ALEXANDER FURY: COUTURE PARIS 2015, LAST DAY ROUND-UP
It’s very modern to watch the haute couture online. Kind of antithetical to the meaning of these clothes, when a much-vaunted point is that the inside is as exquisitely finished as the outside. Who sees that on Style.com, after all?
Nevertheless it’s how the vast majority of us, the great unwashed, will interact with them - as images only, on magazine pages or computer screens. Haute couture is an unattainable dream for most of us, something we’ll never actually lay fingers on. Couture isn’t about touching cloth, it’s about selling the dream.
I wasn’t at the final day of the Paris haute couture shows, but I could still get the gist of most of them. You got that Gaultier was hard, graphic and gothic, that Valentino was wafting and dreamlike, Elie Saab precious and sparking with iridescent pearls like dewdrops. Couture is made to register - on the red carpet, down the aisle, on magazine covers - and for all its microscopic stitches and infinitesimal variations of cut and fit, it’s ultimately about the bigger picture, about cementing what a couture house means today.
Look at Maison Martin Margiela, the joker in the couture pack. Margiela shreds, patches and imperfectly seams their line, titling it artisanally, which somehow allies it with knobbly bread rather than knock-out frocks. This time, fabric fragments from periods as disparate as the eighteenth-century, Paul Poiret’s pre-war heyday and the forties were smashed together in striking garments that managed to avoid the ragbag, ragmonger allusions such an odd bunch would imply. That’s not a criticism of the designer Matthieu Blazy’s approach, but a summary of a couture collection that offers something more careworn than the pin-neat perfectionism sought by other houses.
You felt the same at Viktor and Rolf, where Horsting and Snoeren took a banal statement - red-carpet dressing - and injected humour and interest by taking it literally. Scarlet shag-pile clad catwalk and models, their feet wrapped in fuzzy slippers. It was funny and punny, and had punch, if ultimately a statement with a life only on a catwalk. Couture clients would never want to look quite so odd.
There’s usually a satisfying oddness to what Jean Paul Gaultier does. That’s always best expressed on the catwalk, given the subtleties of his design skills. You may not realise the precise thought processes behind a tuxedo jacket or trench without Gaultier’s aesthetic unravelling on the stage of a former music-hall up in the Marais. This season it was goth: think flickering candles, shredded layers, and any colour as long as it’s black, or blood-red. It was a walloping, witchy-poo walk-through. But ignore the towering Bride of Frankenstein pompadours (oddly, similar to the back-combing favoured by many a contemporary couture client), the models’ shadow-hollowed eye sockets, and Eurovision victor Conchita Wurst as his Corpse Bride. This gothy Gaultier collection could be boiled down to a slick selection of black suits and lightly embellished evening dresses that showed the couturier at his most client pleasing. The Frocky Horror Show theatrics were to please the press at the same time, without muddling up his clothes.
Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli are committed to the same. regardless of the inspirations behind their shows - the Italian Renaissance, say, Roman opera or, this season, Pre-Raphaelites and pagan sensuality - the clothes always skew to the dreamy, filmy felinity that has been part of Valentino’s vision for decades. They lighten it, always - this season, simplifying too, creating dresses that resembled togas bound against the body, but in fact as exquisitely crafted as the floor-skimming gilded lace tiers or tapestry maxi-skirts.
Craftsmanship is an essential part of Elie Saab’s heritage - the house is one of couture’s youngest players, but Mr Saab’s collections are consistently amongst the richest. This season, the lustrous interiors of Parisian hotel particuliers were the abstract starting-point, translated to sparkling embroideries - the Saab trademark, rambling across tulles and laces, winding inside gowns and glistening under the light of half-a-dozen chandeliers. A fairytale close to this most fairytale of fashion seasons.
By Alexander Fury
Alexander Fury is Fashion Editor of The Independent