Once Upon A Time by Tony Glenville – Couture Wrap-Up Part 1


Dear Shaded Viewers,

“Once upon a time” is the opening to stories across the world in many languages, and this season it was certainly time for designers to engage our attention through narrative. Paris was blazing hot, much of the city was blocked by pre-Olympics work and even Metro stations were shut in preparation. We were struggling to get from show to show and by the time we took our seats just seeing some nice clothes wasn’t going to be enough.

Historically we have always been interested in what inspires a designer from Worth to Poiret, from Dior to McQueen, but trend and mood boards, a complex press release or over intellectual post show quotes don’t always make for good shows and certainly not good clothes. June 2024 found many designers offering strong shows because of the narrative and thought process and these shows also produced strong responses. Divisive opinions are good because it invites discussion, and it shows the designer has inspired a response.

Charles de Vilmorin, Stephane Rolland, Georges Hobeika, Yuima Nakazato, Robert Wun, Rahul Mishra, Thom Browne, Iris van Herpen, Franck Sorbier, Aelis, ArdAzAei , Viktor and Rolf and Roger Vivier all acted as storytellers. However, the stories varied hugely from legends, ceremonies, and rituals through to gardens and nature. My job is to share with you how those stories unfolded and to what extent the designers allowed the story to influence the collection.

Iris van Herpen installed both her sculptures and her clothes in a gallery. It seemed extraordinary to watch figures apparently suspended as living works of art high on the walks. Gesticulating and enfolded in the wings of dresses they seemed as if when we left, they might simply fly away. Hours and hours of work through the night offered us this brief, forty five minutes, once in a lifetime moment of fantasy couture. If Wicked the musical, soon to appear as a movie has a song entitled “Defying Gravity” then these ethereal visions proved it possible.

Quote “Van Herpen describes the overarching feeling that characterises this presentation and the maison’s creative evolution as “hybrid”.”

Charles de Vilmorin was the most theatrical with the French influence of Christian Berard, Louise de Vilmorin, Les Visiteurs du Soir and La Dame a le Licorne, indeed, centuries of story telling plundered, and often originally offered to very sophisticated audiences. The performance element and the exaggerated proportions offered some wonderful moments, but they were balanced by exquisite looks. A boy and girl in white trailing and ruffled satin with black lacquer flowers seemed almost close to Dubureau or Baptiste in Les Enfants du Paradis. The designer loves to paint and draw, and the curlicues and strokes of the brush were rendered in a variety of ways extending or enhancing the individual looks. Fringe, both silky and woolly, was again used to extend lines or exaggerate a silhouette, white crushed paper like taffeta and de Vilmorin’s own fabric design also added to the textures, surfaces and statements within the collection. Black, red, and white were the core colours, recalling the suites of cards. A complex story unfolded including a wolf, and possibly a princess in trouble, but as a performance and as a fashion show it demanded applause. Examining the pieces after the show demonstrated the variety of looks and the use of fabric and proportion very beautifully, a collection to encourage further investigation.

Stephane Rolland also looked to French cultural heritage, but with a focus on Paris history, and in a supremely confident collection encapsulated so much of Paris style. Le Jour Se Leve, Quai des Brumes, Les Dames de la Bois de Boulogne, Piaf and Yves Montand on the soundtrack, fog rolling in across the stage, the skeletal winter trees, and the sexiness of Brassai.

The atmosphere was in a complete contrast to last seasons desert theme, but the same focus in atmosphere with music and words on the soundtrack evoking a Paris of legendary style and performers. The hair and makeup reminded me of Yves Saint Laurent in its lacquered perfection with sleek hair and a voluptuous red mouth. Casting from the inimitable Coco Rocha through every mannequin was about a certain hauteur and confidence.

