18 July 2012

Fall 2012 Haute Couture


What is haute couture? Elitist, elaborately put together (900 hours of embroidery by hand for one item is commonplace) and super expensive, couture is a cradle for extravagant clothes made individually, and to specific measurement, for rich women. It is still looked upon as a source of trends, but increasingly, this role is being usurped by fashion from the streets. But the beauty of haute couture is that fashion at this rarefied stratosphere can afford to be creative, imaginative and individual, in a way that mass-produced clothes can’t. Haute couture approaches art, and is therefore inspiring; it allows the imagination to soar.

In the age of fast fashion, style blogs and social media, haute couture is probably more necessary than ever before, not only because it is fashion’s laboratory, but also because it is the means of preserving dying traditional crafts. Minute beading, hand-weaving, hand embroidery, feather work, fabric flowers, lace and millinery by skilled craftsmen, many whose craft is passed down through generations in the family, still make clothes the traditional way, preserving the magic of fashion. This season, the couture houses showcase these crafts in collections that were not extreme in form or design, but in detail and embellishment.

An important trend this season was pants for both day and evening, shown by every couturier. Raf Simons, in his debut collection for Dior, kicked things off with black cigarette pants worn with smoking jackets or under elaborately embroidered bustier dresses that looked like ball gowns interrupted at the top of the thigh. Other couture details included silks woven (not printed!) to resemble an abstract painting. Simons returned to the flared hip of the Bar Jacket and the hourglass shape of the New Look invented by Christian Dior in the 1940s. His innovation was to add exquisitely embroidered buds and crystal petals, or individually sewn wafts of feathers, to these historic shapes. Such embellishments gave a surprise element in trapeze dresses, bustiers and gowns that are deceptively plain in front, contrasting sharply with the dense handwork in the back.

Karl Lagerfeld showed a collection strong on the classic Chanel suit, marked by an easier fit and bolder shoulders. This might seem predictable, except that what appears to be the classic tweed texture and pattern on jackets and long skirts was actually embroidery on tulle, representing thousands of hours of handwork. Swing coats in pink and grey checks were made of woven then embroidered patchwork fabric. If the shapes were simple, the surfaces were not: a white tunic top and matching skirt beaded in a degrade design to form a border; an oversized coat was striped from collar to hem in thin gold braid. Needless to say, the bridal gown at the finale was a fantasia of white feathers and mink pom poms that defy description.

It was all severe elegance at Valentino this season, with sobre navy dominating the palette, in navy jumpsuits or sheer cut-out gowns. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, impressed with their ascetic dark clothes with modestly high collars and long sleeves. These regal, if sanctimonious creations showed off the cut. The decoration escalated thereafter with a tulip-shaped cloak decorated with glitzy “tree of life” embroidery. The designers seem to like the medieval look of religious icons, and used couture crafts to turn  those historical references into outfits fit for a queen. Gilded unicorns, amongst other heraldic motifs were embroidered on jump suits and woven into richly patterned jacquards of jewel tones. Otherwise, fabrics blossomed with a garden of appliqu├ęd thistles or florals, with gold beading and mink trim enriching severe jackets and cloaks. The liquid stripe on a tuxedo pant is made of jet sequins.

Couture technique is the key focus at Givenchy. Riccardo Tisci returned to simple lines, in only 10 monolithic gowns shown in a garden setting. The gowns looked like art installations, and had the stately feel of garden sculpture. After seven years at the house, Tisci’s signature is now obviously fringe. The beaded fringe was hand-strung to form a degrade pattern on a cape, glossy leather fringe was laced, and then hung in a gothic number. A geometric ethnic pattern on a cape was entirely formed by fringe. The black nappa fringe on a dress boasting intricate leather embroidery extended all the way to the ground to look like crow feathers. Lavishly beaded and fringed bell-shaped tops, a couple with mink trim, were shown with restrained column gowns, but these had oriental embroidery and tassels adorning the hips.

Giambattista Valli

A summer garden inspired Giambattista Valli to turn his society girls into flowers this season. A nursery worth of ruffles layered extravagantly made tops and skirts look like overblown peonies. On top of floral prints, which had the look of a Monet lily pond, fabric and beaded flowers were added to bodices and hips to reinforce the floral theme. The flutter of summer breeze is recreated with delicate lace leaves individually sewn on so they fluttered and shimmered. For accessories, gold ivy chokers draped over a shoulder or climbed up an arm, and a cloud of feather butterflies decorated strict upswept hair.

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