Best shows from Paris Couture Week SS18: Elie Saab, Viktor & Rolf, Valentino and Guo Pei
After a full day of shows, our contributing fashion writer Brent Taalur Ramsey shares his thoughts on yesterday's best collections, from Elie Saab's Jazz Age-inspired elegance and Viktor & Rolf's satin surrealism to Guo Pei's Elysian fantasies. Be sure to stay tuned tomorrow as he covers the last day of Paris Couture Week.
ELIE SAAB: HEY, JOSEPHINE BAKER
Designer: Elie Saab
First thoughts: Inspired by the roaring twenties for his Spring 2018 couture collection, Lebanese designer Elie Saab worked his magic with head-to-toe beading and ostrich plumes for an experience unlike any other currently on the fashion week calendar. With blaring brass and big-band vibes, Saab succeeded in evoking the energetic style of the Jazz Age, managing somehow to make head caps look modern and classy. All this made for a show with a well-honed blast from the past.
Favourite looks: Working within an elegant era-centric palette of champagne hues, pale gold and dusty pink, Elie Saab layered sparkling rhinestones and fanciful beadwork for a showdown of shimmer. Though he often balanced these gold and silver blends with touches of blue and darker contrasts, his strongest pieces still comprised mostly of the paler sort. So perfect for the red carpet, there's not enough space in this review to recap the amount of details featured on these masterpieces. For a closer glimpse, browse through looks 12, 19, 26, 36, 43 and 48.
Special note: Flipping through the book of inspirations provided to guests prior to the show, the designer cited the singer-actress Josephine Baker as a major influence. Looking back at the pieces online, it's increasingly obvious that she is the type of woman he imagines would wear his dresses: She's sensual, spirited and unabashedly stylish — in other words, a modern (and eternally jazzy) Josephine Baker.
VIKTOR & ROLF: SATIN SURREALISM
Designers: Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren
The rundown: Having (somewhat tortuously) increased their amount of self-imposed limitations, Horsting and Snoeren took to the atelier nothing but a single fabric and unlimited possibilities; they allowed themselves only one technical Japanese duchess satin this season. Yes, that made me question the level of couture relevance throughout the collection, but the feeling quickly dissipated the moment the first look was revealed. Whether you're looking at the garments in person or in photos, the overall effect of the collection lies on the side surrealism. So flawlessly were the cuts of fabrics merged, you'd swear they were made of solitary sheaths.
Favourite looks: The range of techniques used to transform a plain duchess satin into a couture-level patchwork of graphic stripes, checks and impeccable weaves is a feat in itself — one only of Viktor & Rolf's expertise can perform. Though they often added vibrancy to the collection with a bold palette of lush hues, the duo continued to push themselves further for spring 2018, adorning a few of their best looks with large-scale flowers, as well as their signature spectrum of bows and ruffles. Among those, they excelled with their woven opener (look 1), the patchwork gowns (looks 5, 8) and a double-breasted striped blazer framed with a deep-blue frill (look 12), while the masked look 9 is entirely in a category of its own.
VALENTINO: AMAZING GRACE
Designer: Pierpaolo Piccioli
The rundown: Creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli's spring 2018 collection captured grace in every look. It's been a long time since a show — couture or otherwise — has moved me the way Valentino did last night. There was something intrinsically natural and unpretentious about the way the garments — all extraordinarily refined — appeared in an unassuming spectrum of mostly toned-down hues, attractive floral motifs, and expanding volumes. Overall, it brought together the tradition and values of Valentino's rich past and heritage with Pierpaolo Piccioli's ever-brightening solo career.
One little thing: Those hats! Made by the famed milliner Philip Treacy, the feathery explosion added a volt of drama throughout Piccioli's exceedingly polished line-up; with energy and vitality, these hats also appeared on top of some of Valentino's most standout looks.
Favourite looks: My favourite looks are unfortunately de-crowned of Treacy's fluttering concoctions. The first two to come to mind were the lilac double-cashmere sweatshirt with a rose organza blouse and ruffled taffeta mini-skirt (look 26) and the mesh cardigan and dress set — a show-stopping yet incredibly cosy-looking mix of bronze and mini sequin floral embroideries, facetté pearls and iridescent lurex (look 45) — now that's leisure couture.
Special note: During the show, the models walked to a playlist alternating between Yo-Yo Ma's contemplative cello and singer Kiri Te Kanawa's inimitable soprano variation of "Vissi d'Arte." By the time the final look made through the last salon of the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, some guests so moved they were in tears. In the five years I have covered couture, I have never seen anything like this!
GUO PEI: ELYSIAN FANTASIES
Designer: Guo Pei
The rundown: "Elysium" began with the journey into a spiritual paradise within Guo Pei's dreams. As the show started and the instrumental music began to echo around the iconic Le Cirque d'Hiver Bouglione in Paris, a group of white tree roots (hand-made by the French paper artist Charles Macaire, hung at the centre of the stage) began to hover and rise into the rafters — an instant introduction to how much of a performer Guo Pei is. As a couturier, she's equal parts visionary, craftsman and entertainer, and at some point this collection highlights all three: Her first look — a majestic masterpiece in gold — combines them all, drawing on her commitment to using innovative and naturally-sourced fabrics to find the large bamboo from China that would be woven to form this uniquely-shaped number; this opener also transitions us into the rest of a collection that can only be described as fantastical.
Favourite looks: Across Guo Pei's ornate spectrum of blue, white and gold creations, flowers are the main design element to be featured throughout this 23-piece line-up. While most of the gowns shown yesterday were instant entertainers, there were a few choice looks that appeared to be accessible for the occasional red carpet appearance. For example: Pei's thickly pleated blue skirt (look 14) would be a gorgeous option for many a leading actress.
On second thought: Looking through Guo Pei's collection again online, I fell more deeply in love with certain pieces (looks 1, 4, 18), while others feel a bit too costume-y (looks 16, 19). However, with that said, look 20 balances couture and costume beautifully, with the gold scale-like sequins making it a stunning contrast to the moss-like coating.
All coverage from Paris Couture Fashion Week spring/summer 2018.