Now that we are talking about that pipe dream called silent luxury, which is neither more nor less than a handful of garments with a basic appearance, noble materials and exorbitant prices for an exclusive clientele, can jeans be haute couture? For two designers with creative identities as far apart as Demna and Pier Paolo Piccioli, it can and should, albeit for very different reasons.
The former reopened the historic Balenciaga salons on Avenue George V in Paris on Wednesday to present the house’s 52nd couture collection (the third by the Georgian creator), which results in his peculiar approach to this exclusive, luxurious and craft trade: for Demna, current haute couture has to do with innovation in materials and experimentation with forms, not with the sometimes tedious visual fantasies that this sector abuses. At Balenciaga, the hand meets the machine to make wool coats with a trompe l’oeil that makes them look like leather, crocodile jackets that are actually made of embroidered leather, black silk sweaters and spandextrench coats treated with aluminum to take rigid forms, as if they were blown by the wind, and yes, jeans that are actually knitted jacquard knitted manually.
Counted Demna after the Show that “the trade of making clothes is his armor”, perhaps in a veiled allusion to the scandal in which he was involved after the advertising campaigns carried out by children last November. He, so full of metaphors and double meanings (in his parade of ready to wear last September, a press release awaited the guests in which the designer paradoxically explained that he was not going to explain more about what his collections were about), he used this idea of clothing as a framework to, on the one hand, pay tribute to Cristóbal Balenciaga, a pioneer in treating the silhouettes of garments independently of those of the body that wears them, and, on the other, reiterate his own vision of a fashion that is worn, lived and worn. The show opened with a brilliant exploitation of off-the-shoulder jacket suits, as corsets or, more specifically, frames that transcended the dressed body itself. And she continued with casual garments, trench coats, scarves or black dresses draped and treated to evoke her passage through a gale and a storm. In case there was any doubt about that polysemic concept, the armor, on which Demna has given several turns, the show closed with her muse, the artist Eliza Douglas, dressed as a Joan of Arc with a crinoline.
It was not a metallic structure, although it was made to look like one; it was resin with 3D prints. “To achieve perfection, technology must be introduced into the equation, but without forgetting the most important thing in the creation of garments, the human component,” the press release explained cryptically. The designer’s partner, the artist Bfrnd, managed through artificial intelligence to make the voice of Maria Callas sound a cappella throughout the parade, wowing the audience. Demna himself (always subtly remarking that he “makes clothes”, banishing the word “design” from his speech) includes 3D molding and even animation in the creative process of garments that are then brought to life by hand. A point of view that contrasts with that of his brother, Guram Gvasalia, current architect of the Vetements firm, who presented a collection, also haute couture, against artificial intelligence a few weeks ago. “I wanted to make the models look like they were computer generated but were actually wearing clothes that only humans can make,” he said then.
The same Wednesday afternoon, a few hundred guests had to clear their busy schedules to move to the Chantilly Palace, almost two hours drive from Paris, if they wanted to witness the Show of Valentino, titled, obviously, a chateau. The show, in the imposing 17th century gardens, was opened by the model Kaia Gerber wearing jeans and a white shirt also made and embroidered by hand. Pier Paolo Piccioli was one of the pioneers in elevating the most basic basic to the category of a single piece, making haute couture collections with tailored coats, white blouses, pleated trousers and dresses with a minimalist appearance. With this collection he has once again vindicated the extremely complex work that is hidden behind an apparently simple garment.
Under the stirring soundtrack of Anohni, the perfect simplicity of draped dresses, slingback flats, tunics and straight trousers contrasted with the imposing and manneristic of the chosen setting, implicitly expressing that a fanciful and wild design (that is, what is traditionally known as haute couture design) has the same force as a perfectly cut and thoughtfully sewn basic garment. Piccioli, like Demna, likes to claim the job of making clothes, not creating and designing, which is why she always comes out to say hello with her battalion of excited seamstresses (this time there were close to a hundred). Also for this reason, despite working in this elitist and exclusive sector, she conceives garments as tools that are lived in, not as works of art that are venerated, even though these garments are unique and cost four and even five figures.
A few hours before moving to Chantilly, the offices of Jean Paul Gaultier were attended, in addition to the celebrities, by a small handful of haute couture clients wearing impressive dresses, past or recent, that could well occupy the showcases of a museum, not only because of the craftsmanship of each piece, but also, and above all, because of its meaning. More than 50 years ago, Gaultier invented another pioneering way of approaching this profession of the exclusive. In addition to the expertise of the workshop, his creations spoke of gender fluidity, the depth of religion in society, cultural appropriation… This is perhaps why its creative director, Florence Tétier, is successfully dedicated to rescuing and updating pieces that the Frenchman created ten, twenty or thirty years ago, because their cultural and political relevance means they do not go out of style. For this reason, too, since Gaultier’s retirement three years ago, several creatives dialogue with his legacy in each haute couture collection that the brand presents. On this occasion, the fifth, it was the turn of Julien Dossena, Rabanne’s creative director for more than a decade (the banner removed the Paco from his name a few weeks ago).
It was the first time that two brands owned by the Catalan group Puig collaborated with each other, but Dossena rose to the challenge: he replied in his own way, that is, with metal mesh, innovatively combined materials and experimental fabrics, some of Gaultier’s most emblematic designs, from the dress with cones to the rabbi coats and from the tattoo print to, of course, the sailor shirt or some of the suits that the Frenchman created for The fifth element either Bad Education. In Jean Rabanne Gaultier (this is how they titled the collection), the legacy of both brands was easily recognizable and, at the same time, it was perfectly integrated into creations with historical grounds that, nevertheless, smelled new.
That fashion, and especially haute couture, can be history and politics is something that the Spanish designer Juana Martín is also clear about. In her third collection in this exclusive calendar, Martín has drawn inspiration from cubism, especially Picasso, to recall the hardships of post-war Spain, a pertinent and bold idea at a time like the present.
However, for some, haute couture continues to be the creative showcase that allows perfumes and/or accessories to be sold, a kind of window to the world of luxury that all those who are willing to pay more affordable figures can then look at. The Dutch duo Viktor & Rolf, which celebrated its thirty-year anniversary as a brand this Wednesday, July 5, is a clear example of this. They don’t even play the celebrity dressing card on red carpets. Hers has always been to use fashion as a performative tool to reflect on the relationship between the body and the dress, a strategy that in the era of social networks translates into virality, media visibility that allows her to sell her line of perfumes. With these credentials, it is no coincidence that Shakira unexpectedly appeared in the front row of her show in one of her most emblematic dresses, in which a giant “no” could be read in relief in comic book letters.
Nor is it by chance that Delfina Delettrez, Fendi jewelery designer and granddaughter of Silvia Venturini Fendi, presented the firm’s first high jewelery collection and its creative director, Kim Jones, took a curious path in this context: her entire show, held, as usual, at the Paris Stock Exchange Palace, was designed to carry these jewels, and not the other way around. Makes sense. In an increasingly polarized economic world, there is an unknown but real market of customers who buy unique jewelry that often reaches and exceeds one million euros. Sometimes apparently discreet pieces that enclose unique stones set after dozens of hours of work. These clients not only wear them at events, but also in offices or gatherings of friends. They are the same ones that could buy haute couture jeans.
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