The silhouettes embraced a repertoire from sleek and slender to the eternal fitted bodice voluminous ball skirt, from sharp and tailored through to flowing like clouds of smoke. With black and black and white the dominating colours the lines, forms, and silhouettes curved and cocooned around the models in amazing graphic lines. A face framing curve, a flamboyant bow, a sweeping fold of wrap, or the sleek lines of drapery, the lines were like brush strokes around the body. The hooded tuxedo coat recalling Maria Casares, the explosions of quill feathers which hinted at the French love of review from Josephine Baker through the Dolly Sisters to Zizi Jeanmaire. The collection offered clues to Paris life and its leading ladies without fuss or exaggeration, a huge white duchesse satin ball skirt was teamed with a black gazar top which exploded into wings at the back, La Beaute du Diable?

As the show closed applause broke out for the finale as the models strolled through the mist, every look evoking a story in its own right. “Paroles, de Prevert a Brassai” was the title of the collection, and how those names and words inspired Rolland. Through the narrative, the romance, drama, and the heritage of Paris had been evoked through couture. The clothes were timeless, yet balanced the past and the future, modern yet with the fragrance of time past, a truly Proustian collection.

Georges Hobeika set his show in a garden, the models entering into brilliant sunshine and crossing both the lawn and neat gravel pathways. Inspired by gardens and flowers the collection was not only beautiful but was an object lesson in how to use colour. I think the ombré and degradee pieces were breathtaking in shading colours such violet sweeping across the lawns. The fluidity of so much of the construction was exceptionally beautiful with feathery embroideries also softening the line. The models looked so confident wearing the pieces and they stepped into the sunlight, with drapery often pouring from bejewelled swirls or panels billowing in the slightest breeze. A softly oversized tailored jacket was worn over a matching dress, the soft grey was decorated with thousands of silver paillettes gathering thicker and thicker to the end of the train. A sculptural hood curving into long sleeves and matching gloves was worn over a sliver of matt white crepe with a baroque curve across the bust. The hood was encrusted with silvery white embroidery giving it even a hint of space age beauty. A black tulle layered dress was suspended from a perfect white baroque curlicue, an easy black tailored man’s suit had the back of the jacket entirely covered with black roses, and the bride appeared to have stepped through a shower of white flowers scattered across her tulle dress and veil in a fabulous white I can only describe as the white of a rose.  This was simply put, a beautiful collection of haute couture clothes.

Quote “This fragrant stroll through Maison Georges Hobeika’s imaginary garden is evocative journey, highlighting the houses sense of spectacle and craftsmanship at the peak of their flowering perfection”

Yuima Nakazato offered a story of ceremonies and ritual. Placed on shiny discs set onto the floor of the Palais de Tokyo performers were dress in pieces decorated with noise making attachments like huge embroidery; clattering, ringing, shaking, and snapping they added to the soundtrack, and the atmosphere. The long lean lines of the clothes often petered out in threads of knots, the intense crochet and braiding both clinging to the body and trailing away as though the designers pen had wandered across the page. Several looks started with black formal long tailoring shrugged, slipped, or undone to reveal or as the title of the show said “Unveil” scarlet textural surfaces of knit and crochet. The black was lined with a print of veins on a white ground, and Mikimoto pearls wrapped the wearers wrists. It was a beautiful show, and the clothes were stunning. Nakazato explores fashion, he investigates his seasonal narrative, and he brings intelligence to his story telling.

Robert Wun used a screen at the end of the runway to project film and visuals associated with the pieces on the runway. Yet his inspiration is so clear and his narrative of life and death, earth and sky, the seasons and nature were one hundred percent clear. The snow looks and the spring looks, the exploding galaxy to finish, suggesting infinity. Every outfit make its journey down the runway slowly and clearly just the once, and as each look succeeded the previous one Wun’s signatures appeared in new guises. At some point drapery, the corset and burnt edges will appear, updated of course but bringing a continuity to his work. It was a collection where each look stood alone as it processioned past, creating great imagery, and offering couture boldness. The workmanship and craft on many pieces were superb with the deep green draped look with gloves especially strong as was the pink corset, and the embroideries delicacy on the white look was breathtaking. I am not sure all the colours will flatter but being couture clients can order in any colour the fabric comes in, plus proportions may have to be modified, I only saw very tall and slender clients in the front row, and Miss Fame not only wore deep blue Robert Wun but had a matching hair. They are strong looks for strong people and it is already a show people wait for in the Schiaparelli mood, statement dressing. With blue butterflies landing on a coat, autumn leaves scattered across a dress and snow landing on everything, this isn’t couture for the shy and retiring.

