Haute Couture Autumn-Winter 2020-21
As the world emerged from the first Winter of the covid crisis Paris vowed to battle on and many Houses kept their creative wheels turning and pledged to bring out collections, if a little reduced, in July for the coming Autumn and Winter 2020-21 season. With fewer Houses showing altogether, I naturally bring a more curtailed look at the season. This is in no way whatsomever a criticism of any Houses usually covered that have not shown. Every designer and their respective teams have had their own individual set of circumstances, personal and financial to contend with, within the broad collegiate world of French and Italian Haute Couture who show publically on the runway. Faced with catastrophe; the desire is to fight, continue and live on, both personally and creatively.
All images (c) Alexis Mabille
There is a strong degree of classicism in the work that Mabille produces but often times he likes to surprise and bring a burst of colour through perhaps in a playful contrast. Here a phoenix or even firework shows forth the radiant energies of the woman within; over flowing from the core of the wearer, the opening look shown features a detailed sequinned embroidery sewn into fabric, colours whipped up into a swirl of energy.
Warm hearth coloured fake fur twines around the neckline of the wearer to partly shield from the winter chill and the liquidy shimmer of Navy Blue as the constant energy that runs through. A mysterious symbol that appears like an electrified plant twines around the figure almost drawing its energy from the Blue waters beneath.
One of the best cocktail dresses I’ve come across in recent seasons features next. In a clear tone of mid-purple the bodice is bordered with a softly-tied bow angled up across the shoulder. Purple glass chandelier style drop earring graze the shoulders of the model with Tuscan Umber coloured gloves in a subtle colour transition. I can also see the possibility of a variation where you could ask for sleeves to be added through to near the elbow in close cut or flowing fabric.
A subtle shimmer re-emerges with a Platinum/Silver point-sequinned dress fringed with skirting tassels and cuffs of the sleeve in a burnished Gold. A perfect party season outfit but also one to treasure across seasons for special occasions like birthdays. A faux fur puff around the neck adds a bit of warmth to the look. To the right lace dentelle in Black and Blush weaves around the figure of the model to effect soft drama. A high necked cape encircles the figure with a rear dipped hem suggesting asymmetry. A fluted floor length skirt in soft Blush Rose created a second circle around the figure with generous fabric draped around the model. The detail of the embroidery was thrown into high relief with the semi-sheer nature of the garment perfectly revealing fine craftsmanship, yet concealing the wearer modestly.
Duality continued with another working of a high collared sheer dotted lace Blush hued blouse and Black sequinned dress complete with semi-sheer fringe skirt length. The larger than life exuberance of Haute Couture is expressed in blouses balloon sleeves that almost reach to the knee in length behind the wearer. The silhouette is softened from being striking and the line of composure descends through being close-cut on the figure to soft long-line tulip lengths of fabric. It’s an impact dress that would be perfect to ring in the New Year and celebrate memorable occasions in. Black sequins walked into the next passage with a high tuxedo fitted waist of a long line skirt offset by a bodice of bold coloured stripes. Quite a visual contrast within a garment, though for some clients this will be a perfect statement look. Large Violet crystal chandelier earrings add to the statement look chiming with the shimmer of the skirt.
Velvet is always a cosy popular option in the winter and two dresses in deep Blue and a soft Scarlett, almost echoing the colours of the French flag give two stylish choices. The first dress in Blue features a drawn thread on two sides of the bodice to create a ruched effect, softly draping fabric across the figure. Tasselled ends of chord ties give an antique feel and the look of the piece is somewhat classical. A large thigh split and exposed shoulders and upper arms could probably be adapted to cover on request for a more modest and chill-proof garment. Similarly the Wine-Red dress, farthest right, brings a halter neckline upwards to encircles the neck drawing the waist gather to an upward arch. Many classical reflections here but the hot airs of the footprint of the classical world encircling the Mediterranean will not be felt in the cool north. It’s a beautiful garment and would look perfect to be worn at any time through the calendar for many years to come. Another pair of large chandelier earring add sparkle to contrast the single block colour of the garment.
Wrapped up against the cold, a floor length Scarlet dress is snuggled inside a faux fur coat emblazoned with giant hearts. Gold, angelic pure White and loving Red making the largest statement across the front of the garment emphasise the warmth of love and good feeling. Love of another, self-love and keeping the heart warm and happy are all vital things to keep us going through the winter months. Continuing the collection theme of strong jewel-like colours, the next garment in Yellow-Gold is cut close to the figure in the upper garment with elegant long sleeves and a circular cut full skirt. Jewellery is melded into the outfit itself as crystal sequins adorn the neckline and surround the hips in a complete circle. You could spin on a dance floor and make a complete Golden circle in this piece whilst the thick waistband holds the figure to define it. I see a hint of traditional European costume also in the look.
To the right deep Emerald appears in two contrasting styles with a draped neckline almost imitating the outline of the ancient Roman and Jewish Menorah candle holder. The soft arcs around the bodice of the figure are gently flattering with shoulder sashes dropped at a 45 degree angle to reveal bare skin. Folds of fabric descend the figure behind the wearer to a lower length than the front softly falling below the waist whilst the dress in full length follows a fish-tail form. To the far right a loose cut Emerald fabric is draped over the figure held in place with a halter neckline and ties at the elbow. A vibrant colour contrast is created with above the elbow reach adding a bold twist to an evening or Red Carpet look.
A Rose coloured corset framed the upper figure of a model set underneath a short Green bolero jacket created as part of a single piece floor length dress. The full flowing skirt tapered at the hips drops to a soft circle around the feet of the wearer. Simple bow-tie in Green edged in Rose Pink piping sealed the look at the waist. A sequin sewn dress is jewelled in Roses closely implanted across the surface of the dress. The sweetheart neckline created in a thick Rose band gave emphasis to floral delicacy with subtle Black bands almost like levels of a terraced garden. A pill box hat of the same fabric is tied with an expansive Black ribbon and Blush knee high stiletto heeled boots complete the look.
