“Fashion, and couture, accompanies a certain way of life,” stated Pierre Bergé during his opening speech at the 2016 ANDAM competition, the quasi prelude to the Haute Couture week that crowns France’s best and brightest young talents. That lifestyle, as eloquently luxurious in its creative expression as it is, is often rumored to be a dying art. But not so fast. As in all good stories, when all is lost, a deus ex machina intervenes.
Inevitably, the respective future art direction of Valentino and Dior dominated discussions as the week kicked off. Shakespeare was the inspiration for the final act designed jointly by Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri for Valentino. As Milla Jovovich, Olivia Palermo and Piccioli’s family looked on, the Renaissance-inspired procession was a reminder that Italy was not just a favored setting for the Bard’s plays but also the house’s beloved homeland. Filmy chemise dresses, taffeta capes and swashbuckling jerkins all possessed a timeless delicacy — with historical references such as puffy sleeves and ruffle necks — and should appeal to Valentino’s clientele.
At Dior, the excitement of the last collection of Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux was almost supplanted by the fracas around Chiuri’s arrival as the house’s first-ever female creative director. Front row guests Aymeline Valade and Marion Cotillard took in Dior’s realistic silhouettes — inspired by the Bar jacket — in black and white, occasionally with a discreet dash of gold in the form of a belt or a smattering of sequins.
The fashion world is nothing if not the grandest of scenes, and Italian designer Francesco Scognamiglio would not object, given that he made headlines not only for making the cut for the couture schedule but also for designing a jacket for Beyoncé’s Formation tour date in Milan.
A number of designers, like Julien Fournié and Adeline André, have begun to treat evening-
wear on an equal footing with their high-end daywear. The idea that you can seamlessly slide from the boardroom to the ballroom has gone supernova thanks to galactic jacquard (Fournié) and ageless elegance (André). The applause, often sparse in the social media age, was deafening.
Donatella Versace eschewed the unabashed sensuality synonymous with her Italian house for one that relies on ladylike overtures, embodied in sinuous cloth sculptures that tumble down womanly curves. That being said, pastels and high necklines were no match for Bella Hadid, who truly smoldered in a demure red number. And power women were indeed all around with Jennifer Garner, Naomi Campbell and Vera Wang in seats, and Carolyn Murphy, Karen Elson and Irina Shayk on the runway.
Karl Lagerfeld transplanted the entire Chanel couture atelier to the heart of the runway. The unmistakably lanky silhouette of Parisienne extraordinaire Caroline de Maigret, the house’s new face, could be seen in the front row along with fellow face Vanessa Paradis, plus Will Smith and daughter Willow, Inès de la Fressange and her impeccably mannered daughters Nine, and Violette d’Urso.
At Hotel Costes, a mainstay for the fashion glitterati, man-about-town illustrator David Downton held court, between sessions sketching Anna Cleveland, Farida Khelfa and other famously beautiful faces. Milla Jovovich and her adorable daughter Ever (fresh out of Chanel) could also be spotted there, along with gal-pal Sasha Pivovarova.
The buzziest item on the agenda was no doubt the Vêtements show, held in the Galeries Lafayette department store, steps away from founder Demna Gvasalia’s other gig, the Balenciaga shop-in-shop. Its 18-brand collaboration, which includes Canada Goose, Manolo Blahnik, Brioni and Champion, is all about attitude and a perpetual devil-may-care ability to subvert and surprise.
Paris will always be a roiling hotpot of new talent, and this year, the Saudi designer Mohammed Ashi of Ashi Studio impressed with his sleek, asymmetric jumpsuits and sheaths, most notably one emerald number model Anna Cleveland was pictured in, complete with matching floor-length sleeveless vest. Another was Givenchy alum Yacine Aoudi, who referenced Cordoba in a vivid mosaic of colors, embellishment techniques and shapes. Syrian designer Rami Al-Ali’s legerdemain highlighted cubes climbing up bodices, floor-grazing capes and delicate, minute pin-tuck pleating.
As the week wrapped, the French Couture Federation put on a night of refined revelry at the Petit Palais. The impressive 700-strong guest list was a Who’s Who of the French creative scene, with designers from all three calendars, C-suite executives from major houses, dozens of runway models, plus notable faces such as The Webster’s Laure Hériard Dubreil, Christian Louboutin and jewelry designers Magdalena Frackowiak and Noor Fares. It was a night for the ages, complete with a concert by Irma (of Google Chrome TV ad fame) and Paris’ creative scene in full swing.
Lily Templeton is a Paris-based journalist who reviews the runways of the fashion capitals and explores creative destinations around the world for publications such as L’Officiel Hommes and Le Temps.