Your standard couture review will include the form’s history, the skill that goes into it, and the acres of minute details sewn by the petits mains, or artisans, who are assisting in keeping the tradition alive. And with it, the age-old question: Is couture still relevant?
This is not a typical couture review. Yes, the aforementioned tradition was in full force throughout the most recent round of performances. Perhaps more intriguingly, the biennial event received a boost from designers, many of whom are young and up-and-coming and eager to challenge codes and rip the rule book to pieces. Has couture ever felt this, should we say, enjoyable?
Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond was in the “new to couture” camp, debuting not in Paris but in Irvington, New York, at the historic house of beauty magnate Madam C.J. Walker. Jean-Raymond was the first Black American designer to be invited to display his work as part of couture, and his show praised Black innovators by elevating commonplace objects—from curtain rods to bicycle handlebars to a jar of peanut butter—to runway prominence. The exaggerated forms added a fun element to everything, but also represented a long history, with the pièce de résistance being a regal hooded cloak constructed entirely of curlers in honor of Walker. The collection served as a reminder that, as Jean-Raymond phrased it in his exhibition notes, “black imagination is the finest technology our planet has ever known.”
Demna Gvasalia was in the “back at it” camp, as Balenciaga returned to couture after 53 years with a collection that fused genuine Funny Face joie de vivre (large hats; cristbal-inspired forms; models carrying numbers in old-school salon manner) with his own brand of hipster cachet (Ella Emhoff made an appearance as a model.) The event, which took place in a reconstructed replica of Cristbal Balenciaga’s original couture salon, was both a celebration of the medium and a reminder of its ongoing relevance. As Gvasalia stated in his exhibition notes (signed “Love, Demna,”) “Couture transcends fads, fashion, and industrial dress-making….it is not only relevant in today’s mass-produced industry but is even vital for the survival and growth of modern fashion.”
Daniel Roseberry is another designer who succeeds at fusing fashion’s past and present. He has discovered a way to pay homage to Schiaparelli’s surrealist DNA while still producing work that is witty and current. He parodied the house trademarks with clever anatomical jokes such as actual breastplates and painted toe shoes (Bella Hadid has already worn his stunning gold-lung dress to Cannes.) However, he embraced couture’s expansiveness as well, with flamboyant forms that took up the entire space and thrillingly impractical gold flower glasses. And, never afraid to make a statement, Viktor & Rolf (remember when they brought a chainsaw to couture?) showcased royal-inspired outfits with sashes fit for an eccentric pageant queen: the memes write themselves.
Charles de Vilmorin, who was just appointed head of Rochas, presented a couture collection that included only one print, in contrast to his debut couture collection, which was drenched in color and paint. The day’s theme was witchy maximalism, with feathers and hoop skirts enlivening his black shapes. When I spoke with him in February, just after his debut season, he stated, “The fact that my fledgling company was on the couture calendar demonstrates that couture wants and has to evolve and become more accessible and [contemporary].” I believe that is a really wonderful thing.” Here’s to the influx of new blood.