Review of Day 3 of Paris Haute Couture Fall Winter 2020-2021

Maison Margiela, Bouchra Jarrar, Elie Saab, Viktor & Rolf, Guo Pei & Jean Paul Gaultier

Reviews of Maison Margiela, Bouchra Jarrar, Elie Saab, Viktor & Rolf, Guo Pei & Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2021 Fashion Shows

Day 3 – The Omnipresent Absence and Yearning for the Real 


Maison Margiela (Preview)

The last day of the Fall/Winter digital Haute Couture ‘week’ started at precisely 10 AM Paris time, with Maison Margiela presenting a 45-second video of a model wearing a black outfit and walking on a runway amidst a blast of colorful graphics that often overshadowed her casual walk, as she stopped and paused here and there to check her black hat. The fall Artisanal collection will culminate on July 16th with a finale of four installations, and then perhaps and hopefully surprise revelations. By the end of the day just past 6 PM, Pierpaolo Piccioli closed the Paris Couture ‘week’ with a black and white art piece by Nick Knight titled ‘Of Grace and Light’ featuring movements of shiny satin cloth of a dress and an appointment for an intimate physical show in Rome at Cinecittá in less than a fortnight. Valentino will be the season’s only live show, unless (and one can only hope) John Galliano manages to amaze us next week with his final ‘installation’.

Bouchra Jarrar

In her Édition No 2, after a four-year hiatus since restarting her own business last season, the French designer Bouchra Jarrar made 10 outfits, cutting and sewing her signature clothes – perfect tailored jacket and pants, tuxedo, perfect white shirts and a reworking of her favorite item the black leather perfecto – by herself during the period of confinement in her apartment.  Jarrar enlisted filmmaker Marcel Hartmann to film the twin sisters Aissa and Aida Kane around her apartment wearing the masculine black pantsuit, the crisp white cotton shirt, or a white beaded corset top and pleated white satin pants as well as walking inside the Bois de Boulogne in a sleeveless black crêpe tuxedo dress and black tuxedo jacket with silver embroidered lapel. The calm and serene feeling of the film reflects how Jarrar approaches her design and how her clothes have that power on the women who wear them, with little need for any extraneous decorations or worse any displays of logos.  

It is a true testament for Jarrar to make this collection against all odds, and still to manage her independent business on her own.  

Elie Saab

The Lebanese born designer Elie Saab is a seasoned couturier and no stranger to couture since his debut show in Paris since 2003. Known for his chiffon dresses with elaborate sequin embellishments, Saab issued a video titled ‘Le Retour aux sources’ (The return to the sources) with images of nature to serve as ideas for a collection that will be shown in September that will encompass the idea of a homage to the artistry of couture and creating exclusive signature pieces. Images of brown shades of tree bark and the colors and shapes of flowers are juxtaposed with the embroideries of beads, stones, and sequins on tulle, creating 3D surfaces on the clothes.  

Julie de Libran

In a similar vein, Julie de Libran delivered a video montage directed by her close friend Frédéric Sanchez, the music composer and DJ, combining segments from her show last season coupled with fabric swatches, sketches, and her studio team at work as she spoke about the launch of her brand less than a year ago.  “I want to show you a bit more of how it happened or how I do things, at least for the past year, and everyone that is involved in creating what we create and how magical it is. I want to focus on the dress as for me the dress is what you slide on and put on and you are dressed and ready to go. Depending on the volume and materials it can be adapted to any event,” de Libran said.  Libran’s video is nothing short of the affirmation of the physical show, in how she talked about bringing to life the special fabrics she found and how each dress is limited in quantity because there is only so much old material.  

“I feel very fortunate to work with these ateliers that make the couture here in Paris and the savoir faire is so meticulous and so detailed – so much work and so much time and how many hands are put together – the hours we all spent together making and then seeing the joy to wear each dress,” said de Libran at the close of her online presentation. Off line, Libran made a 25 piece collection comprised of a black sequined one shoulder dress, white lace sheath, a silver beaded double breasted coat dress, and brown dotted print ruffle top and skirt. 

Viktor & Rolf

Viktor & Rolf presented three new sets of mini wardrobes with three outfits in each capsule around the theme of ‘Change’ with a voice-over narration by the Lebanese-British pop singer-songwriter Mika, that offered a subtle sense of humor along with some wonderful new clothes, each designed specifically for this time frame like a pink flared gown with exaggerated sleeves and a series of all-over protruding fire hydrant shaped tubes that function as a built-in safety barrier for social distancing. Marijke Aerden directed a video inside a suite at the Waldorf Astoria in Amsterdam with models enacting an intimate showing while Mika succinctly commented on each look and their relevance in the current climate in a newscaster voice. “Its generous A-line volume will guarantee that you remain in your safe zone while venturing out into the world. The abstract decoration of holes and tunnels is at the same time unapproachable as well as attractive, an effect that is emphasized by the color clash of pinks and yellows,” he said of one garment.  

The first wardrobe revolves around a somber mood – a satin spaghetti strap dress with a dark cloud, a masculine chenille bathrobe with a satin bow, and an A-line midnight blue faux fur with giant sleeves and sharp cone motifs to ward off anyone approaching, worn with matching face mask. The second grouping centers on the notion of constant mood changes starting with a pale pink satin with different face emojis, then a pink dress with asymmetrical bow sash, and the ‘keep your distance’ hot pink flare coat. The last three looks focus on the theme of love – a silver dress with heart decorations, a white bathrobe with red heart-shaped pockets, and finally giant white dress with cut out heart symbols on the sleeves and sides symbolizing a love for everyone regardless of age, colour, gender, race, religion or sexuality as the voice proclaimed. 

