Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing among models atop a boat on the Seine
Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing among models atop a boat on the Seine © Francesca Beltran

Haute-couture fashion week is, ordinarily, an extravagant affair in which editors and clients from around the world flock to Paris, billionaire collectors snap up gowns worth tens of thousands of pounds, and Celine Dion is regularly overwhelmed with emotion on the front row. So how does a house recreate the drama of fashion’s most aspirational of environments when its audience is sheltering in place? Most designers showing this season created abstract videos for the occasion, contrasting craft with fantasy, and capturing slow-mo dreamscapes exploring some of the most common tropes of couture. 

A Dior gown made to look as if it “wafted in on the wind”
A Dior gown made to look as if it “wafted in on the wind” © Brigitte Niedermair
Ralph & Russo’s digital avatar dressed in one of the house’s a/w 20 couture pieces
Ralph & Russo’s digital avatar dressed in one of the house’s a/w 20 couture pieces
Balmain’s couture presentation featured archive pieces
Balmain’s couture presentation featured archive pieces © Francesca Beltran

The looks, meanwhile, tended to drift more towards diaphanous than daywear, with a strong thematic trend in new beginnings: Iris van Herpen offered a meditation on “delicate new life” to deliver a single dress designed to recall the stamen of a flower. At Dior, mermaids met miniature gowns in a 10-minute film that married myth and dressmaking and featured gossamer-light ball gowns created to look as though they had “wafted in on the wind”. Ralph & Russo created a digital avatar that journeyed to the seven wonders of the world and featured gowns in three-dimensional organza, and at Balmain, designer Olivier Rousteing sent his models down the Seine. #BalmainSurSeine celebrated dance, diversity and lots and lots of fabric, in a collection that combined black and white power suiting, metallic quilting, bow-backed ballgowns, macrame and most other things in between. It was an unexpectedly joyful collection in a week in which the mood was cautiously sombre, escapist and sometimes hard to read. 

Iris van Herpen delivered a single dress designed to recall the stamen of a flower
Iris van Herpen delivered a single dress designed to recall the stamen of a flower © Valentine Bouquet
Model Adut Akech wears a Chanel gown
Model Adut Akech wears a Chanel gown © Mikael Jansson
Chanel’s collection, starring Rianne Van Rompaey, imagined an eccentric aristocrat
Chanel’s collection, starring Rianne Van Rompaey, imagined an eccentric aristocrat © Mikael Jansson

But not everyone was whimsical. Chanel’s collection, captured on film by Mikael Jansson, imagined an eccentric aristocrat “in search of opulence and sophistication”, wearing a clean-cut wardrobe of rock-romantic jumpsuits, silver embellished lace and a reimagined take on the house tweed. “I had the idea of a rock princess,” said designer Virginie Viard, the creative director, of her 30-look collection. “A taffeta dress, big hair, big feathers and lots of jewellery”.

Giambattista Valli’s couture video stars Joan Smalls
Giambattista Valli’s couture video stars Joan Smalls
Maison Margiela released an abstract teaser video starring model Leon Dame
Maison Margiela released an abstract teaser video starring model Leon Dame
One of the flamboyant looks from Dolce & Gabbana’s offering

There were several absentees also. Other labels are yet to offer their couture interpretations. Valentino released only a teaser for a show that will follow later in July. And Maison Margiela is only now unveiling a four-part co-ed collection that will conclude next week.

Alexandre Vauthier enlisted photographers Karim Sadli and Inez and Vinoodh to create a couture lookbook that spanned Paris and New York
Alexandre Vauthier enlisted photographers Karim Sadli and Inez and Vinoodh to create a couture lookbook that spanned Paris and New York
Schiaparelli’s presentation included a video of creative director Daniel Roseberry and a collection of sketches
Schiaparelli’s presentation included a video of creative director Daniel Roseberry and a collection of sketches
Alexis Mabille’s couture collection was about “attitude”
Alexis Mabille’s couture collection was about “attitude”

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