The must-see moments from Paris Haute Couture Week SS22

Zoe Gunn

28 January 2022

Step inside the rarefied world of fashion’s most exquisite creations

28 January 2022 | Zoe Gunn

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n the past two weeks alone, fashion brands have variously shown Pre-Fall 2022 womenswear, AW22 menswear, Spring 2022 couture and AW22 womenswear. Even the most avid fashion follower could be forgiven for failing to keep up. Best, then, to appreciate each show as and when it passes your eyes – and few, it’s fair to say, are worth quite so much attention as the biannual couture collections.

For, to misquote the meme, one does not simply just show at Paris Haute Couture Week. To qualify as an haute couture house a brand must meet stringent requirements; including creating made-to-order garments for private clients, operating a (usually Paris-based) atelier employing at least 15 full-time staff and 20 technical workers, and showing two collections a year of no less than 50 designs. Only then will Paris’ Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode even consider extending an invite to join the official haute couture schedule.

Accordingly, the number of houses that qualify is vanishingly small, with only a dozen or so showing each season. The client base, too, is incredibly elite, with only around 4,000 clients worldwide eligible to order these unique (and prohibitively expensive) pieces, with prices starting in the low thousands and quickly climbing to six figures.

That said, these incredibly intricate, handmade and often sculptural pieces are considered to be the pinnacle of dressmaking. Fantasy fashion designed to flex the creative and technical muscles of the world’s most rarified houses and provide a twice-yearly catwalk extravaganza not to be missed. From Schiaparelli’s Surrealist masterpieces to Chanel’s preppy heritage pieces, here are the looks to know about from Paris Haute Couture Week SS22.

Chanel

From its biannual makeovers of Paris’ Grand Palais to the travelling circus that is its international Métiers d’Art shows, Chanel can always be relied upon to provide a spectacle – and Haute Couture SS22 was no different. Presented among an abstract showjumping course in the Grand Palais Éphémère, Charlotte Casiraghi, accomplished equestrian, granddaughter of Grace Kelly and member of the Monégasque royal family, opened the show atop her Spanish bay Kuskus.

Dressed in a black tweed riding jacket, the Chanel ambassador set the tone for a collection that oscillated between heritage references and a more modern take on the house’s classic style, continuing creative director Virginie Viard’s ongoing quest to imbue Chanel with a more louche, laidback appeal. Viard collaborated with artist Xavier Veilhan and explored the idea of versatility in haute couture, simultaneously harking back to an era where couture was worn every day and designing for a contemporary moment that prizes streamlined, athletic styles. While we wouldn’t recommend playing golf or riding a horse in Chanel twin set, we get the sense that Viard would love to see her clients try.

Schiaparelli

Marking Schiaparelli’s first return to the physical runway since before the pandemic, anticipation over where creative director Daniel Roseberry would take Schiaparelli next was palpable. Having been at the helm of the brand since 2019, Roseberry has taken the Surrealist signatures of founder Elsa Schiaparelli and run with them, consequently turning the house into a red carpet and cover shoot favourite thanks to collections featuring gilded moulds of body parts and dramatic, almost cartoonish silhouettes.

For Spring 2022 couture, the gold was back, this time contrasting against an almost uniformly black palette in a collection that took its inspiration from space, inviting viewers to discover ‘Planet Schiaparelli’. With silhouettes more pared-back this time around, the drama came in the finishing touches. Last season’s corsets (each of which is moulded from clay directly onto the client’s body) were embellished and reworked with sculptural gold accents, while cascades of golden ribbons and feathers flowed from necklines and headpieces.

Accessories, meanwhile, took on an ecclesiastical feel via cross and halo motifs on a puritanical monochrome colour scheme. The star of the show was the draw-dropping Medusa dress, crafted from gold leather and embellished with gemstones from the 1930s. Consider us fully paid up members of the Church of Schiaparelli.

Dior

At its heart, haute couture is, and always has been, about craftsmanship – and it is the skills and expertise of the petites mains that Maria Grazia Chiuri put front and centre in Dior’s Spring 2022 couture collection. Absent of the usual artistic and cultural references, a muted palette of white, black and grey served to provide an almost blank canvas on which to highlight the myriad, and often underappreciated, handiwork that goes into couture.

Also an ode to teamwork – for couture cannot be constructed by one person alone – Grazia Chiuri designed many of the show’s standout pieces in a way that made embroidery and other usually decorative techniques integral to the garment’s structure. The result is a collection that appears deceptively simple: there are no voluminous silhouettes or attention-grabbing prints here. Get a little closer, however, and you’ll notice that the lace on that gown is actually delicate hand-embroidery and the shimmering fabric on that skirt is in fact hundreds of tiny beads. Even the socks sparkle with embellishment. Quiet, subtle and utterly chic, this is haute couture distilled down to its elegant essentials.

Giambattista Valli

While many couture houses used the Spring 2022 season to emerge from the dark shadow of Covid and return to the runway, for Giambattista Valli, the timing didn’t feel quite right. With VIP clients declining to return to Paris amid rising Omicron cases, the eponymous designer took stock, surveyed his Rue de Boétie kingdom and decided the time was ripe to showcase what his house was all about – be that a cotton beach bag or a voluminous tulle ballgown.

The result is a film combining the designer’s Pre-Fall 2022 ready-to-wear and Spring 2022 couture collections. This bold (and rare) exercise in contrasting a house’s highest form of design and dressmaking with a collection manufactured to be sold in far greater numbers could easily have backfired. But, so strong is Valli’s vision for his house that the effect is instead one of synergy; the signature tulle explosions and high romance of the couture playing out as sophisticated, grown-up versions of the wispy summer dresses and preppy layers of the ready-to-wear. While couture is undeniably out of reach for almost all, so playful and light are Valli’s creations that the lasting impression is aspirational, rather than unattainable.

Valentino

It is, perhaps, a sad indictment on the fashion industry that the most notable thing about Valentino’s Spring 2022 couture collection is the body diversity of its models. It does, after all, say a lot that while the ready-to-wear runways have been making great inclusivity strides over the last decade, the most rarified form of high fashion has been reluctant to follow suit.

The dichotomy is somewhat antithetical, given that haute couture’s guiding premise has always been that the garments are made to exactly fit the customer’s body, and perhaps the strength of this Valentino collection will go some way towards changing things. For creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli, embracing different body types was also about embracing a new vision for the future of haute couture, and subsequently a new direction for the house. While the floaty, Grecian gowns and romantic, slouchy tailoring Piccioli made his name on were still in evidence, so too were pieces speaking to a sexier, more glamorous spirit. Keep your eyes peeled come awards season – these are designs destined for the red carpet.

Stéphane Rolland

Another couturier making his return to physical shows this season, there was an undeniable sense of optimism in Stéphane Rolland’s billowing gowns and party-ready palette of blacks, ivories and metallics. Inspired by emerging Italian-Spanish painter Viani, the artist’s abstract works were in evidence in fluid, draped shapes and filmy fabrics, before the collection evolved into bolder, more daring silhouettes characterised by strong shoulders and exposed backs.

Adornment was notably absent, save for jewellery in the form of oversized crystal and glass pebbles by French glassmaker Théophile Caillethat. These pieces served to underline the collection’s general sense of organic beauty and sensuality – an effect not easily achieved when every piece features acres of silk, chiffon and satin crepe.

Read more: The rise, fall and rise again of the fashion collaboration