Rahul Mishra entitled his collection “Aura” this story was a thread running through in visual illusions. Multiple profiles, blurring colours, smooth versus rough and transparency, alongside frames forming silhouettes. The colour palette featured black and a deep blood red, and much of the embroidery had a spikiness to it. This was a huge contrast to Mishra’s romantic and nature loving work, although it was still in the collection. African or almost ceremonial elements appeared, and the collection delved into the earth and the sky through the idea of aura around the wearer. Tightly ruched ruffles, tiers of tulle frills and layers of tulle added curves and lines to many pieces in the collection. Lines of sharp quills projected from the body, profiles in beadwork multiplied the models own profile and capes swept around the slender lines of corseted tops. It was complex and multilayered, and the depth of the work and craft was dazzling but also sombre. Often black faded into grey and nude, the long black velvet cape worn over sequinned trousers, the spiky boa wrapped around the model all pointed to a ritual or a ceremony and indeed an atmosphere or aura of tension. The applause was loud as the designer and his team ran between the columns of the space, a collection to ponder on and re-examine, as the best stories always demand.

Quote “In the complexity of the subject, I have plunged into the depth of my curiosity to find multiple viewpoints……in order to articulate through couture clothing how the aura may interact with a living body”

Thom Browne has invented his own world, and his signature is strong and focussed. This season the story appeared to be eccentric, surreal and couture in calico. The fabric the trial garment is most often made in, the toile. The world Thom Browne invents is very different to fashion in the past, when Dior, Balmain, Nina Ricci, Jean Louis Scherrer and others all worked within a tighter seasonal vision and were less narrative driven. Designers like Galliano and McQueen have left their mark on fashion through story telling and also their use of the past. This couture collection made many references to historical couture from tweed, totally made up through embroidery and not woven, embellished evening wear, tailoring and coats in the classic manner a la Saint Laurent, but of course all with the designers twist. The strategic placing of the signature ribbon often hinted at Chanel and the crisp ruffles in tiers or the small waist to full skirt was possibly a nod to Christian Dior. I’m not saying it was old fashioned, I am saying it acknowledges the history of couture, perhaps no surprise when one considers Mr Browne’s partner is Andrew Bolton, director of the costume centre at the Metropolitan Museum New York. It’s brilliant the way the past, the present and the future are melded into a personal vision.

Franck Sorbier isn’t a huge international couture name, yet for his aficionados he’s wonderful at what he does. It’s a very French, very hand made approach to the business, with each season his personal vision presented in a concise and precise manner. This June he showed a static installation of models, except they were far from static, being on horseback, reading, cuddling or simply moving position is response to cameras focussed on them or rotating for us to get a better view of the workmanship on the pieces. A black coat with abstract scrolls  of embroidery, a collage of lace top, a capelet covered in ruched organza swirls, or a huge flounced skirt in pint d’esprit. A gentleman’s frock-coat in deep autumn hued velvet, or a dress seemingly formed of a mass of fringe, a tiny jacket, or a neat corset, a flamenco silhouette, or off long lean lines, within the collection myriad alternatives were discreetly offered. The narrative seemed cloudy and wintery with black, white, azure, and cloudy shapes and shades even in the matalasse fabrics, and in fact the collection was named “Nuages” clouds; perfect.

