A Sea of Inspiration at Couture

It was Sebastian the crab from Disney’s animated tale The Little Mermaid that famously sang about the wonders of the ocean floor: “Just look at the world around you; right here on the ocean floor,” he assured us in the 1989 movie classic, a catchy little tune whose overriding message told us that “Under The Sea” was an inspiration source worth checking out.

Iris Van Herpen Spring/Summer 2019 Couture show in Paris. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.

Well, this season’s couture designers seemed to have taken him up on that advice. The collections were awash with marine, maritime, and oceanic references from the beach-time Bretons that opened the Jean Paul Gaultier show to the shimmering-sparkling waves of skirts that made up the Zuhair Murad collection, and of course everything in between.

It began in earnest at Iris van Herpen whose sea-life creations, all intricately worked floating shapes that wafted like translucent stingrays down the runway, took note from the aquatic expressionist artist Kim Keever; next came Chanel’s incredibly inventive swimsuit bride; and then on to Elie Saab, who took a deep-sea dive into Caribbean waves and shores.

Elie Saab Spring/Summer 2019 Couture show in Paris. Photo by Guillaume Roujas  for NOWFASHION.

This collection explored new silhouettes, less Princess-y than we’re used to seeing; sleeves ballooning out, high necklines and coral reefs translated into looks, the ethereal nature of the dresses as though they had been beautifully washed ashore. There were lots of shorter silhouettes, too, something that has been trending across the collections this season – presumably in a bid to put a modern spin on the culture of couture and court a younger customer. And there were little swimsuit styles, billowing light skirts splashing out behind them.

Similar ideas played out at Zuhair Murad, which was a sharp but beautiful collection full of pieces that explained just why his is a name that constantly crops up on the red carpets when awards season comes trotting round. Assured but not avant-garde, sexy without being unwearable, elegant without being old-fashioned, there were sequins and beads and – again – little bathing suits, more skirts that cascaded into sea surf, and some wonderful architecture among the sturdier pieces.

Jean Paul Gaultier Spring/Summer 2019 Couture show in Paris. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.

A fun take on the trend, more sea shanty than sea life, came by way of Jean Paul Gaultier. The enfant terrible first sent out variations on his signature Breton T, and then somehow managed to convey a mix of deconstructed Japanese references with flying saucer peplums, jumpsuits, lampshade skirts, and plenty of pleats and points for a revision throughout on the designer’s favourite wardrobe piece, the tuxedo. 

Sea anemones came in place of his iconic cone busts, jellyfish-like dresses trailed with tentacles; there were coral skirts and jelly shoes – like those you had as a child. Only this was the couture version of them and therefore the best we’ve ever seen.

The models with their frizzed hair were like mermaids or sirens from the most fantastical of shipwrecks as they made their catwalk passage from a seeming sheer mist of curtains. It was a stunning collection that both married the eccentricity and extravagance of couture, yet, as Jean Paul Gaultier always does, placed it a million miles away from anything else. 

Though there is perhaps a little something of JPG in the young Olivier Rousteing whose debut couture collection for Balmain, while borderline bonkers, was rather brilliant for its larger than life and otherworldly approach. Whether that will sell, as JPG does, is of course another question.

Aside from the sea providing inspiration so prevalently this season, there was also a sea of inspiration on the runways: here’s a quick rundown of some other designers’ references…

Giorgio Armani Privé Spring/Summer 2019 Couture show in Paris. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.

Giorgio Armani – Art Deco, the designer focused in on a tight, very tight, colour palette of lacquer red, bright blue, black, and white for a polished, pristine, and composed outing.

Georges Hobeika Spring/Summer 2019 Couture show in Paris. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

Georges Hobeika – Marie Antoinette and the Chateau de Versailles.

Antonio Grimaldi Spring/Summer 2019 Couture show in Paris. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

Antonio Grimaldi – Richard Strauss’ story and music “Ariadne on Naxos.”

Ralph & Russo Spring/Summer 2019 Couture show in Paris. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

Ralph & Russo – Latin American femininity. The duo drew heavily on brash bright colours for flouncy frocks.

Stéphane Rolland Spring/Summer 2019 Couture show in Paris. Photos by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

Stéphane Rolland – Art Deco meets mythological murals by Antoine Bourdelle.