Some time ago I worked with a catwalks editor (yes, such things do exist) who hated covering the pre-collections. She had to be weaned (for ‘weaned’ read ‘prised’) off covering the far-less-relevant/commercial couture shows.
After all, the couture shows were an anachronism, a flickering remnant of a long-dead past, a patently unfair indulgence of interest only to movie stars and billionaires, and a blip in fashion’s calendar whose see-now-buy-now offer just didn’t quite fit.
Well, after a few months in which pre-fall collections have trickled in endlessly and often tediously, it’s time to apologise. Sorry Sue, you were right all along.
Couture may have its downsides and may be occasionally ridiculous, but in recent weeks it had so much more to offer than the uber-commerciality of the pre-collections (they may delight buyers but for trend analysts looking for the Next Big Thing they don’t have a lot to say).
Couture, by contrast, seemed full of energy. And with it having been see-now-buy-now for decades (but not wear-now, it takes time to hand make those dresses, after all), it’s clearly been so far ahead of the trend it’s about the most directional category the fashion industry has.
What did this season’s couture give us? Not a series of mundane trends but some grand brand visions and, of course, some great inspiration for party, occasion, bridal and lingerie. It also gave us some pretty full-skirt princess dresses that offered up a more youthful interpretation of couture’s traditional ballgowns. And there was a looser, body skimming silhouette that could have been a nod to couture’s huge Middle Eastern customer base but could equally have been a move in a modernist direction. You decide.
The headline story was the loose, fluid silhouette. In a season when red carpet dresses have veered towards the excesses of 80s ballgown-land, Piepaolo Piccioli’s first solo couture collection for Valentino went against that trend with a silhouette that was almost monkish in its simplicity. It showed how colour (from clinical white through lemon, pale mint green, Valentino red, metallic fuchsia, burgundy and a host of neutrals) can ring the changes without the need for widely varying silhouettes.
Key takeaways: Pleats are so NOT over; the evening pantsuit is more than just a tux - think tunic, blouse or evening coat and pant co-ords; the shoulders remain a key focus; a fluid trapeze shape adds a touch of innocence to a strapless dress; silver-toned embellishment is key; tightly-packed ruffles add a richness to summer eveningwear and weddings; self-colour appliqué adds extra interest via texture to a single-colour look.
With Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli having worked together for so long, it’s no surprise that their independent collections still have features in common. But Chiuri also has a whole heritage at Dior to work with (and live up to) so the differences between the two are becoming clearer. But she too veered from the demure to the extravagant and made as big an impact via the ultra-simple as with her more opulent pieces. There was the occasional mis-step (that red quilted dress) but for the most part it was gorgeous.
Key takeaways: Pleating (again) makes an impact in soft sheers or metallics; strapless doesn’t have to be all about va-va-voom glamour - it can be girlish and innocent too; stark mono colour eveningwear in almost-ecclesiastical silhouettes are a new interpretation of luxury that doesn’t rely on opulence; the ‘statement’ placement print/applied motif or scattered pattern is more directional than allovers; the new colour is toned down by layering dark or coloured sheers over neutrals; and the pretty ‘princess’ dress is key.
Karl Lagerfeld ditched the grand themes and went back to basics (or as basic as a collection containing €50,000 dresses can get). He kept the inevitable Chanel suits more wearable than some of his recent offerings and also came up with a mid-length evening selection for those who don’t spend their lives on the red carpet (or perhaps for those who do - some of those knee-length dresses look like a shoe-in to appeal to young Hollywood).
Key takeaways: The belt is the defining accessory, a few inches deep in silver finish it cinches suits, dresses, and coats, and can raise the waistline as well as define it at its natural level; the belt also shares the spotlight with embellished evening boots, another key piece that adds a more youthful edge to glam after-dark dressing; the contrast of plains and texture works beautifully for embellished panels against plain silks for Lagerfeld’s contribution to the rich-but-not-OTT trend; the deep V neckline remains a star bodice detail; tiers in tightly packed rows or more generous sweeps, and feathers are a key alternative to decorative effect to embellishment; colour is restrained as dominant silver is softened with pales - think mint, pink, white, grey and neutrals.