Scarlet returned to the collection in a series of three passages that made the statement of confidence that Mabille’s tailoring evokes. A full length Red dress with draped neckline echoed an earlier piece on the above frieze cast in Green but this time the scarlet folds encircled the neck and disappeared to folds that fall down the back of the figure. It’s understated but still with a mark of character. To the right, a tailored suit jacket borrowed from the man’s wardrobe is styled to be worn in reverse with women perhaps shown as the natural opposite, or completion of men? Is that the message here, who knows but fine tailoring is always a pleasure to see and write about. Furthest right a beautiful shift dress composed of Red Spanish style lace is all set for glamourous cocktail party evenings. The off-the-shoulder bandeau neckline framed by dropped side-split sleeves gives way to Aqua Blue gloves in a sharp colour contrast.
Full length evening glamour reigns supreme in the next frieze of looks in which Mabille continued to show a more contemporary direction than he had in previous collections. A Magenta dress with a sheer shoulder neckline is cut on two broad pieces of fabric sewn with a side seam to create a seemingly simple dress structure. It faintly echoes the famous Balenciaga ‘Envalope’ dress that remains a fascinating design classic. Generous sleeves allow for long Light Blue gloves buttoned through the length to the elbow to continue the colour contrast theme once again accompanied by large oversized crystal earrings. A Salmon Pink dress secured by loose fasten ties sits lightly around the shoulders before falling to long diaphanous lengths. The open side slits are draped to still conceal the figure and a two-tone effect is created once more with Butter Yellow long gloves reaching over the elbow through the upper arms.
A floor length Purple shirt dress takes this garment to the most glamourous lengths it could go. Gently tapered around the waist, it illustrates the traditional fit and flare silhouette with a more current twist. Whilst not being a look I personally would go for in general, this piece would be a charming option for formal events through the winter months and minus a faux fur wrap at the neckline, it would be perfect for events all year round. Haute Couture perfection and attention to detail is further glimpsed in the beautiful under seam of floral fabric through the inside lining of the garment. A beautiful full-length dress in Midnight Blue is circled buy a small cape-like collar around the shoulders. It echoes the volume of the full skirt falling from the ribbon-tapered waist to a perfect circle. You can twirl and glide in this piece and again it’s another perfectly executed wardrobe staple that could be worn through many seasons. Another very chic collection from Mabille who has championed a kind of new-style Haute Couture along classic lines emanating in Paris.
Images (c) Balmain
Olivier Rousteing is one of the most flamboyant designers in Paris but don’t let this distract you from the work that he’s putting out. In July 2020 he took a troupe of 50 models, the fabled ‘Balmain Army’, on one of well-known tourist boats of the Seine making a stop to perform a live dance show streamed through TikTok and took Balmain through the heart of Paris in a very literal way. Style from the Balmain archive flowed up and down river with his work featured alongside that of other designers from the Houses' past.
To the far right a profusion of pleated fan-like escallops in Blush encircle the wearer and create soft tiered layers of added volume. A thick waist band created from wrapping the fabric around the figure created a faint hour-glass shape. There is a hint of the 1930’s and possibly 1950’s about this piece, the latter that evokes the early years of Monsieur Balmain as he worked in Paris establishing his own Haute Couture House. Nude-Beige oversized opera gloves also run through much of the length of the arms in a subtle colour off-set that could be worn throughout the year.
A beautiful Black dress combines hints of Spanish traditional style with a Parisian twist. Whilst fantastically executed woven Black lace creates a soft shell of the base-dress and is visible at the side of the garment, the front and back of the dress are enraptured in gathered folds of Black Silk. The soft ruches of fabric create a delicate soft volume around the wearer. The bandeau neckline is daring but also allows for freedom of expression and movement whilst being worn to evening and formal events. It’s chic but it’s also comfy for a long evening when you need to be focussed on talking to guests or perhaps a musical performance. Centre above a Nude tulle dress is accented in Chocolate in the front lengths also encircling the waist in gathered ruches with a rise to the meet the fabric under the arms. A flower is created from soft gathers at the left of the bodice with a soft Lilac flourish over the heart. Its vintage era 1950’s at the height of post-war fashion re-invention to celebrate life and enjoyment. The gentle colour scheme is also super versatile for different skin tones.
Farthest to the right a super-chic cocktail dress in Lilac again speaks to the Golden Age of Haute Couture in the 1950's with its glamourous low-cut neckline featuring ruched detail that swirls to the back of the garment behind the wearer. It’s meets a looped abundance of fabric that echoes some of the traditional dress modes of Japan and ancient Korea, I believe. You can also dance in it and the generous fabric countered by the open neckline ensures that you won’t become too warm through a long evening.
A similar style dress to the last of the previous frieze appears first left above. This time in iridescent molten Gold the model is cloaked in shimmering colour with a double bow at the back of the figure. The fabric is sealed with a clustered array of feathers almost in the image of a phoenix wrapped at the back of a slender waist. Black Opera Gloves worn just below the elbow make a simple colour contrast and a fitting completion of the dress look.
Centre above a jacket dress studded with pearls in an astonishing number perhaps takes it’s cue from both the dress codes of the renaissance and a later tradition of Pearly Kings and Queens in London. The garment is cut on the lines of a military jacket almost with a thick military jacket holding the waist. The pearls give an emphases to structure and line whilst also containing beautiful artistic motifs and that in themselves speak to a dual nature of the garment. In the background a second similarly designed garment also features pearls sewn onto the surface in a structured pattern with geometry aligned with floral characters. To the right a similar dress in Magenta Pink is constructed with a quilted design creating a tessellation of diamond forms rather than lines of beading. A front long pocket allows a chance to rest the hands out of sight and perhaps stow some useful things ahead of an evening out.