Quote” in French poetry clouds occupy an iconic place as symbols of nature and its majesty. Paul Verlaine and Charles Baudelaire found certain inspiration there and paid homage to them”

At Aelis over the seasons Sofia Crociani has continued to enchant me, even her films during lockdown had an emotive extra something, like baroque dance or a medieval pageant. This season she managed to balance classic Aelis romance, fragile tints and ethereal layers barely held together by exquisite workmanship with black velvet. Her signature bare backs, the floating ribbons and ties, and the trailing trains that take time to exit after the wearer, were all in place. Her exploration of fabric and vintage has led to a collaboration with the Paris Opera which is where the antique black velvet comes from and working with Hong Kong Polytechnic University on developing new techniques using gold and silver with silk. The press release is a fund of real and factual information as to how this creative goes about her work, and how she develops her craft through both the past and the future. Beauty and sustainability can go hand in hand and couture as the laboratory of fashion is the place to pursue this. The weight of the black velvet contrasted against the fragile shimmer of the organza was superb and the collection used light and dark in a balanced conversation. A top made of layered weightless ruffles, or a top made of a sweep of black velvet, a dress as demure and covered up as possible or a dress of transparent fragility? The collection questioned balance and equilibrium and the clothes offered answers. Romance and narrative are United in the work of Sofia Crociani, but she and her tiny team are working away behind the scenes, spending months investigating and working to make weightlessness and beauty seem effortless when in fact it is the epitome of the hautest of haute couture.

ArdAzAei had the bad luck to close Paris couture week. Hot, tired and on a press bus across from Palais de Tokyo which had to travel in a huge loop around the city because of pre-Olympic closures we needed a fillip. Firstly in the lovely cool space of the huge Galerie at the Musee des Arts Decoratives we were immediately more relaxed and then she delivered a fascinating collection.  Bahareh Ardakani designs as much with analysis and thought as with inspiration to calculate a look, a construction or a fashion piece. The balance of formulas of the creation invite us to observe carefully and evaluate her designs. Silk failed, silk organza, silk lame, Lesage embroideries, silk chiffon and many highest level techniques go into the making of each piece, it’s truly couture and even if to the casual eye it’s a dress, a second look reveals it’s uniqueness. Colours reflect gems, plus metallics including pewter, gold and silver, ruffles layers and e tended lines move both around and with the model, fluid contrasts with hard, weightless with constructed. There were also some really beautiful draped, almost severe dresses in a sensual romantic manner, and a superb ice blue organza coat dress with ballooning sleeves and a Watteau back. All in all, a wonderful way to finish an exhausting couture season.

Quote” The collection takes a deep dive into the geometry and mathematics that have inspired me since the inception of ArdAzAei.”

Viktor & Rolf went geometric with triangles squares and circles, and at least one person I spoke to hated it. I’m a Viktor and Rolf aficionado having been at their shows right back at the beginning. It’s never easy to evaluate the show because it’s always so strong and focussed, and just getting through the fifteen minutes and watching is all one can do. It is after the show and into the future we can evaluate their stories from Bells, Van Gogh, Ragamuffin, or Giant Dolls. The details in this collection and some of the juxtapositions were wonderful even at first glance and some of the construction and creation of shapes was brilliant. If it’s not conventionally “pretty” or even glamorous V & R have their own narrative and approach to fashion, clothes, and couture. It’s also amazing to see past elements pop up such as some seasons ago satin stripes as a huge collar or their stand away collar reappear. It is an intellectual and thoughtful design, it’s uncopiable and outside trend, and it’s totally their own

Roger Vivier last season took us into a garden and showed us a bouquet of inspirations. This season the very bugs in the garden inspired Gherardo Fellini to create his bags and waistcoats. The room was covered in scarabs, bees, and whatever bugs you can imagine, all preserved in gold and all sizes. In the cases were exquisite pieces, less like hanf4dbags and more like jewels with ladybirds about to fly, leaves fluttering in solid beaded embroidery and ostrich feathers floating across semi hidden crystals. It was a magic story with artistry so spectacular, but the imagination, inventiveness and sheer panache of the pieces was what stood out. One creator’s vision and a team of alchemists created a world we could step into. I can’t resist saying, the collection really gave those of us who visited a terrific buzz!

Tony Glenville

Diane Pernet

A LEGENDARY FIGURE IN FASHION and a pioneer of blogging, Diane is a respected journalist, critic, curator and talent-hunter based in Paris. During her prolific career, she designed her own successful brand in New York, costume designer, photographer, and filmmaker.