The Review: Paris Couture Week Fall 2020 Day 1

This is our unfiltered review of the first ever digital couture week. Here, stay up to date on all the top fall 2020 couture shows directly from couture week in Paris.

For the first time in history, the Paris couture shows are going digital. Due to the pandemic, fashion weeks worldwide are being cancelled and postponed. In lieu of live runway shows, brands are putting together digital content (mainly videos) to showcase their latest collections. As such, the entire Fall/Winter 2020 couture collections are going live on the digital platform that typically sets the schedule for Paris Couture Week.

As someone who has covered the couture collections live from Paris for the past four years, this is a huge change and something I’m super interested in. Sure, it makes sense for brands to go digital due to COVID-19, but in other ways, this has also been something that’s been coming for a very long time. Fashion week is costly, as well as bad for the environment. For reporters, writers, editors and buyers, it’s also exhausting. But I can’t help but wonder, how can couture–the world’s most elusive, expensive and custom clothing–compete on the same platform with all ready-to-wear brands doing “digital” shows as well?

After all, some of the most exciting shows of the year are during the couture season. It’s an all-out assault of the senses in the very best way. Brands take things to the next level with immaculate set designs that transport, compelling makeup and hair that tells part of the story, and of course, clothing that is meant to be seen up-close-and-personal. It’s one thing to see clothing move through space digitally on a video, but it’s another thing entirely to see, for example, an Iris Van Herpen 3D printed gown illuminate the room, or a fleet of Guo Pei dresses prancing through a room, moving with an almost sinister amount of glamour.

Of course, couture is dying, and this digital fashion week makes that even more clear. At only three days, the schedule is shorter than ever. All the designers who normally participate are there, but jamming everything into three days online makes it feel succinct to the point of levity. There’s less space to think about the impact and work of each designer and each collection, and for people who are normally in Paris for the shows but have to cover remotely this season, there’s no magic in waking up and having almost all of the “shows” over and posted everywhere already.

Still, I’m interested to see how brands can take these elements of the digital world and go forward with fashion week in an innovative way. For now, I don’t think doing strictly video is the right move. Here, some mini reviews of the standout shows of the Fall/Winter 2020 Paris Couture Week day 1:

Day 1 Highlights:

Schiaparelli Fall 2020 Couture

It’s been just a little over a year since Daniel Roseberry’s appointment as artistic director of Schiaparelli was announced. Since then, he has firmly turned the house around to being a modern, exciting and playful brand that successfully interjects hints of surrealism and house codes from its iconic founder, Elsa Schiaparelli.

Roseberry is also throughouly an American (the first to lead design for Schiaparelli) and that sort of pragmatism and humor shows through in the collection. This season, the designer lead the creative direction of a video in which he is shown walking through New York City’s West Village and sketching in Washington Square Park. He sketches an entire collection, including the jewelry, as the scenes flash and contrast the brusk and gritty New York City with the posh Schiaparelli atelier in Paris’ Place Vendome.

“Three months ago I was marooned in New York while taking a quick trip back to the States,” Roseberry expressed in the show notes. “Since then I have been living in isolation while Maison Schiaparelli took a hiatus. Everyone has their own lockdown story, some harrowing, some tragic, some utterly lonely.  The luckiest of us have been able to spend this time in nature, far removed from city life. My own experience was shared with millions of other Manhattanites: It was privileged, but nothing extraordinary. What was extraordinary, however, was the ability to walk into Washington Square Park on a Monday morning and sketch out a Haute Couture collection.”

The entire collection was based on the idea of doing an imaginary collection, and thus, the collection was published in sketch format. The plan is, for the couture house to make a portion of these designs for special clients and celebrities, once the pandemic is over.

“Imagination and dreams can be profound, but they are even more so when they guide us into action,” he added. “Without putting our dreams into practice, these abstractions would be denied their ultimate power.”

Schiaparelli fall 2020 couture
Schiaparelli fall 2020 couture
Schiaparelli fall 2020 couture
Schiaparelli fall 2020 couture
Schiaparelli fall 2020 couture
Schiaparelli fall 2020 couture
Schiaparelli fall 2020 couture
Schiaparelli fall 2020 couture
Images: Courtesy of Schiaparelli

Iris Van Herpen Fall 2020 Couture

No one seems more well-positioned to do a digital couture collection than Iris Van Herpen. Each season, the designer shows couture collections that meld together fashion, culture, beauty and technology. There’s always, always an element of technology, whether that’s 3D printing or highly-designed collaborations with artists that involve parts of the set that move together with a dress.

This digital presentation, however, left something to be desired. It’s not that I don’t love Iris Van Herpen’s work. The video and the single dress she created this season were beautiful, but I was hoping that she would employ some of the same 3D technology she uses to make her garments, seen during prior seasons.

(An example of Iris Van Herpen’s creative collaborations that push the boundaries, just one year ago.)

Iris Van Herpen instead took inspiration from the mind-bending work of artist M.C. Escher, and created a video and dress that mimics the puzzling tunnels, curves and angles. Her dress is titled Transmotion and it is worn by actress Carice van Houten.

However, what the video does do a great job at is showing the intricate detail of the dress: the boning, the tiny delicate black beads, and most importantly, the way the dress moves. As Iris Van Herpen said herself, the dress doesn’t have an upside or a downside, it’s more about the concept of a moving piece of art.