I’d found the Schiaparelli revival a little disappointing so far but SS17 sees the label with a new-found confidence now that it’s an official member of the couture club. Bertrand Guyon did what needs to be done with heritage labels by weaving the brand’s original story into its future and gave us a quirky celebration of statement print and colour.
Key takeaways: The relaxed silhouette; metallic pleating that flows around the body; Schiaparelli pink used with red; the heart motif used as a print statement on a white ground or as a cutout detail for ankles boots; the contrast of dark black against pure white or the shock of power red, pink or orange against white; and an Oriental edge for print and silhouette with subtle cheongsam and kimono cuts.
Viktor & Rolf
You can’t fail to be noticed in a Viktor & Rolf dress but whether that’s a good thing or not will be hotly debated. The latest collection was certainly hit and miss as it appeared to make one dress or outfit out of several mismatched pieces as well as patching dresses and other items with fabrics that jarred. But look past the fun and games that are a Viktor & Rolf signature and there’s detail set to provide inspiration aplenty for the occasion and intimates sectors.
Key takeaways: Like others this season, Viktor & Rolf shows that intensely coloured sheers can make a major impact, especially when an ombré effect achieved with tiers morphs them into contrasting or darker/lighter shades; the label also shows how tiny tiers of tightly gathered sheers can work on hems, necklines and as a way to dress up statement sleeves - whether that’s for a wedding dress or a negligée, the inspiration is equally valid.
Riccardo Tisci seems to be immune to the neutrals and pales trend hitting couture this season but his latest Givenchy collection hasn’t suffered for that. This tightly edited selection of dresses went for dramatic colour or rich black with pattern and texture part of their appeal. These pieces were made to be seen close up with surprising detail and pattern choices that felt like a subversion of Victorian and prairie style and also continued Tisci’s love of dramatic darks.
Key takeaways: The 19th-century influenced checked dresses that opened the collection should influence the casual evening and topwear sectors rather than full-on occasionwear with the high necklines and tight frills being part of the demure trend; think retro too for the white dress that mixes bands of lace and sheers with pearl trim - it takes bridal into a demure direction without looking too girlish; also note the feather and fringe trims - two powerful details that can ring the changes for red carpet, walking down the aisle or simply Christmas party season.
Versace didn’t show on the official schedule this time so it didn’t have to follow the rules with a prescribed number of day pieces as well as eveningwear. That was all to the good as the label did what it does best - knock ‘em dead evening pieces that could grace any party. But don’t assume that means everything was floor length. There was also plenty for high street party specialists to get excited about.
Key takeaways: Again, pleating, feathers, fringes, toned-down neutrals and silver trims; mini dresses teamed with elevated gladiator sandals play on Hollywood fantasy Roman looks and work for summer evenings; the combination of sheer black materials over a neutral base makes the most of nude effects without actually revealing anything; ‘knitted’ overlay detail or knotted rope gives textural depth to figure-hugging dresses; draped metallic sequins add instant eye appeal to a draped mini dress.
The deliberately creased pieces that opened the collection would have looked a whole lot better without that particular styling concept but that was merely a distraction - few women are likely to hand over tens of thousands of dollars then wear their new acquisitions looking like they’ve been packed badly. What really counted were the ‘big bang’ dresses, those ballgowns that are likely to influence the bridal sector heavily.
Key takeaways: The full skirt rules the roost but it’s made (slightly) more practical with hi-lo hems that would work well for bridal - think of them as knee length rather than mini and they work perfectly; also be inspired by the tiers of gathered sheers - couture is sold on that look this season; there’s room for a slimmer silhouette too - here it’s all about clever draping or quirky embellishment to make an impact.