An effusive mix of fine lattice weave and gathered fabric Roses reach across the surface of the dress. Bringing a ‘punk meets craft’ feel to the collection this clearly part of the new era of Balmain that is looking to create a contrast with the demure, well hones style of previous decades. The dropped waist style of the 1980’s and 1920’s was reawakened a century after it first emerged in a dress composed of beadwork sewn in tapestry-like panels. This garment is fascinating to look at and examine in more detail with many different design hints and themes. Unity of colour in pearly cream White ensures that the composition does not overwhelm. The collection shifts to a look at fine tailoring using monochrome as its palette. A Black jacket fitted and trousers cut in perfect comfort to the figure are teamed with a statement necklace in Gold work and crystal. The jacket is also buttoned with large circular crystals set discs that bring an added sphere of light to the complete outfit.
The Venetian Carnival with it’s signature large hats and masks plays a part in influencing one of the next looks. The signature large hat of the mid-18th century bordered by a lace band worn over the eyes as a part-veil/part-mask. Large half-twisted loop earrings hang from the wearers ears whilst the suit is tailored on the men’s classic form an attire of the mid to late 19th century. A White waistcoat, Black trousers with waste pleat and a short Black jacket would see you heading to the opera in another age but for the Balmain lady of today, she is free to go where she wishes and to where whatever she likes. High-waisted trousers and a crisp White shirt, centre above, also match to a Black jacket in the classic style of masculine convention. This time the Black of the outer jacket shell is the lined with a thick White satin crepe layer to give the impression of a double thickness and also potentially add some extra warmth. Large square crystal cuff links bounce light in the sunshine and the reflection of the water.
The classic beret of the northern French port towns is crafted into a larger version of the original faintly resembling a modern Russian army hat. The beautiful ruffled cascade detail of the classic 18th century shirt is brought to live again in a voluminous blouse with pin-tuck detail at the shoulders to enhance sleeve volume. Cuffs are closed by fabric wrapped around the wrist and sleeve lengths spill forwards over the surface of the hands. It’s a celebratory nod to fashion history as are the trousers with two large Golden buttons anchored on the hips at a 45 degree angle. It flatters a slim figure by accentuating long line, yet celebrates the curve and natural discreet shapes of the female figure. Balmain’s journey along the Seine was a look back at several eras of expression of style and of French identity within the fashion industry but like many designers, he expressed his yearning, not surprisingly, to get back to showing in person.
Images (c) Valentino
Many designers decided to show in a different format for this season, often in a studio presentation style. Valentino took the opportunity I think to show in a way that would not have been possible using the conventional catwalk format and created garments many times larger than life to be worn in static presentation. As ever these are Haute Couture pieces created to be ordered as is, but also as an example of where a design idea could start from. Some look are fantastical. Others speak to a more bridal sensibility but all have a sense of fun as well as the majestic about them and all show the experienced hand of artistry that has maintained Valentino as a House over many decades.
The opening look of the collection features a fantasia dress created to perhaps over twice the height of the model. Enlarged puffed sleeves enhance the feel of antique and vintage style whilst also giving it a playful theme. The broad dipped neckline cut to the waist resembles some depictions of clothing from the ancient world. The look is crowned with a garland of White roses covering the head and hair completely. The dress is a phenomenal work but can easily be adapted to be worn by a client by tailoring the hemline at the front. The creation of a dipped hemline would allow for a sweeping train behind the wearer in the style of formal events of past generations. It’s a dress that’s just a tiny bit of a post-modern princess court-dress.
Centre above a model wears a composition that appears to feature shimmering sewn together chainmail running through the full length of the garment at over double the height of the wearer. The hair is ticked under a cowl headdress seamless within the piece and a “mille-feuille” effect is created through the length of the garment with a White jacket-dress extending through the length of the piece. It prevents the whole composition being too dazzling to the eyes whilst adding another layer to guard against the winter elements. This composition shows the woman as a warrior, her strength shies with the vitality of the light exuded from the garment. To the right the same sequence of iridescent shimmer is brought to life in a body suit created in the same ‘armour’ as in the previous look. An outer jacket is created in a sheer White fabric with thick bands of White faux fur. It gives a dramatic impact as a winter fashion piece.
This collection really saw the fantasy of the dress designer, and perhaps some clients, made real with experimentation in hyper-reality dimensions. It looks like a dream sequence where your evening dresses suddenly grow to goddess like proportions and although your feet should logically be a long way off the ground, you still appear to be travelling along. The puff-ball skirt hemline is aptly employed to create a long line conical drop beneath a foaming profusion of ruffles spanning from the neckline to the waist. All in White, as is every piece in this collection, it carries a charm of simple completeness. To the right the first of two looks perched on swings hint to the passing circus theme of the collection. The first model sits on a trapezoid shaped swing bar in a dress of subtle contrasts. A sheer bodice is bound by a soft square framework with a profusion of extended feathers reaching out from the figure to form the illusion of a perfect sphere. The long lines of the skirt are made of up soft sheer fabric that fall straight from the waist towards the floor far beneath the suspended wearer.
A model sits within a suspended sphere wearing a sheer cape that carried hints of the outfit of the Grimaldi clown. The fabric is embroidered with detail recalling the many layers of the formation of a Rose, these are purest White roses though and through. An outsized ruff collar celebrated the exuberance of Haute Couture artistry and once again the shimmer of giant sequins or small glass plates returned in a half body-suit comprising leotard and full cap to cover the head in an echo of a traditional acrobats outfit. To the far right an extraordinary suit composed of long streaks of Silver metal fabric sewn over sheer gauze manifests the form of an Angel bringing, thankfully, some light and hope to the world. In an era certainly facing some challenges, this is certainly something welcome.
A stunning dress full skirted dress of double proportions in both length and circumference features an array of arcs across the fabric, set in tiers, each bordered by a thick fringe of feathers. An off the shoulder bodice bounded by feathers that cascade far beyond the décolleté, provides a small style contrast to the descending arcs. It’s a dress reminiscent of the grand mid-19th century hoop dresses evoked in many 20th century films and musicals. The reality of wearing those dresses was a lot less comfortable and easy than the adapted (shortened for practicality) form of this dress would be.