“There is a strong contrast between the softness of the plissé and the graphic elements of the branching, the black and white, in the Transmotion dress,” she told Vogue. “There is always a contrast between elements in my work, whether it’s [between] nature and technology or craftsmanship and innovation. I think that’s also [part] of this work, but it’s very much focused on the element of growth, representing our transition into new realms.”

We spoke with the designer about her interdisciplinary practice last season as well and can only hope she employs it going forward, if digital shows continue.

Christian Dior Fall 2020 Couture

With a big budget on hand, Christian Dior’s video has considerably longer than other smaller couture houses. The nearly 15-minute video starts out by showing the Dior atelier and staff before taking a fairytale turn complete with mermaids, sirens and Narcisus.

Titled Le Mythe Dior, the video took inspiration from surrealist cues (which the designer has looked to very recently in other collections). As for the actual clothing, creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri looked to a 1940s traveling exhibition titled Théâtre de la Mode, which was quite popular during its heyday in the 1940s. The premise was based on the clothing that Paris designers were creating during the World War II materials shortages. Designers of the time created clothing for miniature doll forms.

The video shows the mini-sized clothing being worn by all sorts of creatures, brought to the magical woods by Dior’s couturiers, of course. The clothing itself was nothing special – it was typical Maria Grazia Chiuri, with pretty, feminine gowns with Grecian style twists and draping and others in floral embroidery. Elsewhere, there was ladylike suiting. Only time will tell if the digital world will eventually push Chiuri to become more risky and as well as heed her own advice on feminism by finally taking the diversity issue seriously.

dior couture fall 2020
dior couture fall 2020
dior couture fall 2020
Images: Courtesy of Dior

Ralph & Russo Fall 2020 Couture

Ralph & Russo is one of the best (in a totally unexpected way) labels to watch when it comes to couture in my eyes. Though the brand is not one of the bigger houses, and they’re actually based in London rather than Paris. they consistently put together collections that are archingly beautiful, with smart references to boot. The house founders, consisting of Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo, always takes beauty to the extreme. But I was even more excited when I saw what they had done for digital couture week fall 2020.

The video starts out with Tamara explaining the inspiration of the collection, with scenes of the atelier in the background. I really appreciated this context, as many brands strived for visuals that ended up falling a bit flat and lacking any narrative at all.

But what I thought was most exciting was the fact that Ralph & Russo created a digital avatar for the fall 2020 couture collection, wearing digital looks against rendered backgrounds of the Seven Wonders of the World. This is what I was hoping other brands would experiment with.

Ralph & Russo named the avatar Hauli. “Named in traditional Swahili after strength and power, Hauli is at once rooted in African origins and a reflection of womankind; of the beautiful and inspiring women bringing courage and positive change to all four corners of the world,” reads the show notes.

Beyond that, the brand also had a lookbook shoot with live models, which was included in the video so you can actually see how the clothing moves on the real human body as well.

Ralph and russo fall 2020 couture
Ralph and russo fall 2020 couture
Ralph and russo fall 2020 couture
Ralph and russo fall 2020 couture
Ralph and russo fall 2020 couture
Ralph and russo fall 2020 couture
Images: Courtesy of Ralph & Russo

Azzaro Fall 2020 Couture

This season, Azzaro debuted a brand new creative director: the iconic Olivier Theyskens. The king of precision tailoring and all things darkness, I think everyone who follows couture was excited to see what he’d debut for the fall 2020 show season. Unlike others who decided to postpone their debuts (Balenciaga was supposed to debut couture and Jean Paul Gaultier was supposed to debut its new temporary creative director Chitose Abe) Azzaro went forward with a digital show.

For the occasion, the house debuted a music video that had major ’80s, David Lynch vibes. While not totally innovative, it offered up the kind of cool cred that this fashion house has quite frankly been lacking forever. Azzaro reportedly gave carte blanche to musician Sylvie Kreusch and director Lukas Dhont. Throughout the film, Kreusch sings a hypnotic song, while silhouettes of Theyskens’ newest designs are revealed.

For his first couture collection for the house, Theyskens took inspiration from classic house codes, such as the three-ring motif, lots of crystals, classic tailoring and power shapes. Still, this video made me want to see more clothing that I saw in a 5-minute video.

Last we spoke to Theyskens in Paris, days before the fall 2020 ready-to-wear show for his namesake brand, he was already hard at work on Azzaro’s couture collection. “I’ve never really created a limit between what is ready-to-wear and what is couture,” he explained. “I always felt it is fluid conjunction, and I always thought that in ready-to-wear, I was seeing designers doing pieces that look like couture. For me, actually, couture is the service of a brand to provide to a customer who wants made-to-measure.”

Bearing in mind that Theyskens has a serious cult-worthy following and had made brands go to iconic levels of success in the past, we can’t wait to see what happens next season.

Azzaro Fall 2020 couture
Image: Courtesy of Azzaro

Ulyana Seergenko, Maurizio Galante, Maison Rabih Kayrouz, Antonio Grimaldi, Xuan, Giambattista Valli and Georges Hobeika also digitally presented fall 2020 couture collections today.

Tune in tomorrow for reviews from day 2!

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