the system. From the weirdly wonderful to perfectly prepackaged glamour. Saab’s ode to New York wasn’t exactly the state of mind you expected. It allowed for a gimmicky dress with the Chrysler Building fashioned out of blue velvet and gold glitter, or a Lady Liberty dress. It was always going to be about the glitz and the glam with Elie Saab, which I’m sure his customer will appreciate. Similarly, Saab’s couture compadre, fellow purveyor of the sparkly dress, Zuhair Murad presented yesterday. His collection was loosely inspired by bohemia—basically an excuse to place cowboy hats atop the model’s crowns. You got what you expected, glittering gowns in shades of lime green, cyan, honeysuckle, imperial purple and more. I’d like to pose a challenge to you: differentiate between Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad, it’s a difficult task.
The Jean Paul Gaultier show was once an exuberant one, and for many it still is. Nowadays, its charm is lost on me. It’s artistic flair has long been overshadowed by the over-reliance on spectacle. Like revolution to Margiela, yes, theatre is intrinsic to Gaultier, but it’s not fun anymore. It’s a broken record. Today’s presentation of “nature” inspired couture was perhaps the safest he’s done in a long time—safe in terms of Gaultier. The most exciting part was watching Coca Rocha open the show in a catsuit with a furry hood.
Finale at Jean Paul Gaultier
Viktor & Rolf, since shuttering ready-to-wear (a recurring trend for new couturiers) have established a firm footing on the schedule. They wipe the slate clean to make way for a new inspiration the next season, like Prada usually is. They don’t rely on spectacle but effortlessly create a spectacular moment that’s knowingly theatrical, but it’s never blatant, always carefully considered. For Fall 2016, they labelled their collection “Vagabond”. It was for those who don’t belong, with their “thrown together” outfits, “seemingly mismatched looks.” But that wasn’t where the brilliance stemmed from. This collection was a greatest hits of sorts—the pieces in this collection were made from old Viktor & Rolf collections that had been recycled. Tulle on sweaters; buttons patched onto jeans; fabric excellent woven together giving the appearance of tweed. Layered organza resembled 3-D clouds, or a delectable dessert dish filled in the centre with colourful buttons reminiscent of candies. There was a dandyish flair to the collection, many of the models styled gender ambiguously. This was an afternoon pick-me-up, after three depressingly dull collections.
Viktor & Rolf's dandy couture
To close out the day, the week (if you exclude Fendi’s haute fourrure excursion to Rome), Valentino presented their collection at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild. Inspired by “the Shakespearean world transformed into an emotional alchemy,” the duo, Pier Paolo and Maria Grazia, delved deep into what they know best: irresistibly beautiful garments that have made Valentino a billion dollar company. 17th century stiffness was given a soft, romantic twirl by the two; ruffled necklines were loosened, shoulders less harsh. Suiting was at an all time best, with the pieces’ printing and hand-painting consuming ten or more hours. Beauty can’t escape your vocabulary with a Valentino collection, under the creative direction of these two, but drama isn’t exactly synonymous with their reign. To close proceedings, a livid red cape designed for the La Traviata opera hit the runway.
Pier Paolo and Maria Grazia took their final bow at the end of the show. They graced the audience with their beaming smiles, impeccably clad in black and ivory. Many audience members rose to show their admiration. Also, it might be a parting gift: Maria Grazia is rumoured to be leaving Valentino for Dior—we await the imminent announcement. Her feminine sensibilities will be owed to Dior in the same way it was with Valentino. As with everything in fashion these days, time will tell.
Couture week has been an interesting one this year. The heavyweights have done nothing but proved they’re the best of the best, the only ones worth paying attention to. Although, labels like Schiaparelli and Viktor & Rolf are quickly rising to the top tiers. Chanel, Dior, Margiela, Valentino, the collections of the week. The landscape of couture will alter by next January. Will Karl Lagerfeld make way for a successor? Hopefully not. Is Maria Grazia Chiuri on her way to Dior? What becomes of Valentino? More looming, unanswerable questions at the end of fashion month. One thing is for sure: fashion’s asserts its position as a confusing, thrilling, dazzling assemblage.
Shakespearean drama at Valentino
Photo Credit: nowfashion.com