To the right a smooth satin pinafore dress, elongated once again, to goddess proportions looks to the form and style of the 19th century. There an innocence in this piece slightly reminiscent of childhood dressing but the billows of the sleeves to flamboyant proportions places this garment firmly into the adult category. Once again this look would also require a little adaptation of the length in order for it to be worn easily and could easily be created as a Bridal piece.
Two more simplified styles appear next with a plain fitted bodice reminiscent of the 17th – 18th centuries topped with small sash gathers at the shoulders’ curve before descending through a broad expansive full skirt. It captures the minimalism of the late 17th and early 18th century ‘plain dress’ although in that time a ‘Best Dress’ was worn for weddings not the now-custom White. The head is crowned with a profusion of fabric flowers set in a round of a headdress. She looks like she may attend a ball in the land of the fairy folk but wherever Valentino’s muse travels to she brings a soft touch of magic. To the right it’s companion on the frieze sees a shift dress with bodice defined by two large swathes of fabric reaching up to the shoulders. The skirt in dual layers drops to cavernous lengths with a solid shell under dress beneath a shift layer. Almost like the veil of a wedding dress, the outer sheer shift falls beyond the hem of the first and when crafted as a dress to match the natural height of the wearer this piece has ample scope to become a contemporary wedding dress. It could also be created potentially in other colours perhaps as it also has the look of a Red Carpet piece that could be useful in the near or more distant future when life is a little less restricted.
The dual panel bodice appeared again in the next look with a model daringly standing on a trapeze circus swing in front of the camera in the set studio. However, on closer look the dress is composed of gathered pleats of feather light sheer White crepe bound by tiered chords. A side split at the upper left thigh of the wearer cuts the skirt into two segments with abundant lengths reaching far beneath the models perch on the swing. A birdlike quality is further hinted by an extraordinary array of very fine feather-like chords reaching out from the crown of a broad-brimmed hat through beyond the length where the dress passes the models feet. A fantastic piece that celebrated the imagination of design and passion for expression of style. Two of the very reasons why Haute Couture exists and preserves skills to this day in Paris, London and Italy.
The most enormous pile of ruffles imaginable in a dress appears next and shows that this is a designers dream come true. The double height expanse of rippled fabric is a feast if not almost a bafflement of the eyes. Volume is exemplified through the full length with only a small contrast in the simple straps across the shoulders, themselves minimal and broad to the point of resembling sportswear. Such a garment would require careful support in the construction but the choice to leave them in sight shows a desire to express duality of fabric nature and perhaps nature itself.
The models dressed in White for me also resembled the ‘dolls’ that would be 1/6 or so sized scaled models that clients would see as an example of how a finished garment would look. The lost famous surviving of these today are the dolls of Dior, toured in a recent exhibition to celebrate 70 years of the foundation of the House in 1947 with the New Look. Many designers used them though such as Lachasse in London and Jacques Fath in Paris when sending garment examples to America. A simple sleeveless chemise bodice flows down through the lengths of the skirt in an unbroken flow of tightly ruched White silk. Semi-sheer, there is a hint of revelation in this look only banded softly at the waist by a barely visible belt. It’s another full length fantasy piece that takes the floor length ball gown to the realms of imagination and yet, can be adapted to suit modern needs for Black tie and White tie evening wear. The finale look of the collection is a mist of tulle encasing a model. The soft fabrics that in previous times formed the under skirts of a formal dress or the extrapolation of a ballet dress into a multitude of tiers and soft gathers brings another show stopper for the Red Carpet. You could stride the Red Carpet in this or a slightly ‘dressed down’ version and there are many possibilities to taper a more subtle look for a bridal piece. But who says you need to be subtle at your own wedding?!
Images (c) Antonio Grimaldi
With Covid still abounding Antonio Grimaldi, like many designers chose to show in a capsule format with a handful of models on a shoot set. With the beauty of Italy as your home territory to set work against, there is little surprise that Grimaldi chose to set his creations to the back-drop of a beautiful neo-classical villa.
Grimaldi opened the collection with a dress in soft Rose cut in a wrap style folded around the figure. Soft fringes of feathers hem the garment running from aside the shoulders through to the circular base of the dress that gave way to a small train. A single exposed shoulder adds a note of vulnerability to the look with a circular collar partly concealing the neckline. The models wear temporary trace tattoos speaking the words “Hope and Love” placed below the knee, these speak to two of the most important words on all our lips during this strange time of illness and altered living patterns. Alongside love and family and hard work, these two mottos are surely guiding stars to help us see a path through it. A White tunic dress cut like a glass flute is accented with thin chains of Silver running from the neckline, across the bodice and down the back of the dress. It’s a perfect piece for Red Carpet events connection to the fashion or film industry and soft accents such as the arc at the cuff, curved almost like petals reaching up towards the arms. Removing the Silver chains, it could potentially be an understated piece of bridal-wear.
Gentle asymmetry appears again in the next piece with a Black dress featuring a bodice composed of dual height cut-away pieces. Each escalloped shape is adorned with Lilac and pale Green beads across the surface and one side of the dress is cut high in a soft petal-like overlay whilst the second side is longer and trails to the ground next to the wearer. Once again the hem of the garment is circular in a natural gesture of completion and the words of “Love and Hope” are again carried with the model in herself as she walks. A White garment broken down into two segments that comprise a mini-skirt emblazoned with crystals in a pine-tree shape and a phenomenal cape-gown jacket spills over the shoulders through the length of the figure into a circular surround that forms a small cape-train. Jewelled sequins cross her shoulders like stars and like a goddess of the pantheons of your, this lady is ready to stride forward and take her place on the stage and bring light.
