Silhouette & Shape: Haute Couture this July
Making clear statements on some seasons’ stories and trends is a struggle. But this July Paris, for me, produced two clear stories: changing silhouettes and women on the catwalk.
Silhouette and shape comes into so many areas of the fashion and style business. Take the iconic designer fragrances that are instantly identifiable. We recognise the sharp lines of the Chanel No 5 bottle and stopper instantly, or the rounded boule shape of the Lanvin. The triangular silhouette of the original Issey Miyake fragrance was, when first introduced, something truly new in the shape of a scent flacon. The smooth flatness of the Comme des Garcons bottles seems to relate directly to the timeless modernity of the house. In fragrance, the bottle, spay or phial is the first link between the client and the content. It triggers interest before a single sniff, spritz or drop is tried.
This season at couture, shape and silhouette became important once more for the clients and designers to discuss, select and interpret, be it soft, easy and flowing or challenging.
Stephane Rolland chose floating trapeze shapes and fluttering panels, Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior chose slender and waisted, Maison Rabih Kayrouz looked at easy layers, and many designers looked at slender silhouettes, especially for longer skirts. It was a huge departure from short and body conscious as the key statement and was indeed a jump from unstructured tea dresses and the bulky shapes of early Vetements collections.
At the shows, many of those watching wore long, soft dresses both for fashion and the extreme heat. But waists were often firmly outlined, and the softness of the shape, from a narrow shoulder flaring out, was neither oversize nor unflattering. Fashion victims posing for the cameras, or “influencers”, certainly seemed absent. The number of clients wearing a designer’s clothes from previous seasons to view next seasons delights was much in evidence.
"This season at couture, shape and silhouette became important once more for the clients and designers to discuss, select and interpret, be it soft, easy and flowing or challenging."
The 1950's silhouette of full skirt, small waist and a feminine edge to the cut without exaggeration was shown in many collections, in particular Dior Julien Fournie, Georges Hobeika and Giovanni Bedin. Although shown short, being couture, it can be ordered any length. Givenchy, Fendi Couture, Alexandre Vauthier and others featured this story. Trapeze shapes were shown at Stephane Rolland, Valentino, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Iris van Herpen, Alexis Mabille and Rabih Kayrouz. This silhouette has two key historical references: Watteau in the 18th century and Yves Saint Laurent at Christian Dior in 1957.
Bold shapes also characterised John Galliano at Margiela, Franck Sorbier, Aganovich and Noureddine Amir - Margiela with Nomadic bulk, Sorbier with 18th century drama, Aganovich with re-imagined couture, and Amir with tribal splendour. Shape and line has always been a strong element in couture, from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent. Its return - all be it in myriad variations rather than a single statement - is welcome.
What about my trend for women on the catwalk? Well, between all the Paris shows and Dolce e Gabanna Alta Moda at Lake Como, the following women walked the runways of the world’s top couturiers: Debra Shaw, Helena Christensen, Eva Herzigova, Naomi Campbell, Georgina Grenville, Chrystèle Saint Louis Augustin, and Alek Wek (all over forty), whilst Jan de Villeneuve, in her seventies, walked for Aganovich. Significantly, alongside the very young models were also many models in their twenties like Winnie Harlow and Megan Williams. This points to a new understanding of the clients, the clothes, and the seasons going forward. Trends towards a new elegance, a new refinement, and a subtle interest in glamour, far removed from excess, body exposure and extreme fit, means that whoever wears the clothes is essential.
Many have already commented on the season’s return to traditional elements, and a focus on the art of couture. Visiting the salons after the show is vital for the clients. It should also be vital for the writers, since much of the work can only really be appreciated close-up, since the raison d’etre of couture is the craft, work, ateliers, and their extraordinary skills. Much of the embroidery and embellishment was of magnificent quality but subtler and lighter, often referencing heritage rather than attempting to be edgy or loud.
Art Deco hints could be seen at Fendi Couture, Hary El Behairy, Zuhair Murad and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Scattered delicate dégradé embroideries were seen at Georges Hobeika and delicate Chantilly lace in leaves, butterflies, insects, and petals at Schiaparelli seemed lighter than air. The techniques Ronald van der Kemp lavished on his collection must be explained both in terms of his vintage and up-cycled fabrics and the ethically sourced components he uses. On the runway we see that these fabrics aren’t in fact entirely what they appear to be, which all part of the magic and alchemy of couture.
The youngest couturiers explore the past and the look to the future by embracing hand work and 3D printing, iridescent plisse synthetics and magical classic silks. The eye of the designer in combination with this wide-ranging approach means clear plastic and gabardine, silk taffeta and moulded synthetic appliques, and designers whose backgrounds are as diverse as their fashion signatures. Rami Kadi, Pier Paolo Piccioli, Giovanni Bedim and many others come from across the globe, bringing something of their culture in their approach to couture be it Morocco, Egypt, France, Holland, Italy, or Lebanon.
Finally, to Valentino. If last season was a brilliant couture show, this season actually capped it! It is hard to describe, so I simply direct you to the Valentino website or YouTube to see for yourself. Watch for the way every garment changes from every angle, how the colours conceal and reveal as the model turns, the amazing appliques worked all the way around the shape, the contrast between stark pony tails of thick straight hair and oversized hair pieces, and the confections made of real flowers from marigolds to orchids. The colour palette from deep greige and bitter chocolate to bright carnation red or azure blue, the variety of shapes from Pierrot blouse to ballooning taffeta ballgown and the sense of both lightness and volume allowed the entire show to go past as a dream of couture in its operatic beauty.
Tony Glenville shares his thoughts on fashion and trends in regular articles for our website. Tony is a fashion writer and expert. He is Couture Editor for Luxure magazine and a regular contributor to Schön! digital, NOWFASHION, Maybourne, Antidote, Lash, Narcisse and Renaissance magazines. He is author of the books Top to Toe, a guide to men's grooming and New Icons of Fashion Illustration. He also works closely with Fashion Scout and is a judge at Graduate Fashion Week.
All photos: Tony Glenville