Demanding to know the prehistory of a collection is a sport many indulge in, present company included. Yet in couture, such requests serve only the purpose of reassuring that there is more to the exercise than the elaboration of a garment that will only be recognized by a handful of people: the client, the designer, the craftspeople who contributed to its birth, and the odd knowledgeable soul. Alexis Mabille exposed the charade by dedicating his "Portraits of Women" collection to his muses, the women he loves and his clients, and examining through this prism the making of an icon.
Rather than create a collection that would impose a vision, he contacted fifteen women who inspire him – he later confessed how utterly thrilled he was that they had all accepted his request – and walked with each one of them through the creative process. The project culminated in color portraits taken by Matthew Brookes, who usually works in black and white. Marie-Agnès Gillot, Marie Beltrami, Yumi Lambert, Leslie Caron, or Dita Von Teese – all these women represented an iconic facet of The Woman to whom couturiers pay homage in their creations.
Despite the statuesque portraits that swayed between Vanity Fair's "Young Hollywood" covers and the society ladies of John Singer Sargent, there was no impression of immobility. Gillot seemed like a bird of prey in repose, ready to take flight and transform strands of seed pearls into feathers; Leslie Caron's stature commanded respect as if she were about to burst into the magnetizing performances that made her a legend. More, the portraits big and small, completely dominated the garments themselves. That was perhaps the most essential thought here: each dress has an energy that comes from the client. Showing them on the cookie-cutter reeds that sway up and down the runway serves no other purpose than to reinforce the idea that the dress overpowers the wearer, when, in fact, the would-be client should be projecting herself into the creative process.
In a way, it was refreshing to see Mabille eschew the traditional format for a presentation, where the petites mains could be felt in every pearl sewn onto a white mesh, every strand of rocaille beading, every Lyon lace insert. It was tough to think of this series as a collection, so deeply linked was it to the women inhabiting these gowns.
It also posed the question of couture in this fast-paced century. Finding people with pockets deep enough to spend on clothes is not hard and there are plenty of high-end ready-to-wear brands parting them with their money. Happening upon a client that will go the extra mile to go through the couture process is a longer trek. What place has an art form that takes weeks or oftentimes months to reach completion, when everything from shopping to tax filings is an instantaneous click away?
Desire answered these 15 silhouettes, placed on either side of the room while guests passed them by swiftly – a thought provoking role reversal between runway and room –, desire that is the secret ingredient that creates an alchemical result between couturier, client, and creation to form not just a priceless dress, but an allure that remains long after these images have passed into memory.
(Re)discover the Spring/Summer Haute Couture collection right here.