The first look to the left comprises of a bridal-style garment encapsulating a full length dress with skirt in circular cut, thus again forming a lovely subtle circular train. The bodice is half cut-away looking almost as though it may be detached from the lower part of the garment but this is an optical illusion sealed with the placing of crystals across the bodice cascading in asymmetric wave across the left side of the hips. The neckline is likewise partly encircled by crystals in an asymmetric form. A key note of this collection is a feel of minimalism with hints of embellishment and sparkle. A sheer Black blouse accented with applique petals that fluttered was teamed with a long Black straight skirt. It’s demure, yet with plenty of character.
The first of the adult-child pairings features a lady and little girl in complementary White dresses. A love of geometry is shown here ably against the backdrop of a Neo-Classical villa with a softly curved neckline echoing the ellipse of an egg tracing below the neckline of the wearer above a breast plate of crystals resembling chain-mail almost. She’s a warrior goddess in style and in loving care of a child. The child’s dress features an apron skirt and double layered blouse-bodice that is bordered at the neckline by feathers. The skirt of the dress incorporates a train of its own that descends behind the small wearer as she walks as she also carried the message of love and hope. A contrast of three fabrics appears in the next look with sheer Black plastic through the collar, shoulder and length of an arm contrasted with fine wool crepe (I believe) through the length of the dress. A side fold within the skirt allows for more volume in the skirt twisting behind the wearer as she walks.
A single shoulder Baby Rose dress features an escalloped side of the bodice, in contrast to the full shouldered side. This dress appears almost like two dresses in one with a shimmering sequinned Rose-Pink skirt underneath a soft shell outer dress draped around the figure with petal-formed curves. A single sleeve sits under a bare shoulder in an inverse reflection of a bare arm with jewelled circlet bracelet. The feathers adorning the skirt are also shown encircling the neckband of the wearer. Centre above another woman and child pair show the harmony of symmetry between the adult and child pair. The soft folds of the Rose petal are, I feel, referenced again here in the curves of silk satin wrapping around the figure of the woman and falling through the length of the little girls dress. A curved arc of silk moves from the side of the bodice across the shoulders and down through the length of the right sleeve. The dress skirt is comprise of a mini skirt sewn with crystals that sweep upwards from the hem in a wave. This style is repeated in the crystal work around the neckline of the model. The little girl holding her hand has similar bead and crystal work running through the length of the right side of the bodice of her dress, a circular necklace of her own and softly falling fabric descending from the front to the rear of her dress.
The curve is a major theme of the collection, waves of the tide, sound, the curves of a woman’s figure or folds of the flower petal. A curved line of Silver stones sparkle across the centre of the dress furthest to the right, reaching from shoulder to front dress hem and widening into a broader flow. The dress is cut with a dropped skirt hem falling behind the wearer to reach beyond the ground to form a small soft train. One side of this fabric folds softly in an expanse of fabric whilst the other to the models right, falls smooth and straight. The same jewelled crystal setting encircles the neck of the wearer in a thick choker collar reaching from under the base of the chin downward to the collar bone. A single sleeve composed entirely of these crystals carries the look of very elaborate chainmail fitting perhaps as showing the woman as something much stronger than the clichéd delicate flower.
A slightly stronger Rose-Pink emerges in a mother-daughter combination that again uses motifs of the single shoulder with a dramatic dipped hemline continuing a mini-dress through to a full skirted train-dress. A second miniskirt once again forms part of the dress with crystals sewn across the surface of the garment to create the feel of sparkle and twinkle as the wearer walks. The ‘daughter’ dress emulates this with a simple bodice draped cape descending behind the wearer sitting above a short dress similarly jewelled with crystals.
A soft Magenta dress creates a rare moment of symmetry in the collection with the dipped hemline featuring once again to show the flair of the cutting skills of the atelier. Fabric looped around the elbows falling to a soft cape is echoed in a train reaching behind the wearer cut in a circular style around the feet of the wearer as with other pieces. White and Black monochrome make a duet at the end of the collection with two figures wearing a skirt and culottes lose-cut tailored suits. Soft feathers fringe the look to add an ethereal touch and these two Angels of Light and Darkness guide the audience to the close of the collection.
Images (C) Christian Dior
As with many designers this season, Dior chose to show their Haute Couture collection set against a back-drop printed to illustrate the interior of The House’s Head Quarters in Paris. It’s a gentle nod to the past with some new shapes from Grazia-Chiuri but also the familiar feel of references to the New Look of Dior and his emphasis on tailoring. This season, clear of models, the dresses and their designs simply spoke for themselves.
The collection opened with an expression of the heart of love above a White sleeveless dress strongly influenced by Classical Greek design. It’s an ode to Aphrodite with chord twines gently wrapping the figure to give form and shape before the wearer steps inside it. A potential Bridal design, it almost reverses the convention of the finale Bridal look but Grazia-Chiuri in making on the helm of Dior hasn’t been afraid to play with the heritage that she has been endowed with and find new expression. Lips positioned above and below the dress suggest the power of love both above and below, as on earth in heaven, or at least encircling the wearer in a protective truth.
Centre above a White blouse cut on early 20th century lines with voluminous sheer sleeves is reminiscent of the clothes Christian Dior would have seen his mother wear during this childhood spent at his parents’ home at Granville on the north-west coast of Normandy. A floor length skirt with thick waistband also echoes the Edwardian era to complete the look in a soft light creamy twist on Dior Grey. It’s opulent but still practical with deep below-the-hip pockets to hold an invitation, phone, or microphone, should you be speaking publically when wearing it or other essential items. To the right a midi-length skirt is cut to almost identical proportions and in the same fabric. The jacket that it’s paired with looks. On first inspection to be a play on the classic theme of the New Look but to me it again speaks of the Edwardian era and women’s jackets styled on the traditional hunting coat. It’s brought to me the realisation of how much the New Look styling of Dior may well be borrowed from an earlier time and the restrained, quite literally, ‘buttoned up’ style of dress of the first years of the twentieth century. Whilst the waist appears structured the sleeves are strictly pleated in an echo of the out-door wear of the Edwardian era. A hint of modernity appears in the straight lines of the collar and pockets act to shield the hands from the cold. Like it’s predecessor iridescent hues of metallic Golden thread sewn in flashes across the surface of the fabric add a flash of energy.
