PARIS COUTURE A/W’21
Couture Fashion Week has just wrapped up in Paris, marking one of the most exciting moments on the fashion calendar that we’ve experienced in a long while. Although the Covid-19 pandemic continues to cause disruptions for designers and we saw some digital-first presentations, there are more physical shows planned in France this week than we have had on the agenda for the past 18 months.
The schedule, which began with Dior and Schiaparelli on Monday, saw a number of exciting moments, including the return of Balenciaga to the couture catwalk, and the welcome of Pyer Moss to the calendar, making its creative director Kerby Jean-Raymond the first Black American fashion designer to be welcomed into the couture fold. We also saw Jean Paul Gaultier’s collaboration with Sacai revealed for the first time, something fans have been waiting for since it was first announced back in March 2020.
Some brands chose to present their collections digitally, either via fashion films or shoots, or both, while others put on physical catwalk shows with a front row filled with guests, something which feels like a bit of a novelty after the past year and a half. Almost all will were also live-streamed for audiences to watch from home.
Below, we round up the highlights from the shows and presentations. Here is everything you need to see from couture autumn/winter 2021.
Kerby Jean-Raymond made history on Saturday evening, becoming the first Black designer to present at Couture Fashion Week. The designer’s label Pyer Moss was initially scheduled to show on Thursday but was forced to postpone after torrential rainstorms halted proceedings. However, his collection was worth the wait. Entitled ‘Wat U Iz’, Jean-Raymond commented on the Black experience in America with very literal interpretations of memories from his childhood, including a giant peanut-butter tub worn as a dress, a fire-escape ensemble, a recreation of the mobile phone his father had and of an ice-cream cone, but also paid tribute to beauty mogul CJ Walker, who is known for being America’s first female self-made millionaire, and to other Black inventors.
Kim Jones’ second couture collection for Fendi was revealed via a beautiful fashion film directed by Luca Guadagnino, which starred supermodel Kate Moss and was a celebration of “the eternal beauty of Rome”. The designer described the collection as “a contemporary connection between eras, cultures and aesthetics”.
“Connecting eras, a meeting of the old with the new, the past with the present. The eternal beauty of Rome and its composite history are the protagonists of this haute couture show,” Fendi said. “A collection where nothing is quite as it seems.”
It was a long-awaited moment when Demna Gvasalia presented Balenciaga’s couture collection this week, the first for the house in more than 50 years. The show took place at a fully restored version of founder Cristóbal Balenciaga’s original couture salon, which has been closed for five decades, and welcomed the likes of Kanye West and Bella Hadid to the front row to take in the collection.
A mix of men’s and women’s made-to-measure pieces, the collection paid tribute to Balenciaga’s revered couture history and had plenty of direct references to the founder, including the initials C.B. being hand-embroidered on silk ties, poplin shirts, and leather gloves, while several looks also directly referenced pieces from Balenciaga couture history – including the final design, a veiled bridal look, which was inspired by one of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s last designs, presented 54 years ago.
Jean Paul Gaultier
Last March, just before the world was turned upside down by the pandemic, Jean Paul Gaultier announced that it would be collaborating with Sacai on a couture collection as part of its new strategy to team up with a different designer each season. And yesterday, the collection was finally revealed. In it, Chitose Abe of Sacai had her first chance working with haute couture and brought her trademark touches onto Gaultier’s archive, giving a modern twist to some of his most iconic pieces.
It is always a glamorous affair on the Zuhair Murad catwalk and in this couture collection, the first since the designer’s atelier was destroyed in the devastating explosion in Beirut, he wanted to look forward. “I wanted to show it in a physical format as a celebration of renewal and hope,” he said. “My clients almost demanded it. They want to enjoy life, go out again, buy new pieces and look beautiful, resuming a sense of luxe fastueux.”
Viktor & Rolf
“The Viktor & Rolf haute couture autumn/winter 2021 collection is inspired by the new generation of royals and their attempt to show a human reality behind the facade of an institution,” the designers explained of the new collection, which featured a selection of looks, each comprising of a dress, a coat, and a sash, all of which were adorned with reignited Swarovski crystals.
“The world is obsessed with royalty, perhaps even more so than with fashion. Both require putting on a show, and this show must always go on, no matter what. The collection and presentation pay tribute to the survival instinct of an institution that fashion artists Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren have loved and served for almost 33 years: Fashion. At the same time this season addresses the ambiguity of ‘keeping up appearances’, regardless of what happens behind the scenes.”
