PARIS—For the longest time, Couture Week, the twice-yearly showcase of the most extraordinary, the most eccentric, and the most glittering in made-to-measure designs, would begin about an hour after Men’s Fashion Week wrapped, late on a Sunday night, with a sexy Versace show.
But not anymore. What started with China’s ruling couture designer, Guo Pei, upstaging Donatella’s brand a couple of seasons back (when Pei became the first Chinese label to show here, and staged an extravagant catwalk, immediately preceding the Versace slot) has continued with a stampede of new names and faces. They have brought about a sea change at Couture Week, that was clearly visible for the fall/winter 2017 shows, this week.
Not only that, but it seems that some of the strict rules that were, in part perhaps, to blame for the decline in the number of fully-affiliated couture houses to Paris’ once-haughty Couture Syndicate to only nine—back in 2004 when couture was considered a dying art—have been dropped.
Not that it’s necessarily good. Consider also the more simple renaming of the Syndicate, this season.
The organization is now called the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, instead of the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. And it has welcomed, as guest members, this year, a slew of designers that probably know more about making sweatshirts than Haute Couture. Guest members do not have to play by the strict syndicate rules for full members, the syndicate told The Daily Beast.
It is nothing short of a Couture Revolution.
Once declared dead on its feet, couture, thanks to these changes, is suddenly the most buzzing spot on the global fashion week calendar.
It’s become so busy that this season the shows started at 10 a.m., on Sunday morning, adding an extra day to the schedule, to accommodate these newcomers jockeying for space, on what was once the slowest fashion week.
Consider the addition of two American ready-to-wear brands, Proenza Schouler and Rodarte, and the British designer Peter Dundas. They dressed up ready-to-wear creations and cast them in beautiful Parisian settings, even though none of it was really couture.
(Schouler showed resort and ready-to-wear, Rodarte showed ready-to-wear, while Dundas made his eponymous label debut with 2018 resort, continuing the recent “show what you want where you want” approach at fashion week.)
As Vanessa Friedman remarked in The New York Times, “It didn’t involve the same level of handwork as couture, or employ the same number of artisans.”
“Anything goes” no longer means that one can be as outlandish as one would like with couture. It isn’t shocking to see the fun, blow-up doll aesthetic of Viktor & Rolf, who rarely disappoint with their theatrics, or the avant-garde Dutch designer Iris van Herpen’s artsy creations involving metal lace, or Jean Paul Gaultier with his fun showmanship and brilliance.
What is shocking is the steady demise of couture into ready-to-wear, in a fate sealed by the addition of some of these new designers, using the couture platform to launch their other collections.
Many of the new names here are established in ready-to-wear circles, and from places that couldn’t be further removed in style or history than the French capital and its artisanal couture approach which is, mostly, good. (Consider newcomers like Xuan to Galia Lahav, Yuima Nakazato or Antonio Ortega, with their modern aesthetics and exotic names.)
This week saw the inclusion of denim looks (Nakazato), leather biker outfits (Nakazato), or even the recently revived French house Azzaro sending black Puffa jackets and little black night-club style dresses down the runway.
But is this for better or worse? Do these changes bring into question what the art of couture means today, and who is buying it?
Couture Week has steadily become more casual, sporty, masculine, or downright unsophisticated and cheap, looking more like ready to wear by the minute.
Still, old school couture still exists here too, with the Diors and Chanels of the world clinging on for dear life, and those whose fan base is real-life and wannabe princesses, delivering lace and sequins galore, like Elie Saab to the more experimental young designer Julien Fournie.
Britain’s first couture house to join the fray, a couple of years back, Ralph & Russo, is also maintaining standards. They show beautifully-crafted, old-world big dresses, with an edge and flamboyance that puts some of these lesser mortals to shame. There is also the elegance and originality of the revived Schiaparelli brand, or the timeless beauty of Armani Privé.
So, Couture Week still has its couture, but after this year’s mixing of shows, it also feels changed forever.