Colour softly blooms into the collection with an Icey-Pink cocktail dress showing strong influence from Classical Ancient Greek women’s clothing. The bodice is composed of tightly ruched pleats in two formations of fan-style, then frames with rising borders either side of the bodice that lean inward from the waist to the neckline framing the figure. The neckline and waist are bounded by thick chord twined to give a strength far beyond what would ever be needed. Pleats descend through the skirt to the floor with graduated width from the waist downwards creating subtle volume that would allow the wearer freedom of movement. As with all pieces in the collection Dior seek to illustrate their devotion to precision and measurement by the eye and the instinctive understanding of proportions.
Centre above a midi-length skirt suit in bridal White is set against the backdrop of Grey Dior Roses. The ruched detail in the bodice of the previous garment is continued through the body of the jacket creating manifold ripples in the fabric across the surface of the garment and a soft tie at the neckline. The soft delicacy of this is contrasted by the fixed frame of the piece itself leaning heavily towards the traditional form and style of the ‘Bar’ jacket using the Hebrew word for strength. The fluid lengths of the skirt reach the ankle and something about the simplicity of the composition once again speaks to bridal-wear. To the right, a Cream-White dress cuts the figure of the classic full length 1950’s Dior evening dress. Set in three tiers, the volume is enhanced to 19th century proportions with vintage detail also in the fringing of the tiers and with the broad skirts composed of closely gathered fabric. Looking closer at the piece you can see a soft Gold pattern traced across the surface adding a nuance to the colour as the wearer walks. The dress is set in front of a profusion of images, items from the atelier workroom, watching eyes, a listening ear and a staircase from the Dior Headquarters. Perhaps this is an emblem of the swirling bustle and creativity of the atelier.
A Beige-Cream coat woven with metallic threads is cut to look conventional from the front but from the rear, you can observe a wider vent on either side resembling the broad court dresses of the late 17th and 18th centuries. A unique touch is found in the double collar and lapels of the coat enhancing the natural feel of symmetry in the garment. Two apples hint at the feminine, fertility, health and sweetness whilst deep pockets offer a way to shield the hands in the warmth during the cool winter months. It’s a neutral look that could easily be worn into Spring and Summer. Centre above a skirt suit in Grey is woven with strands of complementary neutrals blended to give the impression of bouclé tweed but pressed into a smooth flat fabric. The jacket surround is created with numerous tightly pressed pleats that form the shape of a corset-structured jacket above. With a neat series of buttons this jacket will be shaped to cover the hips of the wearer and matched to the skirt below. A versatile tulip shaped skirt encircles the figure with fine pleats dropping to broad flowing dropped-out boxed pleats. Movement is the message as much as fine tailoring to convey the message of style.
To the right a Black coat dress with satin twill running through the fabric created flashes of shimmer through the look of slightly rough silk. It’s a perfect formal day or evening wear piece that takes the New Look form and style and makes a nod to the 18th century in the lose cut dimensions. It’s an easy piece to wear with a dress or perhaps blouse and trousers underneath. An interesting innovation is the cape-like folds across the sleeves of the garment and these combined with the deep pockets at the hips, trimmed with broad pocket borders are also reminiscent of the 18th century fashionable riding coat style worn by both men and women alike. It’s a quietly confident piece that speaks the classic language of the house.
The triangle, the ancient symbol of strength, is central to the design of the next coat dress. Once again a look for the day-time or evening, it taps the key channel of Dior elegance with Gold and Platinum - Silver triangle shapes conjured across the surface of the garment. Reaching from the neckline to the ankle, this look is also a failsafe to shield against the winter air if briefly exposed to the elements. It carries the hue of classic autumn and winter colours but seen in another light, and from a little distance, it can also represent the soft Green of early Spring and Summer. Fastened with a simple belt in the fabric of the garment, it took its cue from the classic ‘Bar’ silhouette.
The classic tweed suit, that wardrobe staple from the 1930’s and 40’s long before Christian Dior opened his House, is reawakened in an almost minimalist interpretation of this well loved look. Some of is may recognise the form of pieces well loved by great-grannies in old photographs, I certainly did although the great-granny in particular liked coloured tweed. The close herringbone weave invites feelings of warmth and comfort as well as the respect for the precision tailoring that the House accomplishes for its clients. To the far right a dress carries hints of a classic piece by the Egyptian born Greek designer Jean Dessès from the mid 1960’s, there is one particular dress I’ve seen online shown in a 2019 Athens based exhibit, worn by Queen Anne-Marie of Greece I believe, that comes to mind. This piece evoked the Caryatids from the statues of the Parthanon complex showcasing the famed Grecian drapery of the Classical era. The semblance of fabric gathered at the shoulders is given by strands of silk gathered at interval across the shoulder width. Through the silk strands gathered at the waist, there is a vibrant mix of seams that create a marine, like effect. Fluid lengths of fabric fall through the dress to the full skirt lengths bounded across the surface with gathers of silk strands crafted to form straw-thickness cables. Like a Minoan dancer, you could whirl and swirl in this piece or simply create a faint music of fabric as you walked.
The White Winter coat, the wardrobe staple of many is accented with a bold contemporary art statement that could have jumped of out the 1860’s. With more than a nod to Picasso, it off sets the earlier moods of Grey of the collection and also presents something that asks questions of or challenges the mind. Not my thing personally to intermingle with fashion, although art crossing with fashion is an interesting theme to explore in itself. It would be hard for me to describe the creature created but to me it symbolises energy and I feel I see the energy ‘pack’ of the mitochondria cell that speaks to female line descent and transfer of energy and indeed wisdom (although father’s are just as wise too) through the generations.
