Haute Couture in Paris: a lesson of sophistication

My very first Haute Couture week, dedicated for the upcoming Spring/Summer season, was quite stormy. I’m talking in a literal sense – the incessant, merciless rain provided an uncomfortable backdrop to glorious fantasies of the fashion week. Watching the hemlines of gauzy Dior dresses drowning in powerful water streaks was a little bit painful; and yet, the overall mood and atmosphere was uplifting. Could it be anything else, when the city of love becomes a temple for the dreamiest creations, shown in the most impressive places? Couture collections are a perfect opportunity to revisit the importance of tradition and heritage and see how it can be matched with the exigencies of modernity. It was a real honor to participate in this celebration of craft, beauty and history for the first time.

Lebanese-Italian designer Tony Ward presented a collection that ticked all of the boxes – sweet pastel colors rubbed shoulders with rich, royal tones (such as midnight blue), figure flattering silhouettes emphasized precision of the cuts, exquisite embroideries and sparkling elements transformed the dresses into undulating and shimmering pieces of art. An emblematic haute couture collection, packed with polished looks for every girl dreaming of her very own princess moment. Antonio Grimaldi adopted a subtler approach: his women in soft gowns reminded me of mythological creatures, and the clothes themselves were more about fluidity than sparkle. Airy fabrics (satin, silk, chiffon, tulle) in pastel earth tones (hazelnut, blush pink, beige) forged a contemporary Roman myth. Maxi dresses and suits were complemented with sandals and multiple accessories. A wide range of cuts emphasized the beauty of a woman’s neck and shoulders.

French designer Julien Fournié was inspired by Asian heroines (anime characters, dancers, protagonists in movies and in books) and their authentic charms. In couturier’s opinion, it’s vital to associate “the best secrets inherited from Paris Haute Couture with other identified and long-established handcrafts, without fear of associating them with digital technologies”; that’s why his mission is baptized as the “awakening” which could potentially revitalize the stagnating Haute Couture. Fournié puts his philosophical approach in practice by presenting gowns inspired by Japanese kimono or prints of Chinese hanfu; jacquards and brocades recall the heritage of the Far East, while silks and drapes lend softness to a resolutely futuristic vision. Julien Fournié’s collection sends a message that craftsmanship should be an evolving phenomenon, constantly transcending and pushing its limits, especially in the dialogue of other cultures. However, a lot of designers fall into the traps of dangerous cultural appropriation, that’s why a “dialogue” with distant cultures is always a tightrope walk.

Cygnus Nihili, presented in the prestigious Ritz Hotel in Paris, was an impressive Haute Couture moment courtesy of Gyunel Couture. The London-based luxury brand founded in 2005 is known for its artistic and romantic take on bespoke couture. Case in point: the newest collection, which is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Wild Swans”, art deco interiors and jewelry, Russian ballet and its fragile, yet incredibly strong ballerinas… Architectural dresses in marvelous prints, signature diamond style cuts and contrasting colors (mint, red, black, rose gold) condense all these references into a harmonious and bittersweet tale. In designer’s words, this collection tells the story of a symbolic swan through the lens of nihilism.


Before launching her eponymous brand, Hyun Mi Nielsen put her talent into work at Balenciaga, Givenchy and Alexander McQueen. With the collection Mensch, she returns as guest member of the official haute couture calendar for the third time. Mensch (which means a person of honor and decency in Yiddish) is a dark, raw, in some ways brutal representation of human movement and obstacles, both literal and metaphorical. In her words, this is “a collection of impressions of a composite world, where things continuously de- and recompose into new constellations”: the models, representing contemporary wanderers  (without any glamorous connotations that such notion might bear today because of heavy filtered social media representations), demonstrated the contrasts that defined and structured this collection. Sensual silks are at odds with rigid leather details, breezy silhouettes and finishings are complemented with raw edge seams, various quilting and patchwork techniques are reminiscent of the folk culture, while fragments of metal and multicolor topstitching bring an avant-garde taste.

Christophe Josse, a proud representatative of neo-classicism in fashion, opted for a nature-inspired approach to haute couture. In his own words, nature, “in its eternal, humming renewal, offers variety in its long-term, unchanging modernity”. Light and airy, rustic and harmonious, delicate and tranquil – any adjective appropriate for this collection exudes calmness and serenity. You’d be wrong to think that taking cues from nature means adapting different flower prints of other similar motifs. Instead of going the easy way, the French couturier wished to translate the emotional palette that accompanies the most spiritual experiences in face of the nature’s grandeur. Christophe Josse demonstrated audacity by calling his models as “peasant women” (inspired by Thomas Hardy and Dorset women) undertaking a dreamlike journey. The exquisiteness of couture collections is preserved, but any kind of pomposity is eliminated. The models wore embroidered blouses or dresses in linen, wool crepe or barley cloth, ensembles in cotton tulle or taffeta, crocheted cardigans, jackets in atlas or silk – a whole range of natural and diaphanous materials, associated with breeziness and freedom of the movement. Beauty might have a lot of different faces, but for Christophe Josse, it has nothing to do with overworked and forced extravaganza: “He extols refinement, contained fluidity and impromptu mixes of materials, making play on their contrasts. Beneath his caressing lines, he traces the furrow, the real measure of true beauty”. A convincing and outstanding performance.

Elsewhere, I fell completely in love with Valentino’s collection, which was a real couture masterpiece. A vibrant and charismatic collection received an unanimous positive response. I was also charmed by Claire Waight Keller’s debut couture collection for Givenchy. Dior’s surrealist games, Elie Saab’s flirtatious provocations and Chanel’s saccharine fairytale should also be noted.

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