History takes bows, amid new rows, at Haute Couture Fashion Week

against the backdrop of the Spanish steps, while Dolce & Gabbana returned to its Sicilian roots.

Kim Kardashian made headlines for walking at the Balenciaga show alongside Nicole Kidman and Dua Lipa but was quickly overshadowed by daughter North West’s first foray into the fashion scene. West, who is Kim’s eldest child with rapper Kanye West, accompanied her famous mother throughout the week, and was even spotted front row at Jean Paul Gaultier’s show, making ripples on social media with her distinct punk-esque style.

Beyond the celebrity grandeur, high fashion was still the main focus of the week. Haute couture garments are made-to-order pieces bought by extremely wealthy individuals, the pieces are often sewn by hand and showcase the highest form of the designer’s craftsmanship. These collections are also often used as marketing vehicles to sustain a brand’s prestige and increase exposure.

Here are the highlights of Haute Couture Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2022.

In full bloom
Schiaparelli, a brand that had faded out of the spotlight but has since got a refresh, opened couture week at the hands of creative director Daniel Roseberry. The collection echoed ’80s glamour, with exaggerated silhouettes in striking colours, paired with dramatic hats and headpieces by milliner Stephen Jones.

In true couture spirit, looks 22 to 28 were accented by Roseberry’s painstakingly hand-painted and hand-embroidered flowers adorned with sequins. These larger-than-life floral motifs were a subtle nod to Elsa Schiaparelli’s surrealist origins.

The design house is also the subject of an exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, which explores Schiaparelli’s original works and pieces from other notable designers  who were inspired by her, such as Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier, Azzedine Alaïa, and Christian Lacroix.

A pragmatic approach
While most couture collections tend to go more fantastical and elaborate, Chanel artistic director Virginie Viard prefers to attend to the desires of the house’s clients.

Staying true to Chanel’s roots, Viard views this collection as an extension from the one prior. “I have imagined the AW22 haute couture show in the continuity of the previous show, leaving room for experimentation,” Viard explained.

The collection is composed mostly of midi skirt suits and long dresses, styled as Mademoiselle Chanel would have imagined them in the 1930s: fitted to the body even though they have strong shoulders and pleated dresses.

The calf-length midi skirts come as a much-needed palate cleanser after multiple seasons of the micro-mini skirt dominating designer fashion. The colour palette was rather conservative, keeping to beige, black, silver, and white, with pops of green and pink.

Paying tribute
Balenciaga celebrated its 51st couture collection since the inception of the brand. Taking inspiration from its long legacy, creative director Demna Gvasalia reconstructed many of Balenciaga’s most famous silhouettes from throughout the ages. Gvasalia also paid tribute to the brand’s early groundbreaking inventions by reinterpreting Balenciaga’s famous ​gazar material, which is a structural silk that Cristobal Balenciaga, himself, created with fabric manufacturer Abraham in 1958.

The setting replicated fashion shows in the late ’50s and early ’60s, with models marching into the salons holding numbered cards. As mentioned earlier, the runway was chock full of celebrities, including supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Hollywood royalty such as Kidman and Kardashian.

Balenciaga’s closing look was Gvasalia’s version of a wedding dress, made with 250 metres of tulle, over 7,500 hours of embroidery work, and 25 types of paillettes and beads – including 70,000 crystals, 80,000 silver leaves, and 200,000 sequins.

The brand also took this opportunity to unveil its special speaker-handbag hybrid in collaboration with Bang & Olufsen, as part of the Balenciaga ‘Objects’ range. The handbag-shaped device has bluetooth capabilities and a large compartment to keep your belongings. Priced at €8,500 ($12,500), only 20 editions of this bag will be in existence.

Passing of the baton
For this season, Jean Paul Gaultier invited Olivier Rousteing (who is famously the creative director of Balmain) to design its couture collection, as part of the brand’s project to collaborate with a different designer each season. Previous collaborators have included Sacai and Glenn Martens.

“This show is an open letter to Jean Paul, an open letter of love,” Rousteing said. The kitschy collection featured many of Jean Paul Gaultier’s iconic design codes transformed into garments. Among the most notable were a dress replicated from the brand’s fragrance bottle design and Madonna’s topless ensemble from the 1992 American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmfAR) gala.

As much fun as it was to throwback to Jean Paul Gaultier’s most beloved pieces, talk of the collection turned sour when a TikTok posted by Showstudio exposed the poor craftsmanship behind the collection. In the video, images of the garments being poorly safety-pinned together were seen, along with commentary that stated mistakes could be seen as far as the third row. 

When in Rome
Valentino closed the week with its collection titled ‘The Beginning’.

“This is a deeply personal collection, because it’s all about the history of Valentino,” creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli said. Staged near the original Valentino atelier at Via Gregoriana above the Spanish Steps, The Beginning is an amalgamation of Piccioli’s 23 years at the brand.

Roses were a recurring theme throughout the collection; some were made with gathered taffeta in bright neon colours. Feathered dresses with yards of chiffon descended down the steps as a long list of A-listers looked on. During the finale, Piccioli brought out the entire team of petites mains (literal translation: little hands) to take a bow, saluting the true artisans behind these elaborate creations.

Things took a bad turn, however, when the show became the centre of a spat, as French rival Dior demanded €100,000 in compensation for lost business. A formal letter from Christian Dior Italia stated that its customers were “refused access and blocked at the barriers” and that access to the Dior store near Piazza di Spagna was “hampered”.

Dior womenswear is headed by Piccioli’s former design partner at Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri. Dior’s demand was later retracted after Dior said both brands had come to an agreement, cited “cordial relations”, and said there was “mutual respect” between the fashion houses.

A look back in time
Overall, the major theme of couture week this season was homage – odes to a brand’s original roots, inspirations, or founders. More than just ultra-expensive garments, these collections are meant to remind us about the history of these brands and the importance of legacy in luxury.

Safeguarded by Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, haute couture remains the most exclusive club. Only the best of the best can join.

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