Couture Creativity Cannot Be Curbed by Covid: Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week 2021

If the main catwalk shows in February are the main feast of the PFW season, think of the Haute Couture shows as the mouth-watering appetiser that leaves you wanting more. This long-awaited start to the season sees the couture ateliers present the most extravagant displays of what’s to come – a flavour, if you will, of the season ahead. It’s an elaborate, yet humbling, beginning to the Fashion Week season as one is reminded of expertly-crafted visions of the Houses of Haute Couture. Although the shows are only available for virtual viewing this season due to Covid-19 restrictions, the (virtual) reality is that the Fashion houses of the world are more innovative than ever.

The ultimate power-house of couture, Christian Dior, kicked off Day One with a spellbinding show of mystical proportions. Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri entrusted Italian filmmaker, Matteo Garrone, to bring her SS21 creations to life via a new medium. The film transported us to the ‘Le Chateau Du Tarot’; a mesmerising setting where fawns, sirens, white horses and other mythological creatures showcased the stunning collection, inspired by the 1973 Italian novel The Castle of Crossed Destinies.

In a time of such uncertainty and disconnect, Chiuri felt it poignant that this collection should encourage one to re-associate with their soul. As a result we witness a fantastic, yet chaotic, tale of human consciousness; celebrating the beauty of the Divinatory arts. Magically-muted characters, donned some of Dior’s finest work, as they recounted their individual stories through the use of tarot cards. An incredible 78 interpretive drawings by Pietro Ruffo, based on a modernised combination of Visconti, Marseille and English Tarot cards, were turned into mystical fabrics by Dior’s expert ateliers in order to create the looks. Gothic thrones, medieval castles, The Dark Arts and juxtaposing blossoming gardens of Pomegranates were just a few of visions Ruffo took to paper. The film is abundant in intricate jacquard prints, illustrated bodices, zodiac signs, multicoloured feathers and enchanting fabrics of lace, taffeta tulle, organza and velvet.

Whilst depicting one woman’s journey to discover her identity within a bewildering fantasy world, the collection also pays homage to Monsieur Dior himself – a firm believer in the world of Divinatory arts. A visionary once predicted the future of the young designer’s career claiming: “It will be extraordinary. Your house will revolutionise fashion!” This prophecy undoubtedly came true. Thus, this season’s entire vision for this collection is utterly reminiscent of the dream-come-true that is Dior.

 

As expected, the legendary house that is Chanel also stunned viewers on Day Two. Creative Director Virginie Viard unveiled a particularly poignant collection for SS21 which embodied something we have all been missing this past year – family. A short film, directed by Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn took place in Parisian Landmark the Grand Palais, which will undergo renovation later this year (sponsored by the French Fashion House itself).

Magic ensued as models descended the legendary staircase, immediately creating a feminine wonderland with an undeniable celebratory ambiance. Fairy lights, confetti and vast floral arches against the marquee backdrop (all within the ostentatious venue) was perfectly reminiscent of a family wedding on a sweet summer evening. Signature Chanel tweed, ruffled petticoats, tulle layers, sequins, feathers and oversized floral headbands expertly alluded to the glamour, and liberating joy, of the family gatherings we have been so desperately pining for this past year. The finale of the show truly brought home the more spiritual element of kinship as an ethereal bride appeared from under the floral arch, side-saddle on a white horse and led by her footman; as if a true princess.

To accompany the catwalk film, Corbijn produced a stunning collection of vintage-style ‘family’ photographs at Chanel’s atelier home (31 Rue Cambon, Paris). For this, the models were accompanied by celebrity friends of the house – Penelope Cruz and mother and daughter duo, Lily-Rose Depp and Vanessa Paradis thus paying homage to Chanel’s own Hollywood ‘family’ to whom the show was dedicated. Further tribute the stars of Hollywood (Chanel’s muse family) was evident in another short, pre-catwalk film in which Chanel’s models played out scenes in reference to successful French (turned global) 1950s stars, Jeanne Moreau and Romy Schneider. As always with a Chanel show, the level of artistic detailing was exquisite throughout the entire presentation.

 

As if we weren’t already blown away by the expertise of the Haute Couture ateliers, then came the sweet dessert to Day Two that is Valentino. Set against an intricate backdrop of palace walls, Creative Director, Pierpaolo Piccioli, presented (what many are now referring to as) the new age of ‘Casual Couture’. Piccioli commented that the show constituted an “extreme response” to harsh realities of the Covid-19 pandemic. The show entitled Temporal refers to both senses of the world – that of appreciating, and living for, the here and now but also of the timelessness of quality, couture creations which are certain to outlive any trend. Piccioli was keen to allow the workmanship of the clothing to speak for itself stating: “The narrative of the collection is the collection itself.”

The show marked a significant shift from the eveningwear-focused shows of previous years to that of revived daywear. What, at first glance, may be deemed a collection of hoodies, sweaters and boardshorts were, in fact, an expertly constructed collection of extreme sculpting lines, intricate lattice work and beautifully-exaggerated proportions. A new, daring take on minimalism, further emphasised by the juxtaposing bright fabrics and ostentatious setting.

Pierpaolo stated afterwards that the show was a further commentary on the physical and mental difficulties of producing such intricate designs and embroidery within a hugely-restrictive pandemic setting. And yet, Piccioli still managed to create a show of epic artistic meaning, giving further credence to his limitless creativity. “I didn’t want to feel the limitations. Couture is made for emotions, dreams,” he explained. The show was streamed live on the brand’s website in an attempt to preserve the magic of that ‘real-time reveal’ experience.

 

Each show was just as mesmerising as ever despite the lack of a live audience. The increased level of artistic direction through film only leads one to further appreciate the genius of the houses of haute couture who showcased the tremendous heights of what they can achieve despite stringent restrictions and vast changes to the usual format. The rest of the week will see the collections of Viktor & Rolf, Fendi, Christophe Josse, and many more take to the (virtual) catwalk. Watch this space!

Full Show Schedule 

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