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Despite the pandemic, Paris Haute Couture Week enjoying a renaissance

Published
Jan 22, 2021

Pandemic or not, the ultimate expression of luxury in fashion, the Paris haute couture season, will debut digitally Monday with almost 30 houses vying for the attention of the world’s most expensively dressed women.


Fendi - Fall-Winter2019 - Haute Couture - Rome


 
And, despite repeated predictions of the death of couture, and the second lockdown in Paris, the four-day season will be crammed with uber luxury global brands and exciting and unexpected new talent.  The official calendar of shows begin Monday at 10 a.m. with Schiaparelli and climaxes Thursday at 4 p.m. with a debut by nouveau Los Angeles designer Sterling Ruby. A week that includes such boldface name giants as Chanel, Christian Dior, Giorgio Armani and Valentino; along with younger indie marques like Charles de Vilmorin, Alexandre Vauthier and Julie de Libran.
 
Plus, there are two other must-see debuts – Kim Jones at Roman fur specialist Fendi and AZ Factory, the highly anticipated return to fashion of Alber Elbaz, the much-admired former star of Lanvin. Due to government pandemic rules preventing any gathering of crowds in Paris, the entire season will be online, even if certain houses will hold phygital shows. Armani’s show, for instance, will be held behind closed doors in the Palazzo Orsini, one of Giorgio’s Milan mansions.


Schiaparelli - Spring-Summer2020 - Haute Couture - Paris - © PixelFormula


 
A decade ago, there were barely a score of houses showing proper collections in a three-day season, underlining the renewed vibrancy of couture, even if the origins of the revival date back further, according to Ralph Toledano, President of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), French fashion’s governing body, which controls access to the official calendar of all six runway seasons in Paris.
 
“There are several aspect to couture’s current strength. First, after the emergence of major new economies from Russia to China, there are many more clients; and a lot more nouveau-riche on the planet than a decade ago,” said Toledano.
 
“The second aspect is that for big French houses, like Chanel or Dior, having a great haute couture division is a very important in terms of their global strategy. The fact is their couture businesses have grown tremendously. Both them, and other houses, have hired lots of people in past 10 years. And, they can make money now, whereas at one stage historically couture had become something of a marketing exercise,” he opines.
 
A third key element dates back over 25 years when the dynamic, albeit now disgraced, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was minister for industry in the early 1990s, and long-time government rules about the number of staff and size of atelier for couture were radically revised and relaxed, allowing younger houses with modest financing to enter the metier.
 
“Those rule had not been altered since 1945, so the changes meant that the barriers to entry were significantly reduced,” said the FHCM president.


Julie de Libran - Spring-Summer2020 - Haute Couture - Paris - © PixelFormula


 
There have been late cry-offs: the UK’s Ralph & Russo; and the Lebanese couturier Elie Saab who felt unable to shoot any collection video as the coronavirus inflicts particular pain on his native land.
 
But other houses are increasing their commitment to couture. Like Fendi, a 100-year-old house which only staged its first couture show in 2015, when Karl Lagerfeld was the Roman brand’s creative director. Previously, Fendi only showed couture once a year in July, now, under recently appointed couturier Kim Jones, it will also present a collection in January.
 
Officially entering couture can be a torturous process; requiring approval by the federation committee made up of the senior houses and fashion experts. But over the last two decades, that restricted circle has widened to include noted foreign talent from the classical modernism of Armani to the brilliant avant garde of Dutch creator Iris Van Herpen to conceptual brands like Margiela or Aganovich.
 
“What matters for entry is that the young candidate shows the ability to become a grand couturier. Anyway, which designer would not want to create couture if they had a chance? You get to work with the best artisans in the world, with the best fabrics and are given carte blanche, as couture is the laboratory of fashion. What is there not to like?” laughed Toledano.
 

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