Do We Need All This Couture?

Jean Paul Gaultier x Sacai Couture Fall 2021

Morgan Glines reflects on the shows that made the Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2022 season memorable

It seems every third Couture season, without fail, a lot of ink is spilled over what the future of Haute Couture will be. For a number of years, the question was, “Will there be a future at all?” With an increasingly full schedule, a future for Haute Couture seems all but set in stone. Covid is still on everyone’s mind this season, and both voluntary and forced lockdowns have given all of us more time to reflect. What role does Couture play within the fashion ecosystem? What role does it play in any of our lives? Who is it for? What should it say? If the number of shows on the schedule is any indication that the future of Couture is all but cemented, the question we should be asking in the future is, “Does this collection REALLY need to be Couture?”

Both motivationally and aesthetically this season was all over the place. There were the expected collections of dazzling gowns from the likes of Alexis Mabille, Georges Hobeika, Zuhair Murad, Stéphane Rolland, Elie Saab, and Giambattista Valli. While generally exquisite, and no doubt painstaking to produce, it’s hard not to question the relevance of grand red carpet gowns that will likely only be worn once. After a year and a half at home, I can barely remember what’s in my own closet. If ever there was a time to re-wear a favorite gown, it’s now. That is, if you even have a formal event to attend.

Chanel and Armani both sent out strongly eighties-inflected collections in bright pastels. Again, it’s hard to see the relevance of such obviously retro clothing. Most women who find that look appealing probably already own similar pieces from thirty-five years ago. Alexandre Vauthier at his namesake label, and Olivier Theyskens, in his debut collection for Azzaro, sent out early aughts, Julien Macdonald-esque party girl collections. While both were quite sexy and felt relevant to a younger clientele, it’s doubtful that the early 2000s fad has much staying power. Schiaparelli was similarly appealing, though aesthetically worlds apart. A surreal matador jacket with one sculpted breast and one ornate passementerie breast might be just what the doctor ordered after an eternity in sweatpants. Maybe even wear it with sweatpants. No one knows what you’ve got on below the waist on a Zoom call.

An increasing number of brands this season used their Couture platform to highlight ecological and social issues. Dior showed looks with patchworked recycled fabrics, as well as accents of hand-woven fabrics woven from recycled denim thread. The set was constructed of exquisitely embroidered abstract leaves and flora, made by the embroidery school they fund in India. Unfortunately, the set was more intriguing than the collection. Roland Van Der Kemp and Margiela also tackled environmentalism. Van Der Kemp’s collection was artful, exuberant, and astonishingly fresh considering it was made from upcycled fabrics. Galliano’s Lord of the Flies meets Les Miserables video presentation about the power of nature was a highlight. Pyer Moss sent out a collection inspired by inventions from Black inventors and tackled issues of black erasure in fashion. While the concept was timely and necessary, the execution felt largely jokey. A clearer message would have been appreciated, considering the gravity and importance of the subject matter at hand.

On the less appealing end of the spectrum were Balenciaga and Fendi. While neither collection was objectively ugly, neither really felt like it belonged at Couture week. Demna Gvasalia’s collection felt rushed. The execution was sloppy, and none of the looks really felt special enough to be labeled “Couture.” Overall, it felt like a vanity project and a plea for Instagram hype. While Kim Jones’ second collection for Fendi Couture was decidedly better executed than his first, the majority of the clothes still felt tired. Jones still seems to be caught up in the mystique and grandeur of Haute Couture and sent out another collection of bland, overworked eveningwear. It was a shame that there wasn’t a greater focus on daywear as the cutwork coats were some of the most exquisite pieces of the season. The Fendi ateliers can produce exquisite work, and using it to churn outdated evening gowns looks like a tremendous waste of potential.

The most exciting collection of the week was undoubtedly from Gaultier Paris. This season was a collaboration between the houses of Jean Paul Gaultier and Sacai’s Chitose Abe. The collection was chock full of Gaultier staples reimagined for a new generation. The combination of Abe’s Comme des Garcons-esque aesthetic with signature Gaultier pieces was youthful, fresh, and exciting. With gender-bending and cultural mashups being at the forefront of youth culture, the house of Gaultier was ready for its comeback. The technique was exquisite. The looks were new, thoughtful, and wearable. This was a prime example of a collection that would only work in Haute Couture -and a good template for what Haute Couture can be going forward.

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