Jul 4, 2021
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Haute Couture: Paris expects a busy week of debuts, installations, fetes and seven live shows

Jul 4, 2021

Fashionistas have been predicting the death of haute couture for over decade, but when the next Paris haute couture season debuts next week, it will boast more live catwalk shows than any fashion season on the planet this year.

Schiaparelli - Spring-Summer2021 - Haute Couture - Paris - © PixelFormula

Fashionistas have been predicting the death of haute couture for over decade, but when the next Paris haute couture season debuts next week, it will boast more live catwalk shows than any fashion season on the planet this year.

“Like everyone I am thrilled by the resurgence of a substantial number of physical shows. The most prestigious brands always amaze me by the strengths of every single aspect of their shows: the creativity of the garments; the know-how of their ateliers; venues; models and casting... And by the arrival of new designers, who wish to express their talent and their dreams without any limit; exploring new territories in terms of sustainability, the circular economy, or digitization,” said Ralph Toledano, chairman of the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode. Founded back in 1868 as the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, its successor, the Federation, still governs all runway seasons in Paris.

The official season kicks off on Monday with Schiaparelli, a house founded by Roman-born Elsa Schiaparelli and today creatively led by an American Daniel Roseberry. Though it is another house founded by Spaniard, Cristobal Balenciaga, will surely be the most anticipated show of the season, as it returns to couture after a hiatus of over half a century.
Balenciaga, whose Georgian-born designer Demna Gvasalia has elected to stage the return inside the house’s historic address at 10 Avenue George V, will be one of eight brands which will hold live shows before live audiences. The other seven are Christian Dior – which will build a giant set inside the Rodin Museum by an as-yet unnamed artist – leaving open the space for public viewing for several weeks. The last time they left a set installation, by Judy Chicago 18 months ago, over 10,000 people visited it.

The return of historic houses like Balenciaga to couture, and the arrival of new talent also underlines the importance of couture to Paris, and indeed France. Toledano sees three key reasons for this.

“Paris is the indisputable worldwide capital of fashion. Haute Couture is the distinctive pillar of French Fashion, a major French cultural heritage, and extremely important for fashion. First, because it’s the best possible laboratory for creativity where designers can express their dreams and fantasies without any filter. It is also a field for new technologies, working in harmony with the intelligence of hands. Haute Couture irrigates the whole fashion system,” argues Toledano. 

Secondly, couture represents the highest degree of excellence for an atelier’s know-how and craftsmanship of any kind – from embroideries and feathers, to hats and jewelry. Finally, it is a unique vehicle in terms of brand -awareness and image. 

“In a nutshell, couture represents uniqueness and refinement in the greatest possible manner,” stresses Toledano.

The opening day also features a live show by Azzaro, helmed by Olivier Theyskens, one of the fashion’s great modernist gothic designers.
Tuesday starts with a double header by Chanel, with designer Virginie Viard taking the house to the Palais Galliera, which is currently hosting a remarkable exhibition on Coco Chanel. While the day climaxes with the 86-year-old Italian master, Giorgio Armani, presenting inside what many consider the most beautiful embassy in Paris, the Hotel de Boisgelin, famed for its trompe-l’œil and gilded frescoed ceilings. 
Besides actual couture, many brands are attempting to jump on board the season with shows and events. The fashion action actually begins on Sunday afternoon with an Off-White ready-to-wear show in a Paris lycée; and what in many ways is the biggest debut of all – Pieter Mulier’s first collection for Maison Alaïa inside the brand’s historic home in the Marais.
Couture will also feature other major debuts. Following the retirement of Jean-Paul Gaultier, the house decided to invite an independent designer for each season to create  a couture collection. The idea will debut on Wednesday evening with a first collection from the great Japanese designer of assemblage fashion, Chitose Abe of Sacai, inside Gaultier’s headquarters in the 3rd arrondissement.

Balenciaga - Spring-Summer2021 - Womenswear - Paris - © PixelFormula

Testifying to the global allure of couture, the two other independent couturiers due to stage live shows are both non-French - Zuhair Murad of Lebanon and  Vaishali S of India.
All told, the four days of shows will feature an impressive 33 brands, most of them with show videos, and over half with presentations by private rendez-vous. And expect plenty of attention to be focused on Charles de Vilmorin, the flop-haired French wunderkind and Yves Saint-Laurent doppelgänger who will present a couture video on Wednesday night.
For the past quarter century, the Federation has actively supported and encouraged new names onto the couture calendar. Aided by emergence of a new generation of clients, notes Toledano, who points out the influence of geopolitics: more liberal economic policies, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the fantastic growth of Asia-Pacific - notably China.

Zuhair Murad - Spring-Summer2019 - Haute Couture - Paris - © PixelFormula

As early as 1996, the Federation created a new category for non-French-based houses called 'Corresponding Member,' for designers creating couture outside of France but who want to show in Paris. A second category, 'Guest Participant,' was developed in 1997. Though all aspirants must first be rigorously approved by a Haute Couture Committee. Fashion’s equivalent of the Caudine Forks for many young hopefuls.

The Federation’s Emerging Brands Department has long aided young talents with comprehensive management training from the Institut Français de la Mode. And during the pandemic, the Federation created a special Fashion Fund to financially support emerging brands.

Due to strict sanitary rules, very few editors and buyers are expected to attend from the UK. However, French publicists have also revealed to FashionNetwork.com that they have received requests from many major New York editors including Anna Wintour, Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times and Samira Nasr, who was named editor-in-chief of the US edition of Harper’s Bazaar last June at the worst moment of the pandemic.
Harper’s Bazaar editors-in-chief from Russia and Germany, Daria 'Dasha' Veledeeva and Kerstin Schneider, are also due to attend. 
Plus there is a sense that the few thousand billionaires' wives and Gulf princesses who can actually afford to buy clothes will be able to make it to the season in private jets. Besides the actual clothes, they might be able to cull an invitation to Louis Vuitton’s perfume party yet in the house’s art foundation in the Bois de Boulogne; or MyTheresa’s soirée in the Pompidou Center; or attend the launch a new indie fashion magazine, La Revue du Vertbois, by an energetic French fashionista.

That said, the Federation has radically overhauled its own platform, so all Paris couture shows are livestreamed to a global audience. All amplified by global partnerships with the likes of Canal+, YouTube and Tencent. In a word, couture’s craftsmanship and creativity has rarely been projected so powerfully as it is today. No wonder Paris loves this rare and unique tradition.

“Omnipresent digitalization also generates the need to get back to this ancient métier. The more we will live in a virtual world, the more Haute Couture and generally arts and crafts, will attract people like a magnet,” noted Toledano.

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