Review of Day 2 of Paris Haute Couture Fall Winter 2020-2021

Day 2 – The Reality of the Digital Showcase


While the opening of the Paris fall haute couture season under the constraints of the ongoing pandemic, where brands had to switch to creating online presentations in lieu of not having the ability to actually make a whole collection then show on a runway format to media and buyers in the traditional manner, was hailed as a positive way for designers to address directly how to move forward in a new era – the second day offerings may have shattered that enthusiasm a bit. This may possibly be due to the fact that haute couture clothes are so unique and so specific that the garments need to be seen worn in real life, rather than paraded in some way as onscreen images, whether moving or still, and whether commercial or art directed.  

“This couture week we are grappling with a harsh reality, a time to rethink everything that we know, developing insight into the new world and the responsibility we must take,” said the Dutch designer Ronald Van Der Kemp who started his own couture house in 2014. One aspect of this harsh reality may also be that haute couture clothes need to be seen and felt physically to attest to the craftsmanship skills and the materials employed to hand make each garment.  

Alexis Mabille has shown haute couture on his own since 2008, just three years after launching his own label. That Mabille was able to produce with his team a near-complete collection with 26 looks using much of the fabrics easily sourced and other materials like buttons he had on hand during and after the Paris lockdown was surely a feat to commemorate, even under normal circumstances. That he did so without compromising what he stood for since he started – old-style French chic and cinematic glamour – deserves applause and should be taken as a valuable lesson for other independent brands to emulate and perhaps to follow as a guide on how to maneuver in the difficult market conditions.  

That said, his online video presentation emulating a full runway show with a single girl parading in a shocking pink rectangular box confirmed the critical importance for real shows of couture clothes.  The colorful beaded wool jacket, purple bow short dress, gold lurex dress with fringes alongside the series of red long dresses, a red double-breasted jacket worn backwards as a dress and the two dramatic purple velvet and midnight blue shantung flare dresses with exaggerated sleeve wings appeared too flat when shown in this format.  Hopefully, Mabille will be able to see some of his clients who can try on the clothes and appreciate the workmanship.

The same can be said of Stéphane Rolland, another perennial French designer who has shown couture for many years since starting out on his own in 2007. His video captured the essence of his known signature – architectural cuts and sculpting with graphic clothes – with a simple video of key looks such as a white layered long dress with a black cape and tiered side cutouts showing one side of the model’s leg, a marigold strapless dress with steel and crystal embroidered plate and bustier, a long black dress with embroidered trims and back ruffle – but these clothes although less dramatic in their shapes than the last few seasons are surely better viewed on a runway setting or on the actual customers.  

But Ronald Van Der Kemp’s video presentation for his ‘Wardrobe 12’ was conceived with the same artistic flair that represented the spirit of the brand and was an exception.  Seemingly truncated, the moody and out of focus video montage of facial and body movements – actually they were a bunch of friends and colleagues, filmmakers, dancers, musicians, photographers, models and hair artists all dancing together – combined with often barely visible clothes against loud music actually conveyed the brand’s couture methodology.  “We present couture as fashion in its purest art form, where uniqueness, creativity, craftsmanship, originality, love and passion come together,” said Van Der Kemp.  

Founded in 2014, the designer’s sole mission has been to reinvent what couture can mean today by creating garments out of unwanted materials and of discarded fragments to create singular items without the need for additional production of materials and waste – in other words, an upcycled and sustainable company.  The brand only used existing materials – old couture stock fabrics, vintage clothes, leftovers clothes, discarded clothes, interior fabrics, old leathers, and other production leftovers – for all its products. “New and old, collaged, upcycled, hand-painted, sculpted, embellished and embroidered clothes made with love from all the leftover treasures around us,” said Van Der Kemp of this collection.    

In the video, close camera shots of faces, heads, necks, hands along with barely visible clothes – a white blouse with front ruffles, a metallic pouf sleeve dress, a floral corset dress, a red and a brown hat – intermixed with collages of a still life of a series of pins with fabric swatches on a mood board. Here dress mannequins swirled around with various raw materials on them, and there several pieces of cut print fabric swatches to be assembled into the beginning of a dress.  This video smorgasbord actually offered the spirit and the sensibility of the RVDK brand that reused materials and mixed them all up to create a new garment. Aside from this video, the brand managed to make 29 looks in total with a couple of looks that shared pieces of past seasons now recycled anew. Several outstanding garments included an art print strapless dress assembled from hand-painted silk remnants, a hand-painted print silk short cocktail dress, an embellished army fatigue boiler suit, and a silk mousseline empire art print dress with an intarsia mixed python jacket and vintage scarf.  

Alexandre Vauthier did something similar with his fuzzy rock and roll short video, with loud blasting music and a model wearing dark sunglasses with each of the featured looks. The clothes are signature Vauthier for sure, from the gold ruffle jacket and skirt to the tight black leather cropped jacket and slim black pants to the black organza ruffle tier short cocktail dress.  The mood of the video had the feel of an old and worn out Betamax videotape found stashed somewhere in an old house.  Yet the fast pace and loud music and the sexy clothes all conveyed what Vauthier has built as his aesthetics over the last decade.  

“Under the current global crisis where our ability to meet people physically is limited, we initiated the charity project to suggest new ways to interact, and to give hope and courage,” said the Japanese designer Yuima Nakazato, who first showed in Paris couture in January 2016, of his Face to Face project launched this May as an outreach. 25 customers sent in their own white shirts and had a conversation with Nakazato, and told him about the story of their shirt.  Nakazato then transformed and created 25 new pieces based on his interpretations of their shared talks and then returned the shirts to each customer. One spoke about inheriting her mother’s shirt that she intended to wear until she can give it to her daughter, just like a mother giving a daughter a kimono and passing on the story of one generation to the next. Another sent his shirt saying he loves Basquiat and his use of colors in his paintings. The results are nothing short of exquisite from altering the geometry of one shirt to adding fabrics to creating a pleated shirtdress or to adding layers of fabrics on the front to create a wavy terrain. This individual touch and the transformation of cloth into different and specific garments is what couture can also mean today.  

The French designer Julien Fournié, working on his own label since 2008, saw this lockdown as an opportunity to start afresh, showing a video to explain how his new approach was a basic for haute couture for a long time.  Instead of presenting a truncated collection or a short film, Fournié clearly explained that the authenticity of couture is about the unique design for each client that should not be repeated on another customer, and each garment is produced with eco-friendly principles in mind using technology in the aid of creating and composing the clothes.  

At the end of day 2 the reality of the digital season begins to sink in. What works really well for brands so far are those that made creative choices based on what their brands represent, much more so than in rushing to present a new collection, even with a smaller amount of looks. It’s the quality and the thoughtfulness of the creative content, not the quantity of clothes. The creative and the products must convey with absolute clarity the brand identity to the audience. Fall short of that and you won’t get noticed, and remember that digital death is lightning fast. It won’t be clear until weeks from now when audience numbers are calculated to ascertain whether the digital experience has been a success but at any rate even before it’s over, it’s safe to say digital platforms aren’t the saviors of fashion, especially haute couture.  

Stay up to date on news, analysis, real-time runway coverage, campaigns, trends, store design and more. Join our newsletter today.

Newsletter sent Mon - Fri 1:30 AM EST