Paris Haute Couture: A Strong and Liberating Act

The first shows of this Spring/Summer 2019 Haute Couture season felt liberating, to say the least. It was liberating, not only because of Maria Grazia Chiuri's body conscious show concept for maison Christian Dior, which involved a group of acrobats who performed through the entire show, but also because of Bertrand Guyon's surreal and spiritual take on Schiaparelli



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


Guyon dived into Elsa Schiaparelli's fascination for astrology, nature, and the botanical world in order to create ultra-feminine, sculpted, and cosmic-inspired evening gowns and cocktails dresses that were a tad eccentric. In fact, the collection reflected Elsa Schiaparelli's own environment – a combination of her own designs, alongside other ethnic costumes and personal pieces. 



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


In her days, Schiaparelli was always at the forefront of the surrealist movement – her collaborations with famous artists include Salvador Dalí and Man Ray – and ingeniously incorporated these influences into her own cutting-edge fashion designs. Guyon translated her free-spirited personality into eye-catching numbers, such as a 'Meteoroid Swarm' cape crafted from amethyst and ruby colored feathers and an impressive coat dress crafted from a cosmos-printed crepe fabric and embellished with cobalt blue ostrich feathers and a sky blue feather headpiece that served as a hoodie. 

 


Dior Spring/Summer 2019 Couture show in Paris. Photo by Alessandro Garofalo for NOWFASHION.


But most importantly, the Haute Couture season started with the Dior 'Circus' that came to town! True to her willingness to support and express female imagination, Maria Grazia Chiuri invited an all-female cast of acrobats to interact with the show's set design – a circus tent – and with the runway models. The Haute Couture pieces, for their part, came with a playful, almost childish, twist and notably featured a multicolored tulle playsuit crafted from satin bands and worn over a tattoo jumpsuit, a black tulle dress worn over a structured corset and embroidered with red geometric motifs – reminiscent of a clown's nose – and a bustier dress printed and embroidered with a circus "Parade" motif. But it wasn't the first time that the circus theme appeared in a Dior collection. In fact, Maria Grazia Chiuri paid homage to former Dior head designer John Galliano, who featured the theme repeatedly during his creative direction. 

 


Dior Spring/Summer 2019 Couture show in Paris. Photo by Alessandro Garofalo for NOWFASHION.


In addition, Chiuri also explained that her circus costume-inspired cocktail numbers and evening gowns were influenced by Cindy Sherman's artwork focusing on clowns, and by the impact and artwork of great 20th-century artists and intellectuals, such as Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau, who were regulars at the Cirque Medrano founded by the Madrid-born Jérôme Medrano, a reputed artist and comic performer of the Belle Époque in Paris. 



Giambattista Valli Spring/Summer 2019 Couture show in Paris. Photo by Alessandro Garofalo for NOWFASHION.


So why is the circus and clown inspired collection so liberating, you ask? Aside from making a nod to Suzy Menkes' analysis and criticism of what she calls "The Circus of Fashion" the symbolism of the "clown" is quite telling. First of all, the clown is an indicator of entertainment, light-heartedness and childlike behavior. But most of all, a happy clown stays for innocence, pleasure, gaiety, and a certain liberty of expression – all the notions that are needed by an artist or fashion designer to create an authentic body of work. After all, doesn't a fashion show bear similarities with a circus parade? Both sell dreams, impress with their mise-en-scène, and are led by fascinating personas.



Giambattista Valli Spring/Summer 2019 Couture show in Paris. Photo by Alessandro Garofalo for NOWFASHION.

Giambattista Valli, for his part, continued this liberating act with another blast (from the past): Valli was inspired by none other than the late Yves Saint Laurent. Starting the show with 80s flavored mini-dresses that came with beautiful embellishments and high volumes on the shoulders and sleeves, the collection slowly evolved into Valli's signature style evening gowns, with a multitude of tulle layers and dramatic volumes, while keeping the Saint Laurent spirit alive. In fact, Giambattista Valli quoted a picture of the YSL’s Avenue Marceau salon in 1977, showing Yves during Haute Couture fittings, as a starting point for his collection. Defined by a liberating and individualist spirit, this collection was most eye-catching and set the tone for the days to come.