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Highlights from couture week: Missing Karl, memes and latex
The biannual haute couture shows, held in Paris each January and July, remain the world's most exclusive and expensive displays of high-end fashion. A showcase of rarefied craftsmanship for fashion editors and the world's wealthiest shoppers, it's also a catalog for stylists scouting looks for their celebrity clients to wear on the red carpet.
While ready-to-wear shows often reflect the zeitgeist, haute couture typically remains defiantly whimsical, eschewing reality for fantasies of tulle, sequins, flowers and feathers, crafted by highly skilled artisans over hundreds of hours.
However, this week's Spring-Summer 2019 shows, while still utterly aspirational, showed that that even the world's top couturiers couldn't entirely shut out the real world. Several houses, notably Valentino, leaned into racially diverse casting; Dior hired a troupe of female acrobats to perform during its presentation, symbolizing women helping other women; and Viktor & Rolf's meme-ready statement gowns, with phrases like "I want a better world," could be taken as comments on current affairs.
Read on for the highlights.
Karl Lagerfeld -- who was absent from his Chanel show because of tiredness, according to the French house -- brought the French Riviera to snowy Paris, transforming the Grand Palais into holiday tableau, complete with Italianate villa, palm trees and swimming pool. The theme was cemented by the final look: A dazzlingly embellished bridal swimsuit, complete with matching swim cap and veil.
At Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli cast more than 40 black models -- including Naomi Campbell, who returned to the Italian house's runway for the first time in 14 years -- disrupting long-held notions about beauty and luxury at the level of haute couture.
The collection's inventive shapes and rich colors seemed as though they were made for the red carpet. Their beauty was enough to bring Céline Dion to tears on the front row.
Givenchy's Clare Waight Keller, the British designer behind the Duchess of Sussex's wedding dress, offered an exercise in purity of shape and line, combining the skills of the tailors and artisans in her ateliers to offer garments that had structure as well as fluidity.
She surprised her audience with combinations of latex (not often seen in couture) and lacquered guipure lace, as well as her couture take on the backpack (attached to a giant silk bow).
Iris van Herpen
This season, Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen was inspired by celestial cartography and astrological chimera. Highlights included barely-there organza printed with the cloud-like patterns by artist Kim Keever; sculptural dresses that resembled butterflies; and a dress that seemed to hover around the body through a sophisticated optical illusion.
Toward the end of the week, Olivier Rousteing unveiled his debut couture collection for Balmain, the brand's first couture showing in 16 years.
Eschewing practicality, Rousteing's collection included many all-white outfits, supersized silhouettes, and bulbous shapes, embellished more than a million Swarovski crystals, pearls, stones and beads. Away from the constraints of trends and commercial needs, Rousteing remarked, couture allowed him the "luxury of stepping back for a minute" and to "revel in a moment of unfettered creativity."
Dior erected a circus-style tent in the garden of the Musée Rodin and invited an all-female troupe of acrobatic performers to perform while the catwalk presentation was taking place.
Creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri proved a deft ringmaster by mixing whimsical Pierrot-like outfits with red carpet-worthy gowns.
Viktor & Rolf
Viktor & Rolf adorned their voluminous tulle gowns with graphic statements including, "F--k this I'm going to Paris," "No photo please," "Leave me alone," and, ironically. "Less is more." Whether these dresses were bold statements about the state of contemporary life or just an attempt at online virality (#mood), the designers certainly got everyone talking.