Dior, Chanel, Valentino, Ralph & Russo, Givenchy: Favourite shows from Paris Haute Couture Week spring/summer 2020
What is Paris Haute Couture Week but an indulgent fashion fantasy? This is where the global fashion cognoscenti, from Tokyo to Toronto, conglomerate in the magical City of Lights to witness the avant-garde, the awe-inspiring, and the acutely meticulous handmade creations from the minds of today's top creative directors.
Here, we bring you our favourite five collections — reported via succinct 10-word show reviews, favourite looks, and most memorable moments — to help you unpack the must-know highlights of the season. Brace yourself. After viewing these couture gowns, ready-to-wear is never going to look the same again.
Dior: Golden Goddess
Designer: Maria Grazia Chiuri
10-word show review: Grecian goddesses rule the world in regal golden peplos gowns.
'What if women ruled the world?' read a large silk tapestry that formed the backdrop of the Dior couture spring/summer 2020 show. Hung throughout the bespoke venue set up in the garden of Musée Rodin, a circular white tent in the shape of the female form when viewed from above, were other artworks from The Female Divine — an installation designed by American artist Judy Chicago specifically for Musée Rodin — that raised further questions sparked by the central tapestry:
Would men and women be equal?
Would both women and men be gentle?
Would there be equal parenting?
Maria Grazia Chiuri has championed women's rights and equality ever since she took over the reigns at Dior in 2016, famously showing a T-shirt tucked into a tulle skirt bearing the title from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's essay 'We Should All Be Feminists' during her spring/summer 2016 ready-to-wear collection. Not only did it raise eyebrows for its hefty USD710 price tag, it also rung up the Dior tills from the flagship store in Rue Montaigne to Orchard Road with the tee selling out fast.
For the Dior spring/summer 2020 haute couture collection, Grazia Chiuri continued that conversation about feminism and femininity, but this time, left the talking to the clothes.
With her muse Ruth Bell again kicking off proceedings, what ensued was a procession of sublime golden looks reminiscent of Grecian goddesses. The ancient peplos dress was recast and reimagined in various permutations: elevated with pleated flowing tulle; accented with braided rope crisscrossed over the chest; and given a regal, sinuous line with the addition of billowing capes.
But it wasn't all just full-length gowns. Maria also sent out pant suits with open-neck blazers in traditionally masculine houndstooth and herringbone fabrications, as if saying, "Why does couture for women always have to be a frock? Women can wear the pants too." Chicago, we are sure, would definitely concur.
Favourite look: That embroidered dress in look 39 crafted from tubular grey lamé with an interlacing pattern on the chest that formed a lion's head motif, complete with tiers of box pleats in silver crêpe formed from laminette ultra-fine metallic thread for an extra oomph of heavenly royalty. Divine and in control.
Favourite accessory: As if raiding the wardrobe of goddess Athena, the accessories ranged from rope belts to bee earrings, all cast in a glorious shade of gold. But our favourite was that bold necklace in look 7 that was formed from a constellation of golden leaves and the collection's key motif, golden ears of wheat.
Ralph & Russo: Pastel Power
Founders: Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo
10-word show review: Ten Ralph & Russo couture icons reimagined in kaleidoscopic hues.
Did you know that although Ralph & Russo is a British couture label, its founders are both Australian?
Tamara Ralph fortuitously met Michael Russo when she was travelling in London, leading to the pair eventually setting up their fashion house. They are a couple in business as well as in real life, with Russo acting as the creative director while Ralph oversees the business as the chief executive. The brand grew organically through the London society crowd before catching the eye of celebrities and royals alike. Famously, Angeline Jolie wore a skirt-suit designed by Ralph & Russo when she met the Queen. On the topic of royalty, Meghan Markle wore a Ralph & Russo dress for her engagement shots with Prince Harry.
All this is to say, when the show started with a message from Tamara and Michael dedicating the collection to the Australian bushfire crisis — with a page in the show notes encouraging show attendees to join them in giving to the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief & Recovery Fund — it all made perfect sense. A couture show in Paris is arguably as far removed from the natural disaster in Australia than any other event, but if Ralph & Russo can convert their well-heeled clientele (who spend upwards of SGD50,000 per dress) to donate, they can really help make a difference.
On the square runway that filled the rectangular perimeter of Carreau du Temple in the Marais, models stepped out in a cavalcade of chartreuse, pristine pastels and cobalt blue slathered across yards of tulle and enlivened with masses of marabou. It was classic Ralph & Russo with their feminine long trains trailing behind heavily embroidered and feathered frocks.
In fact, to celebrate a decade in design, the spring/summer 2020 offering was a modern interpretation of the brand's couture icons. Ten looks from the archives were reimagined with contemporary flair: dialed up with illustrious silk crêpe tailleurs, planted with structural florals, coloured with hand-painted organza trains, and finished with oversized bows.