Each of the looks and the accompanying commentary reflects the sense of humor the pair is known for and this video presentation truly encapsulates the spirit of Viktor & Rolf. It works as a presentation alternative and as a stand-alone film on Youtube or elsewhere. “Change is necessary, if only we could change ourselves as easily as we change our outfits,” emphasized Mika as the models exited for a final walk.  

Guo Pei

“For this 10th show, I am exploring the theme of Life. I envision images of vast Savannah grasslands where plants flourish and animals thrive with the arrival of the rainy season. Cheetahs are hunting, giraffes are grazing while a herd of zebras strolls by. Here, the laws of nature prevail, untainted. During this time when the world faces the challenges of a global health crisis, I find myself delving deeper into my perception and feelings towards Life. Through my collections, I wish to express my feelings of the connection between life and landscape and the relationship between man and nature,” said the Beijing couturier Guo Pei said of her ‘Savannah’ theme, based on nature and wild animals. The shapes and patterns of the zebras, elephants, leopards, birds of paradise and tigers became the base of embroidery motifs and exaggerated silhouettes, like a zebra embroidered sleeve on the jacket of a white pantsuit, a beaded leopard fronting a dark green silk dress or an elephant ear-shaped lapel skirt suit with embroidered elephant noses as patch pockets. Perhaps at times, the references are taken too literally instead of reinterpreted to foster a new way of seeing something familiar. 

As problematic as the problems inherent in the digital format is the absence this season of Jean Paul Gaultier, Givenchy, Giorgio Armani, and the highly anticipated launch of Balenciaga haute couture. Givenchy is in the midst of a change of creative guard with Matthew Williams replacing Clare Waight Keller, and Armani is moving his Privé show back to Milan for next January. Gaultier waved goodbye to his 50 years in fashion with a mega spectacle at the Théatre du Châtelet in January but has embraced a new model by inviting a guest designer each season to interpret his codes – the collaboration with Sacai’s Chitose Abe is now scheduled for late January. That’s quite a few IOUs from designers, and like financial promissory notes, one can hope for a full payment at term.  When things are tough, let’s all hope. 

Jean Paul Gaultier

Speaking of Jean Paul Gaultier (JPG), the designer released a lively video titled ‘The Show Must Go On’ to safeguard his usual time on the official schedule – Wednesday at 2:30 PM at his headquarters – by inviting a new generation of ardent fans to come and try on their favorite looks from his past collections.  Oh boy did his young fans and muses show up to this special occasion. Among these new muses is the model Sokhna ‘Toka’ Cissé who recounted how JPG inspired her during her teens years, and in her quest for her identity chose a black velvet fringed corset dress from the fall 1994 collection; the artist Jean Paul Paula said for him everyone has a place at Gaultier, recalling seeing a Latin and a gender-fluid model at a show when he was 16 and wore a gold corset and a double jeans pants; and Miss France Clémence Botino chose a sequined boxer coat with orange feather trims. This new army will carry on the JPG legacy now and from January, seasonal guest designers will continue to interpret his heritage and work for new audiences globally, for a French fashion house that has embraced the much talked about ideals of inclusion and diversity for the past forty years.  


One thing that emerges from this pause is the degree to which designers and the fashion houses are putting more thoughts on their work and business. Deemed anachronistic and snail-paced in an instant click world, haute couture has faced existential dilemmas at various junctures in the past. I can still clearly remember Pierre Bergé’s dictum in January 2002 at the last Yves Saint Laurent couture show at the Beaubourg, saying that couture is dead when he announced the closure of the YSL couture operations.  Since then many houses have closed – Torrente, Jean Louis Scherrer, Christian Lacroix, Emanuel Ungaro – but couture has not only survived but thrived in the last decade.  

Surely the failure of the digital show week won’t dent couture’s resilience.  Perhaps the only fashion sector that can thrive in the digital space is the business of the streetwear drop model, where a screengrab is more than sufficient in creating the desire and the rush to click the e-commerce buttons. That said the fantasy Dior film took us somewhere else while the Chanel brief dance video brought us back to the ground with a very serious line up of great clothes. But for fashion, there is no alternative to the real fashion show. 

Yet the diligence and commitment that propelled designers to pull together in a difficult time, this resilience is continued in their craft and provides a space for an exchange of creativity and dialogue that is commendable, and one should not be quick to dismiss.  

For those who were lucky enough to sit in the Richard Rodgers Theater in late 2016 to experience and witness the play ‘Hamilton’ with the original cast, that human experience, the emotion the live theater elicits, the voices and movements of the actors, the sound of music – all of that cannot be replaced with the movie version currently being released.  The same can be said for those who have seen great couture shows that overwhelmed their emotions and aroused their intellect; these digital displays (even the best efforts) seemed far short of the live experience. Would you want to see Hamilton the movie or Hamilton the play in a theater? The testimony and the memory of the live shows must be part of that experience, and cannot be divorced from these shows themselves.  

“The world around is changing rapidly, whether apocalypse or a new spiritual era. You will be able to step into the singular universe of spectacular beauty, unexpected elegance, and spiritual glamour,” the voice of Mika reminded all of us of the possibilities of couture to shine a light and share the moment of beauty. 

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