In the seemingly never-ending stream of fashion weeks, one reigns supreme: haute couture. Held in Paris in January and July, this twice-yearly circus of masterful tailoring, exquisite fabrics and hand-finished embellishment is considered the absolute epitome of modern dressmaking.
Accordingly, only brands that have successfully attained membership to the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode by meeting stringent requirements (such as having a workshop in Paris, employing a minimum number of staff, and creating made-to-order garments), or who are specially invited by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, may present collections on the official schedule. And these collections need to be seen to be believed. Here are the must-sees from Paris Haute Couture Week AW22.
For his latest outing at Schiaparelli, a house that from its very inception has traded on awe and wonderment with its Surrealist designs, creative director Daniel Roseberry set out to capture the innocence and joy of seeing your first truly captivating fashion show. In his show notes, entitled ‘Born Again’, Roseberry pondered the fashion industry’s response to accusations of silliness by becoming overly serious and political, losing sight of its primary purpose of creating gorgeous things to wear. After all, he asks, “What’s wrong with wanting to make beautiful things? It’s not the only important part of life, of course, but it is a part of life.”
On the runway, this translated into perhaps Roseberry’s most mainstream collection to date. The designer’s signatures – a monochrome colour palette, striking silhouettes and sculptural jewellery-style embellishment – were present and correct. For AW22, however, the more Surrealist elements which made waves in previous seasons, like SS21’s leather bustiers with sculpted six-packs and last season’s dramatic evangelical riffs, were gone, replaced instead with more classically couture staples. Oversized florals bloomed from velvet gowns or sprouted from traditional corsets while slick tailoring made its presence felt in the form of bold shoulder lines and velvet suits. Expect to see these looks on red carpets everywhere.
Since taking over from Karl Lagerfeld, following the iconic designer’s death in 2019, it’s fair to say responses to Virginie Viard have been mixed. Fans defend her loyalty to house codes: the tweeds, the skirt suits, the two-tone accessories. Detractors, meanwhile, are wont to say her shtick is just a little too subtle, a little too sedate, a little too, well, boring.
And, while it’s true that Viard isn’t one for the spectacle and showmanship that Lagerfeld made a signature of his time at Chanel, where she does excel is in masterfully navigating the tightrope between creativity and commerce. Her collections sell (profits skyrocketed 171 per cent in 2021) but they are also interwoven with references guaranteed to delight both Chanel aficionados and hard-core fashion fans. For AW22 these ranged from vibrant hues of green and pink taken straight from a 1988 Chanel couture show, alongside the house’s relaxed skirt suits from the 1920s and Sixties-style tailoring. Rather than literal translations, however, you’ll find these inspirations in the drop-waist of a series of sequin-striped tweed dresses or the clever cut of a silk slip that promises the swirl and movement of a silver screen starlet. You’ll have to get up close to appreciate them – but isn’t that what couture is all about?
It was, perhaps, inevitable and appropriate that references to the war in Ukraine should appear at couture week. The conflict broke out during Milan Fashion Week in March, leaving designers little time to process and reflect on the tragedy in their collections. Now, nearly four months later, it would be remiss, and arguably tone-deaf, of an event on the scale and grandeur of couture week to pass without acknowledging the horrors taking place on Europe’s eastern border. For Maria Grazia Chiuri, however, the answer lay not in falling back on the slogans with which she made bold feminist statements in past collections, but in the hopeful work of Kyiv-based artist Olesia Trofymenko.
Trofymenko deals in symbols and mythologies, and for Dior’s AW22 collection, the pair decided it was the Tree of Life on which they would build the collection. Accordingly, a palette of neutrals, champagnes and beiges is interspersed with the deep reds of autumn and tonal hues of navy and black, all punctuated with intricate silk and cotton embroideries inspired by networks of roots and branches. The New Look silhouette was, of course, in evidence but for this season given a folkloric twist with dirndl-style skirts and the famed Bar jacket rendered in smocked fabrics and finished with fringed hems. Romantic and feminine, with undeniable respect for the craftsmanship which sets couture apart, Dior fans will find much to love here.
Knowing that pétillant – the French word for sparkling and the name of Giorgio Armani’s latest Armani Privé couture collection – is about as neat a description as monikers come should tell you pretty much every you need to know. But this is not sparkling in the sense of sequins and baubles (although there were plenty of those). More commonly used to describe the light, bright effervescence of wine, this was a collection that fizzed with diaphanous layers, the froth of ruffles and the sheen of silk.
Inspiration ostensibly came from glamorous European nightclubs of the interwar period, and this could be seen in sumptuous black velvet gowns scattered with constellations of shimmering beads and wide-legged silk trousers paired with patterned cape jackets. But, as the show progressed and the colour palette oscillated between deep navy and girlish, almost saccharine pastels, Armani’s love of louche, party-ready ‘80s silhouettes crept through. Think loose full-sequin fuchsia pantsuits, asymmetric peplum minidresses worn over glistening black leggings and collarless single-crested jackets infused with an Asian sensibility. If you’re going out out this season, Armani is your man.
When it comes to voluminous, scene-stealing classically couture-worthy gowns, Giambattista Valli can always be counted on to deliver. After all, if you’re going to spend tens of thousands on a single dress, one that’s six feet wide and constructed from dozens of layers of tulle is at least going to make you feel like you got a little more for your money.
But, while these exuberant confections may be Valli’s stock in trade, one does not gain a seat at the highest table of fashion without having some serious skill to underscore the fantastical creations. This was evident in a series of restrained white gowns (well, as restrained as any gown simultaneously combining ostrich feathers, sequins, crystals and oversized bows can be) that will have next spring’s brides fighting for the privilege of wearing them. Elsewhere, highly textural minidresses were crafted from pearl-embellished roses and mirrorball mosaics before volume crept back in courtesy of a dramatic floor-length coat rendered entirely in grass-green feathers. This is the shot of joy the world needs right now.