For fashion enthusiasts, haute couture offers the chance to witness the industry’s most adept practitioners operating at the height of their creative powers. This meticulously hand-crafted branch of fashion, built on one-of-a-kind looks and spectacular runway shows, exists at the intersection of creativity and commerce. It is as much about expression it its truest form as it is about appealing to those with pockets deep enough to meet couture’s eye-watering price tag. And it is this duality that makes it so utterly compelling.
Recently, the Fall 2023 season of Haute Couture wrapped in Paris, having seen a number of jaw-dropping collections unveiled. From Shiaparelli’s statement-making proportions and chic details to Christian Dior’s reliably timeless and feminine collection to Them Browne’s dramatic debut, Paris Haute Couture certainly didn’t disappoint. Here, we round up some of our favourite looks.
Style notes: Sculptural asymmetry met a monochromatic palette tempered with touches of Yves Klein-blue and iridescent gold and metallic. Boundaries blurred between where clothing ended and accessories began. But despite the cacophony of textiles, Roseberry delivered something that felt, somehow, restrained, and impactful in its restraint. He avoided relying solely on the trompe l’oeil details that have become such sought-after signatures of his Schiaparelli tenure and branched into what felt like a new direction. Something artisanal, abstractly wearable and undeniably arresting.
Style notes: An atmosphere of calm settled over the Christian Dior haute couture runway as Maria Grazia Chiuri delivered a collection of the ultimate quiet luxury. Here, Roman and Greek antiquity were the designers touchpoints as she considered how classicism could fit a contemporary context. Alongside reimagined house signatures (tailored jackets particularly) were simple but breathtakingly chic column dresses, sheer blouses, dramatic capes, padding, peplums and vertical pleats. On face value, it was minimalistic. But look a little closer and you’ll spy the meticulous lace and embroidery work of Christian Dior’s expert petits mains. Here, the fashion felt ageless, the silhouettes chic and the message clear — high-quality craftsmanship never goes out of style.
Style notes: Making his first foray into haute couture the only way he knew how, American designer Thom Browne left nothing behind in a dramatic debut. Set in the Paris Garnier Opera House, the runway was staged against the almost-haunting backdrop of around 3000 cut-out figures who populated the auditorium. On the models, Thomas Browne’s signature grey was given a couture-worthy upgrade, unveiled in various shades and finishes. There were patchworks, feathered bodysuits, elaborate brocades, metallic and sequin-striped suits, 3D clouds, sculptural surrealist hats and coats of eye-popping proportions. The show felt like a fitting step up for the revered designer who has never shied away from making a statement.
Viktor & Rolf
Style notes: The topsy-turvy, surrealist spectacle that is a Viktor & Rolf couture show was in full swing this season, as the iconic brand marked its 30-year milestone with an unexpected homage to… wait for it… the bathing suit. Here, the simple idea of swimwear was ripped apart and reimagined in all manner of sculptural and sleek and adorned and bejewelled configurations. Some featured overpowering bows, others robust ruffles. One even carried the (passive aggressive?) words ‘I Wish You Well’ across the model’s décolletage and down her sleeves. A reminder that for all its rigidity and discourse, fashion (especially at this level) should be fun.
Style notes: Nodding to the history of couture, Giambattista Valli staged his show in his new headquarters and indicated that archival ateliers from the 1950s had formed a huge part of his inspiration for the collection. But there was nothing old-world about the pieces. Grounded in the now, each dress saw classical ideas of couture repurposed for a modern audience, where a variety of silhouettes and shapes pushed the limits of construction and showcased the savoir-faire at play. Exaggerated bows met billowy skirts, sleek columns and elegant drapery, while the underlying palette of monochromatic, black-and-white was lifted by vibrant citrus, lovely pink and silver.
Style notes: The ultimate expression of quintessential Parisien chic, Virginie Viard’s Fall ’23 Haute Couture collection for Chanel was and ode to Paris’ timeless doyennes of style. The clothes were distinctly Chanel, embodying ‘Frenchness’ both in the nonchalant way the models wore such exquisite garments (one even walking a dog as if it were just another normal day) and in the designer’s strict adherence to the Chanel code. Sophisticated and simple, light, effortless and understated but beautifully-detailed, the collection saw classic tweed suiting and new takes on the iconic Chanel trouser suit meet elongated coats and exquisite, sheer details.
Style notes: The Balenciaga controversy of last year felt far away from the brand’s latest haute couture outing, with designer Demna emphasising his focus on construction and on creating clothes that acted as a connecting thread between Balenciaga’s storied past and its present, clothes that pushed the idea of couture into something new. From opening with a replica of one of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s iconic designs (the dress that Grace Kelly had ordered for her 40th, in fact) to moving through sharp tailoring, exquisite gowns, trompe l’oeil handcrafted techniques, menswear that was shaped to look as though it was blowing in the wind, and finally, a metal dress fashioned to appear like a modern suit of armour — the collection was spectacular and dramatic for all the right reasons.
Style notes: Bringing an exquisite simplicity to his brand of couture, Pierpaolo Piccioli presented a collection for Valentino that felt understated but undeniably impactful. At first glance, one might be forgiven for missing the details, but look a little closer and it’s clear the expert craftsmanship coming out of the Valentino atelier. Strong primary colours from vibrant blue to crimson to emerald green sat alongside sequins, meticulous embroidery (the pearlescent jeans modelled by Kaia Gerber were a particular highlight in this regard) and drapery that looked effortless. There was drama, yes, in the billowing gowns, the oversized earrings and the headpieces that harkened back to other notable Piccioli couture collections, but there was a timeless wearability to these looks too. (That is, for anyone who can foot the price tag.)