Review of Day 1 of Paris Haute Couture Fall Winter 2020-2021

Schiaparelli, Iris van Herpen, Ralph & Russo, & Giambattista Valli

Reviews of Schiaparelli, Iris Van Herpen, Ralph & Russo, & Giambattista Valli Spring 2021 Fashion Shows

Day 1 – The Imaginary And The Real 


It’s the day after July 4th in Paris and normally every year it’s time for fall couture show week. But the city is empty of hordes of out-of-town guests occupying all the hotels and booking all the available cars and drivers. Even Parisians are prepared to leave town for summer holidays until early September, or as the locales here call it ‘la rentrée’.   

Naomi Campbell officially welcomed guests in a video broadcast to the first haute couture online-only presentation of the fall-winter 2020-2021 collection that normally would take place in Paris in the first week in July by urging the world leaders of fashion in Paris to combine their vision and action to foment radically changes in diversity and inclusion for the multitude of identities, with checks and balances in more permanent social, economic, and political structures.  “I am Naomi Campbell and I declare Paris couture fashion week ouvert, merci,” concluded the supermodel-activist and with that remark the race is on.  

Since the Federation announced the cancellation of physical shows at the end of March for this summer show seasons in Paris due to health and travel restrictions and many still in place now, designers have been working on different ways to present their new ideas and products without the aid of a physical show, a necessity and perhaps the only way to show fashion, especially creative fashion. Haute couture depends much more on the physical show as the clothes need to be seen, due to the manner of its uniqueness in a way that a digital picture cannot capture.  It is simply more convincing to create an enchantment via staging and music and an audience to witness the proceedings.

That said, digital formats present limitations – namely the houses are limited to either moving or still images to create and narrate the stories of their clothes. Due to the closing of the ateliers for several months, for houses that can produce clothes only a portion of the collection is made in a scaled-down version. 

“Life today is lived according to opposites: the pandemic has inverted everything we knew.  Now instead of a team to execute a collection, I just have my own imagination.  Instead of the Place Vendôme in Paris, it’s been designed and sketched on a park bench in Washington Square,” said Daniel Rosebery, the creative director of Schiaparelli, in a video that started with him putting on his face mask to go outside, all shot from the back of his head. Schiaparelli announced earlier this week that a condensed and edited couture collection drawn from these “Collection Imaginaire’ sketches would be presented towards the end of this year in Los Angeles.  

The sketches included what would be a sharp tailored no lapel jacket with side button at the left hips paired with tight cigarette pants and a neck choker; a design for a sandal, a black cross over buttoning long coat, a black long dress with huge volume sleeves, a corset pantsuit with flowing sleeves – mostly linear silhouettes with additions of volumes on sleeves and on shoulders with several fantasy pieces that recalled the surrealist elements of the house’s heritage. This isn’t the first time we see Rosebery at work drawing the collection: in his debut show for Schiaparelli last July, he sat in the middle of the runway on a white slanted table with pencils and paper readied and sketched the clothes of each of the models that exited and walked past him. Judging from these sketches it is not far fetched to imagine the actual clothes live.  

Iris van Herpen is not a stranger to technology: in fact from her very beginning the designer has embraced technological innovation at every stage of her fashion cycles from materials to production to sourcing as well as innovative ways of making garments. In a film by Ryan McDaniels featuring the Game of Thrones actress Carice van Hauten titled Transmotion, that means the process of change from one state to another where the actress moves her body in slow motion until the final moments when she is seated surrounded by a circular spiral of white pleated chiffon. And the only dress van Herpen created this time has all the signature work coalesced since founding her label in 2007. Anchored by a white silk short body strapless layer with sprouting petals of white silk organza in diaphanous wavy circular form and by a lattice of tree pattern branches made of black laser-cut duchess satin – the dress is both rigid in the center of the body and fluid with outward pleated organza with attached string of fringes and crystals.  

Iris van Herpen Fall 2020 Couture

Carice van Hauten mimics the movements familiar to what would have taken place on an actual van Herpen catwalk but perhaps in a slightly less dramatic manner. But the designer reminds us that this singular dress is only the beginning, the seed of new work to come next season.  The bigger work for van Herpen will go on as time and pandemic permit.

Tamara Ralph from the London firm of Ralph & Russo approached her fall collection with a three-prong strategy in lieu of the show the brand has normally done in Paris since 2014. Ralph designed a journey of the collection with digital looks on the brand customized avatar, a small number of looks made in her atelier in London, and the rest of the collection remain as sketches.  “We want to look at the environment and some of the special places we want to travel to like the Seven Wonders of the World and into some of the culture and colors of these countries,” Ralph explained in the video on the genesis of the collection, along with some sketches in the background as well as color charts as references, like using flowers to create digital patterns for fabrics to be used on her dresses.

Ralph & Russo’s avatar Hauli wore a giant mustard dress or a white jacket with folded sleeves while real models in the studio changed from a red satin dress with sashes of tulle crystals, a white side buttoned corset long dress, a pink tulle dress with overflow sleeves or a light pink corset strapless dress with marabou feather stole. The avatar has the advantage as she was seen photographed around the world on sites like the Great Wall or the Mayan pyramids, pandemic be damned.  

Giambattista Valli eschewed the runway a few seasons ago and opted for still life presentations like his spring exhibition in January at the Jeu de Paume in order to better represent his designs.  In a serene video montage juxtaposing some of his cell phone recordings of his Paris confinement with shots of a model in the studio wearing garments from the new fall collection, Valli achieved just as much with this format as he would have with an exhibition, but surely seeing this concise 18 looks collection with its explosion of reds, whites, and pinks, dresses that are nothing short of the quintessential Valli signature work that his clients have espoused since 18 couture collections ago. Valli’s short cocktail dress comes in black with a large white bow wrapping around the body, in light pink satin strapless with a chiffon train, or in a red tulle strapless layered sleeveless corset; his big gowns are rendered in white tulle with red feathers or as a giant fuschia tulle multi-layer tier dress. Perhaps the lockdown has forced the designer to abandon embroideries and embellishments in a very polished collection with a focus on cut and draping of fabrics, and yes at times volumes of fabrics. 

“We have to adapt a lot to new ways of working,” said Ralph at the end of her video presentation.  “Everything has changed, but imagination, and the drive to create, has never been more relevant,” Schiaparelli’s Rosebery reminded all of us. And all these imaginations from designers in and out of Paris will lead to creations of future splendors without any doubts, and hopefully on actual runways shows. The first day of the new era ended on a high note of optimism, and with high assurances that creativity is the main armor for fashion’s future.  

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