But, as a point of difference to previous presentations, this season the models positioned themselves on raised white platforms scattered throughout the venue after their walk. It was a runway populated with 30 real-life mannequins, setting the scene for what has become a Ralph & Russo signature: the unveiling of the final bridal look.
Favourite look: Amidst all the kaleidoscopic colours, it was the pantsuit in look 35 that caught our eye. Crafted from white silk crêpe, the suit featured organza cut-out detailing, sequin embellishments, and knotted silk fringing along the sleeve and trouser hems that bounced with each step. As a final touch, the look was completed with a white double satin scarf, edged in similar white fringing, worn elegantly under the blazer lapels.
Favourite moment: The final bridal look, of course. Given Ralph & Russo's history of creating oversized and impossibly long wedding dresses to end their runway, the final look for spring/summer 2020 lacked the jaw-dropping prowess of previous creations, favouring a short skirt that broke mid-thigh instead of a grandiose train. But it was still a gown that would make any girl happy on her big day. All-white and enriched with cascading frills, the tulle gown featured a central organza flower situated above the bust, followed by a river of flowing chiffon florals.
Chanel: Convent Chic
Designer: Virginie Viard
10-word show review: Tour de force of austere dresses inspired by Chanel's childhood.
It was an evening summer stroll through a wild enchanted garden. Inspired by the courtyard and cloister garden from the Cistercian Abbey of Aubazine where Gabrielle Chanel grew up with her sisters after her mother passed away in 1895, Virginie Viard's spring/summer 2020 haute couture collection for Chanel was a return to classic countryside charm.
Against a backdrop of white linen drying on clothes lines that bordered a wild square garden planted with pansies, roses, and even heads of broccoli, there was a working stone fountain at the very centre. Models stepped out in effortlessly elegant ensembles that drew heavily from the collars and smocks of boarding pupils in the abbey. There was an alluring bucolic charm to the whole show. Viard sent out black-and-white looks with embellishments echoing the cobblestone pavestones in Aubazine — composed of the moon, the sun, and the stars as seen on the Peter Pan collar and cuff embroidery on look 19; a long sensuous long black tulle dress worn by Gigi Hadid; as well as the abstract motifs in the Cistercian stained glass windows. They were translated onto dresses and suits by way of embroidered matte pastel sequins (for example, see looks 32 and 33), all anchored with white socks or stockings shoed in black platforms or lace-up booties.
The maison's signature tweed was cut in convent chic silhouettes, including that full-length ivory coat in look 21 with an embroidered flounced collar. But the elegant austerity was counterbalanced with the inside-out use of petticoats constructed from layers of white tulle-such as the demure yet subversive appeal of look 37 modelled by Kaia Gerber (herself, still at schoolgirl age) composed of a tulle petticoat and bodice overlaid with white lace blooming with bouquets of flowers inspired by the Cistercian cloister garden.
However, it was the deft use of veiled tulle to give skirts and dresses an extra layer of depth and visual transparency that truly magnetised. Case in point: that double-breasted tweed skirt-suit in look 7 with a contrast white cotton Bertha collar overlaid with sheer black tulle; or that collarless blazer and knee-length split skirt in look 31 with a layer of organza sequined with florals sprouting up from the hems.
They walk by the grass
And they look at the grass
They look at the sky...
The lyrics of 'It's A Fine Day' by 90s English electronic group, Opus III, echoed throughout the Grand Palais; the sweet dulcet tones of vocalist Kirsty Hawkshaw further heightening the show's innocence.
It's going to be a fine night tonight
t's going to be a fine day tomorrow...
And we concur. There is no other outcome-come rain, hail or shine-when you're wearing a Chanel couture creation by Viard.
Favourite look: That belted white dress in floral lace featuring a crisscross pattern in look 34. Already a vision with its caplet crafted from tiers of tousled lace in the pattern of wild flowers, it has us picking our jaws off the ground when the model sashayed past and revealed a bridal-like train in matching white lace. Absolutely stunning.
Favourite moment: The closing wedding dress modelled by Rebecca Longendyke in a knee-length pleated crêpe georgette featuring a triple Peter Pan collar in tulle and a veil embroidered with branches of wisteria. A short dress for a wedding? It was signature Chanel — avant-garde and contemporary — yet imbued with a timeless sophistication.
Givenchy: In Full Bloom
Designer: Clare Waight Keller
10-word show review: Verdant florals reimagined as works of art cocooned under hats.
"This is not fashion," texted my publisher Bettina von Schlippe from Moscow, watching our live social media coverage of the Givenchy spring/summer couture show. "This is art."
What is an artist but someone who creates something with the triumvirate of the hands, head, and heart? Clare Waight Keller ticked off all three with a collection that drew breath from the gardens of the Sissinghurst House by Vita Sackville-West to the orchards of Monk's House and Hubert de Givenchy's Clos Fiorentina; meticulously crafted into reality by the skilled human hands at Givenchy's ateliers; and then designed to captivate, thrill and move-both the wearer and her company through the narrative of romance between women and flowers.