Centre above the dress in deep Emerald echoes both Classical Grecian and Roman formal clothing from the cut at the neckline to the large side cut sleeves and the square metal cut shapes of the belt. A cape-train behind the wearer emphasises traditional formal glamour with a shimmer of metallic fabric drawn over what I believe is silk gazaar. Looking faintly Imperial it will make a statement upon entering a room or Red Carpet presentation. To the right, the Bar jacket is re-imagined with a flourish of buttons running through the length of the sleeves of the double breasted coat. The curve of the fabric through the sleeves creates an echo of the carefully cut curve of the waist in the jacket and also the flower petal fold. It adds a new touch of softness to the traditional formal jacket, that originated in the male military uniform and as such carries always the potential to look a little severe if not styled to a more gentle composition. The skirt carries the fine long line pleats seen across the ancient world with a unique fluted detail at the midi-length hemline. The Haute Couture cut of the jacket across the hips contrasts with the diaphanous potential of the skirt to move with the walk of the wearer and gentle breezes. It could potentially even make a Winter wedding suit.
A rhapsody of the finest herringbone is created by Grazia Chiuri in the form of a wide sleeve coat leaning towards the cape style. Created with a circular cut reminiscent of the 1950’s daywear and cocktail wear dresses something in the crisp angulation of the tailoring brings the look sharply into focus as a contemporary piece of high fashion. The belt fastened with CD hinged buckles adds just a hint of the House monogram to the look again in a break with the traditional past. Centre above the pleat takes centre stage with another composition seemingly heavily influenced by the styling and traditions of classical antiquity. An exposed single shoulder and chorded strands of fabric to delineate the shape and curves of the figure all speak to Hellenistic history and later Roman and Romano-European and North African re-invention. The metallic hue of Cobalt Grey is a powerful statement of strength that almost conveys a brute force against the contrast of the softness of the female figure. With a single sleeve descending to something of cape-like mini-train; it’s a subtly strong statement to make through the Winter season.
To the right, a jacket and dress combination is crafted in the classic lines of the ‘Bar’ silhouette. The two tiers that are presented enveloping the figure with a broad belt encircling the waist. Broad lapels echo the width of the pockets of the jacket with the shape of the close reflected in a central panel that moves down the length of the skirt. Although clearly understated, the complexity of the detail in the fabric weave set with tiny twinkles of diamond or crystal against the Black echoed the rich tapestry of the night sky. It’s subtle but has tremendous impact on the eye and will be a considered piece to be added to collections for formal occasions in the future.
A Teal coat dress mixes the soft cut of formality of day-wear with the clean-lined elegance beloved of clients of classic Christian Dior tailoring. A fascinating adaptation is the double collar and graduated double lapel that creates a triple layer of the garment bordering the neckline. It transforms the outfit into something that questions conventions of structure and form. The dark Teal hints at the warm deep Pine colours of winter fur trees and the cape created over cut-away sleeves hints at both classic elegance as well as the gentle triangulation of evergreen Pines. Pockets on the hips and a dress coloured belt framed in Golden house logo ‘CD’ complete the look with minimal variation.
Centre above an opus on the pleat is constructed in the form of a sleeveless dress in a light Blue Steel colour. The metallic sheen of the fabric is enhanced by the weave of the silk that would flash like a shimmer of light as the wearer walked. The broad collar and lapels make a small subtle contrast in contour with the fine pleats through the bodice and the lengths of the outfit. It’s a shape that traces itself to the early years of the House I believe; if not before to the era of Christian Dior as the young architect in the 1930’s before the Second World War. The fine pleats encasing the bodice splay through the lengths of the dress in radiating lines like beams of light. It’s a metaphor perhaps for the enchantment of moonlight and encapsulates the neatness of Parisian chic that attracts the eye. To the right a full skirted White tulle froth of skirts surrounds the mannequin with feather-light volume that marries the 1950’s Haute Couture ball gown or Black tie cocktail dress with the theatrical heights of the ballerina tutu. Strips of tulle create the feather effect whilst large sequins in Silver and Gold flow down the front of the dress contrasting with near-invisible White and clear circles in the lengths that surround. The gentle sweetheart neckline and the thin halter-neck straps echo the romance of the Rock and Roll era.
Traditional craft textile seems to be an influence in the first look of the frieze of dresses above. The tiered layers of the traditional rural women’s folk outfits are referenced in the graduated alternate bands of light and dark shading. Small characters sewn into the fabric enhance the feeling of hand-spun, home crafted garments. The use of traditional chord worked with knots secures the opening of the garment’s neckline ensuring no movement around the figure and also carried echoes of the classical Greco-Roman era. As with a look two sets of pieces back, a train falls from a single shoulder adding a sense of elegance and flow behind the wearer as she walks.
In another continuation of a former frieze panel, the dress centre above features the metallic hue of steel with a hint of Blue. Again with a bodice structure defined by chords twined around the shoulders and a sleeveless composition, this look could be matched easily with a bespoke cape or a long warm winter coat. There is a juxtaposition in the sense of restraint suggested by the strong binding twines and the free flowing form of the dress itself. The lengths of the dress run to broad hem boarder composed of silken strand fringes. These cascade softly across the floor at the feat of the wearer in a semi-sheer moment at the base of the garment. The concertina form of the garment allowed for a transformation of this piece. It both hugs the figure in a straight fall and also moves gently around the figure with increasing volume as the wearer walks. To the right a broad skirted dress once again reflects the classic era of Christian Dior in the 1950’s when his shape the 'New Look’; had gone on to dominate the style and designs of the decade after its launch. To herald Winter perhaps, Ice-like strands of embroidered Silver-White silk swirl around the bodice and lengths of the dress skirt. The dress is composed of dark Apricot recalling the late Summer fields in Italy or Southern France perhaps. It’s a warm tone to contrast with the cold to come and perhaps also serves as a figurative emblem to illustrate the life and energy of the earth that will return with new promise in the Spring amongst many layers of tulle.
