by Alexander Fury .

Haute Couture A/W 2011: Let's start at the very beginning

We're in Paris for the first day of our couture coverage, although the action kicked off in earnest yesterday with shows by Giambattista Valli, Alexis Mabille and of course Christian Dior. A major event in any season, this time the Dior haute couture collection was catapulted to front page prominence - the first created without John Galliano at the helm for fifteen years.

Front pages aside, yesterday's Dior collection does not appear to have been well-received, the consensus being that the show lacked focus. A fair comment, given that this is the first Dior show without a single designer determining the vision, and indeed one that crops up in fashion whenever design direction is determined by committee rather than a sole leader. Givenchy passed a season without a creative head and offered a show that was equally criticised, and the team now in place at Maison Martin Margiela have received decidedly mixed reviews from a fashion press at best apprehensive and at worst openly hostile. Whatever Bill Gaytten, titular head of la Maison Dior, might insist, his is an unenviable task. There was even something of the sacrificial lamb on Gaytten's sudden thrust into the limelight, where other designers of far greater stature (read: Azzedine Alaïa) fear to tread.

That said, the idea of 'Modernising' Dior by looking back to the eighties and the fashion school cop-out inspiration of Memphis would strike one as half-baked regardless of designer; and I have no idea what anyone was thinking about by referencing Marc Bohan's lacklustre tenure for the house. Colin McDowell once referred to Bohan as belonging in the Couture Hall of Worthies rather than the Pantheon of the Greats, and that really says it all. This show wasn't great - but it was never going to be. We'll have to wait until next season for fireworks over the Avenue Montaigne, I suppose.

Its a crying shame that the continuing/continual brouhaha over Dior overshadowed the haute couture debut of Giambattista Valli. We say debut, but couture's always been in Valli's blood: he cut his teeth at the right hand of Emanuel Ungaro, who trained with Balenciaga. That's pretty impressive lineage, and although Valli is no Cristobal, his first official couture show was as polished and confident as they come. That was expected, but the ease Valli brought to his clothing felt new and refreshing, basing his collection around the cotton smocks traditionally worn by atelier workers rather than their moneyed customers, and gently knocking the stuffing out of the stiff hauteur of couture. That has marred Valli's own work for ready-to-wear from time to time. Perhaps he now feels he has nothing left to prove? Whatever the reasoning behind, the collection worked. The same could not be said of Alexis Mabille's show - after a menswear collection where he stripped his boys down to the bare essentials (sometimes embarrassingly less than that), for couture he indulged his urge to pile it on. Ironically, both approaches came across as high camp rather than high fashion. Maybe that's just Mabille? Fairytale was the theme, but it was difficult to imagine any woman fantasising about overwrought, stifling ballgowns adorned with pantomimic decoration. Unless she's a masochist, of course.

Couture continues today, with Armani Privé, Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci and Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel.

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