Just as was the case with many designers this couture season, Elie Saab was all about optimism and hope. The designer’s collection featured the most beautiful ballgowns covered in delicate floral embellishments and in striking silhouettes. Entitled ‘Buds of Hope’, it was all about finding the joy in fashion and celebrating what the future may hold – and, clearly, also about designing jaw-dropping gowns that any actress would dream to wear on the Cannes red carpet.
Alexandre Vauthier chose to forgo a traditional catwalk show this season, waiting for the chance when more international editors will be able to travel, and instead opted for a digital presentation of images. The designer, who is known for his sultry red-carpet designs that are loved by supermodels on the red carpet, kept the palette black.
“I don’t want to speculate, but I can feel that change is coming,” he said. “I wanted to mark this with a sober — but not somber in spirit — new beginning.”
There has been no shortage of colour in the collections presented so far during this couture season, something which was certainly embraced by Giorgio Armani, who sent a sea of pinks, purples and greens down the catwalk yesterday. The designer also played with texture in the collection entitled ‘Shine’, featuring shimmery fabrics, and plenty of sequins, tulle and chiffon in some of the glorious gowns, which we will no doubt see on the red carpet soon.
The autumn/winter 2021 couture collection from Chanel was not presented at the house’s usual location, the Grand Palais (which is currently undergoing refurbishment), but at the Palais Galliera, the City of Paris Fashion Museum, a perfect spot for a Chanel show since it is currently showcasing an exhibition about the house’s founder, Gabrielle Chanel – who was also, as ever, a key inspiration behind the collection.
“It was when I rediscovered these portraits of Gabrielle Chanel dressed up in black or white 1880s-style dresses, that I immediately thought about tableaux,” creative director Virginie Viard explained of her thoughts behind the new collection, which was centred around painting and inspired by impressionist art. “Works by Berthe Morisot, Marie Laurencin and Édouard Manet. There are impressionist-inspired dresses, skirts that look like paintings and a long white satin dress punctuated with black bows like Morisot’s.”
The show ended, as is customary, with a bridal look, this one worn by actress and Chanel muse Margaret Qualley, who took to the catwalk for the very first time before tossing her bouquet playfully into the crowd.
Pieter Mulier – who is best known for being Raf Simons’ right-hand man for many years – presented his first collection for Alaïa this week, a hybrid of couture and ready-to-wear, which he is classing as “winter-spring” and will be available from December. The collection paid homage to the house’s namesake designer and his original creations, but gave them a modern update, turning these signature staples into something new.
Giambattista Valli’s trademark frothy gowns were back for AW21 – and were just as glamorous as ever. The designer – who will next year celebrate 10 years with his namesake label – continued to channel the high-octane aesthetic that he has become so well known for, and which is so loved on the red carpet. And this season, he actually turned to Hollywood for inspiration, giving his couture fantasy a Ryan Murphy twist, the designer explained in his show notes.
Dior returned to the Paris runways for day one of Couture Fashion Week just a few weeks after hosting its cruise 2021 show in Athens. The occasion called for a celebration of craft with creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri taking inspiration from the remarkable embroidered walls of the Sala dei Ricami in Rome’s Palazzo Colonna. As well as taking this theme into the rich embroideries and beautiful detailing in the collection, Dior also collaborated with artist Eva Jospin, who was responsible for the show’s breathtaking set, which featured her large-scale embroidered work entitled ‘Chambre de Soie’.
“Reclaiming the values of haute couture after this period of restrictions when the Dior collections designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri were mainly presented through film,” the house said of the collection. “The materiality of fabric becomes form, while the subversive language of embroidery is expressed in a project that becomes a performance.”
“For two years, I’ve been saying that I didn’t care about nostalgia,” creative director Daniel Roseberry said ahead of the reveal of Schiaparelli’s new couture collection. “This season, though, it’s where it all started. I found myself wondering, again and again: What if you combined a little Manet; a little Lacroix; a little 1980s; a little 1880s; a little matador; a little space alien; a little Ingres; a little shimmer; a lot of colour? Could I do it? And what would it look like? The answer is this, my fourth couture collection, ‘The Matador’.”
With the collection – which was presented via and video and lookbook – the designer wanted to pay tribute to the work of the house’s founder, and to celebrate the history, the beauty and the joy of fashion.
“Here’s what I want: No more cookie-cutter fashion,” he added in his show notes. “No more pieces that look like they could have been made by anyone. No more cynicism. No more irony. No more timidity. No more coolness. Give me more beauty, more earnestness, more romance, more effort. I hope this collection reminds everyone who encounters it of the sheer delight that fashion can bring us in hard times, and with it, the promise of more joy when the clouds part. Give me more fashion. Give me more hope.”