As the collection progresses, undoubtedly more colour appears through the series of dresses as they are shown. Traditional heritage craft textiles once again appear to be drawn upon for influence as Diamond shaped triangles created by rows of large sequins in Baby Pinks, Orange and Blues contrast with neighbouring configurations of Blush, Nude, Black and Grey. Both sleeveless and shoulder-less, the composition is the most simplified that could be created for an almost floor-length garment. It’s a beautiful piece just to contemplate the structure and the creation as is the joy of Haute Couture. Centre above astrology and the mysteries of the Tarot are suggested with panels of a skirt again borrowing from the heritage craft style of a quilt. The designs are interspersed with Panels created from Waves of Golden thread sewn to create the effect of sound waves or waves of cosmic energy set on a Black background. The mostly sheer bodice is composed of Black silk tulle draped across the upper figure of the mannequin with a bias drape across the bodice to leave the neckline partly exposed. It’s a daring piece for a Black tie event but also could easily be a characterful addition to a collection or shared amongst similar sized relatives. I look at this dress and think that, like many of it’s collection peers, it could be pulled out of the closet or storage in future decades and worn to special events.
To the right a Platinum-Gold silk gazaar coat dress fills around the figure with soft shoulders drapes flowing to sewn panels that in turn give way to rippled gathers of fabric across the skirts of the garment. It’s a beautiful piece to fall in love with and would make a memorable day or day to evening look for a Winter formal occasion such as a wedding. Again the strong nod to the era of the New Look and Christian Dior’s tone of elegance is very present but I also see the persona of Christobal Balenciaga inhabiting the form of this garment. Something so perfectly designed as to evoke wonder at the use of geometry and mathematics in the conception of the design. It’s a dress to twirl in and be happy.
A colour continued to play a key part of expression in the next collection, the feather is the key emblem of this dress. A sleeveless bodice is barely masked in feathers offering a revealing expression potentially of the design. The garment continues through to the full flowing lengths of the skirt with an outer shell constructed of giant faux feathers curved to create the bell of a tulip shaped skirt. Set against the backdrop of a staircase that circles through the inside of the Maison’s Head Quarters, this set invites you to imagine the dress running or skipping down staircases on its way out for an evening.
In the centre a dramatic change of tone appears in a garment that itself espouses almost monastic levels of simplicity and tranquillity. Surrounded by numbers we are drawn to contemplate the order and logic of the creation in the language of mathematics and the pure clean note of White. The broad cape and hem lengths are fringed with overlaying chords composed in an open weave that drops to knotted buds. The style echoes the Papal and Bishop hats of the Catholic Church worn centuries ago and also references, I believe. Iberian traditional textiles. The buttoned down form of the jacket turns back to the traditional New Look style motifs. To the right a dress is composed using two elements already seen involving applique on a sheer dress surface and woven chord tied round the bodice of the garment to form stable structure. It’s characteristically light as a snowflake of winter and a piece that could potentially live on into Spring and Summer in the wardrobe.
On a Winter theme, the first dress above to the left is crafted with White flowers echoing the shapes of crochet across the surface of the garment. Flowers in greater and smaller sizes strewn across the surface of the garment make a natural swirl of romance around the figure with a more than passing resemblance to the scattered constellations of the night sky when lines are drawn through them. The waist is cinched by a ribbon-band belt centred with a bowed tie at the centre front. Long sleeves and a high circular neckline mirror the formality of the mid-20th century and earlier eras. Centre above a Golden Yellow dress is fringed with graduating arcs of Silver-Gold brocade resembling fish scales through its lengths. The chord motif returns with the garment bound in lengths that define the bodice. At once seemingly constrained the twines stand in contrast to the free-flowing fabric of the dress as elsewhere in the collection. Fringes at the hem, this piece also repeats the single-shoulder cape-train theme that appears through the collection.
To the far right Teal meets with steel in the form of a shimmering piece featuring scintillating metallic lengths of fabric. Large open-weave crochet-style detail encircle the neckline, flowing through to the sleeves and form a well-bodied volume. The subtle contrast of weave through to straight shafts of silk adds a touch of excitement to the look and what at first appears to be conventional and formal, if not harking back to something more ancient, is in fact also a very contemporary expression.
Golden tones again appear in a bold dress that features a bodice of intricate metallic crochet to create a wide-frame weave running across the surface of the garment. The sleek sleeveless shape sits against the figure running down to a full length skirt fringed in a dipped hemline. The surface of the skirt is almost splashed in military-esque patterning with cascades and brushstroke shapes reaching out across the fabric. Ruched tightly at the waist, the pleats splay through the lengths of the fabric coloured more darkly close to a Silver-Gold. It’s a slightly abstract touch on a classic look. Next to the right the liquid ripple of Chocolate runs through a dress that hits the bohemian notes of the 1970s whilst also channelling the chic of the Garbo and Dietrich era of the Silver Screen and Mesdames Gres and Voinnet perhaps. It’s a look that will attract attention in front of the cameras or at private events.
A dress composed of White tulle in another expression of the elongated ballerina style muses on the thoughts of inspiration around fashion design by writing words across the bodice of the garment through to the hips. The waist tied in a simple chord adds to the sense of profound simplicity in the garment and the sheer semi-skirt, whilst daring, is a statement also of purity and simplicity. To the right as a very alternative option to traditional bridal Haute Couture, a winged cape composed of tiers of ruched Black satin silk is a dramatic finale to the collection. It reminds me of a character from Swan Lake who scares little children when the production returns each winter for the Christmas and New Year season. As he is not a nice character, I shall not add his name here. In such strange times, a collection that provokes thought as well as some nostalgia is very welcome. There are new things to be discovered as well as looks that Grazia Chiuri has used to channel Dior over the past several decades. With many clients and journalists attuned to more pressing concerns at home amongst family and friends and around the world at large, it’s a bit of fashion ‘comfort food’ to take us through the Autumn-Winter season.