Accompanied by an 18-piece live orchestra — the musicians themselves suspended at various heights along poles that dissected the runway — it was an insanely sophisticated show with gowns blossoming in cascading florals: that tulip bustier dress in taffeta and silk in look 11, hand-embroidered with gypsophila in chartreuse dégradé and Daffodil-yellow crystals, finished with a single sunburst-yellow silk fringe earring; the nocturnal allure of that silver-to-white dégradé and backless dress in look 21 made from silk organza and tulle, entirely hand-embroidered with paillettes in a pansy motif; and the nymph appeal of look 23 crafted from pleated ivory silk organza, layered with a ruffled gilet in tulle and mesh embroidered with a waterfall of gypsophila garlands in a rose beige dégradé.
Yet a couture collection inspired by nature can also be structured. Some of Waight Keller's strongest exits included that opening white jacket in wool-silk paired with wide palazzo trousers in an iridescent wool-silk Mikado, held up with a knotted white patent leather belt, and anchored with transparent stiletto boots covered with nude micro-tulle stocking; as well as that black cage dress in look 39 embroidered entirely in silk thread with geometric motifs and accented with radiant white pearls, finished with a matching headband.
Beyond the verdant flowers, the statement leitmotif in the collection were those gigantically brimmed hats (sun protection is key when gardening, kids). These blink-and-you'll-won't-miss-it 'ombrelle' hats were made from layers of sculptured organza and floral-lace, like an intricate millefeuille; their rounded cloche shapes often blending with the line of the dresses and, in the case of the closing bridal look worn by Kaia Gerber, actually formed part of gown's train-whorls of 3D hand-embroidered white flowers descending from flounced shoulders to sweep the floor.
Favourite sartorial look: The power pantsuit in look 10 with its single-breasted black wool-silk blazer embroidered with white gypsophila literally sprouting from the shoulders and hand-embellished with stripped cock feathers. The ensemble is completed with a black leather belt and matching stiletto boots covered in black micro-tulle stocking. Did somebody say peacock?
Favourite gown: Has to be that purple-pansy-turned-gobsmackingly-beautiful-dress in look 17. The asymmetrical dress in pleated silk organza is entirely hand-painted in indigo, lavender and imperial yellow dégradé to look like a macro pansy, finished with a pompom earring with violet fringing. Can you see it? A flower reborn as a dress. A vision in nature turned into a vision on a person. And, as evidenced as the show, an absolute vision when in movement.
Valentino: Dreams and Fantasies
Designer: Pierpaolo Piccioli
10-word show review: A couture dream with taffeta bows, sculptural ruffles, and fishtails.
Is there a better way to close out couture for printemps/ete 2020 than a Valentino show in the historic, achingly bourgeois, Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild?
Exploring where our conscious and subconscious collide in the murky nexus that is our dreams, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli sent out a colour-blocked procession marked by statement bows in silk taffeta, exaggerated ruffles projecting out of tailored seams, fishtails on long-sleeve jacquard dresses with a recurring reference to the sea — for example, those sculptural coral head pieces in looks 40 and 46, and the koi fish print swimming over that ivory gauze cape embroidered with pearls in look 9.
"The subconscious as a glimpse of a deeper, probably darker, palpably sensual and erotic world in which the true nature of a dress is revealed in a closer dialogue with the body," explained the show notes. And you could sense that edge in the dominant use of tailoring employed throughout the collection. Take, for example, the black crêpe separates in the form of trousers (look 16) and a wrap skirt (look 24), as well as jackets cut from pink lurex (look 22) and pearl-grey double cashmere (look 25) that formed the foundation for outfits that could have been just at home in an office as a cocktail party. There is something sensual in the everyday, but it takes a master like Piccioli to transform these humble silhouettes into dreams.
But the real fantasies took flight in the closing entourage of jewel-toned gowns. That striking citron yellow satin dress in look 71 with contrast opera gloves cast in a dreamy grey-blue featuring bulbous ruffles; that dramatic honeysuckle-rose cape sporting a hood in look 72 worn over a double-blush bustier-dress in mandarin orange; and that showstopping pink velvet-silk dress in look 74 with a thigh-high split to reveal a contrast red lining, plumed from the waist with skyscraping pink feathers. Gorgeous.
If this couture show is a dream, then please don't wake us up. Decadent. Delicious. Desirable. But, of course. This is Valentino.
Favourite look: The chic sophistication of that black cigaline dress in look 49 embroidered with enlarged white polka dots made from ivory crêpe de Chine. Avant-garde now for its simplicity, timeless in the future for its monochromatic clarity. Set up an appointment for a fitting now to have your partner hankering for more.
Favourite accessory: It's rare to see bags on the couture runway, because, as we all know, a couture client has other people to hold her stuff. But if you're looking for a bag for a night out on the ball room, then cast your eyes on that black calfskin tote bag adorned with dangling leather polka dots (see look 18). Really don't need a bag? Then opt for those long drop earrings crafted from crystals and finished with coloured feathers (see, for example, looks 10 to 12). Drama.