Arguably the most meaningful aspect of haute couture is in the details, with the exquisite minutiae of the stitching, beading, and meticulous draping setting couture apart in the world of fashion.
The question of how to translate that craftwork from the in-person experience to the digital realm has been dogging couture houses since before the onset of the pandemic. Of course, the vast majority of us plebeians have always been getting our haute fix in 2D, whether on the magazine page or through our screens. When COVID forced a shift to digital presentations, even for that rarefied clientele who could normally see the pieces in the flesh, it seemed a prime opportunity to push the boundaries of how couture could be transmitted to a remote audience.
Yet two years on, no house has yet to completely blow open the doors of perception in terms of capturing the multimodal essence of couture in an online format. Certainly, there have been in-roads: think of the collaborative S.W.A.L.K. film project between Nick Knight and John Galliano's Maison Margiela during A/W 20 and S/S 21 or Valentino’s S/S 21 AI-fuelled Code Temporal. As we approach our fourth couture season under COVID, and as houses forge ahead with in-person runways presented in tandem with livestreams, can we expect continued innovation? In the rush to get back to business as usual, what have couture houses learned from the precarity of the last few seasons, and will they apply that experience to expanding how couture presentations are consumed?
Giving us an early glimpse of what to expect from the couture schedule which officially kicks off next week, on Monday evening Giambattista Valli debuted their closed-door runway presentation. Titled the Valli Experience, models wore both haute couture or ready-to-wear looks with no onscreen indication of which was which, ostensibly to show the quality that flows through every level of house. The collection was effervescent and sweet as one would expect from Valli, in shades of pink shot through with futuristic silver. With no buying audience in sight, however, it seemed like a missed opportunity to use the camera to freely explore every fold of tulle and painstakingly applied feather.
Valentino – Wednesday, January 26 at 12:00 GMT
With the AI artists Robert Del Naja and Mario Klingemann previously supporting creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli’s vision of a machine future in S/S 21, and an emphasis on the power of “listening” for his A/W 21 presentation, what corner of cognition might be prodded by this season’s Valentino couture offering?
Schiaparelli – Monday, January 24 at 09:00 GMT
Paris will see the Daniel Roseberry-helmed Schiaparelli re-enter the couture schedule after sitting it out over the course of the pandemic. Not that eschewing the schedule has meant that the house hasn’t had a run of high-profile press in that time; they’ve dressed Lady Gaga for U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Beyoncé for her Best R&B Performance win at the Grammys, and put their signature surrealist stamp on leagues of stars returning to the red carpet.
Roseberry has recently spoken of the complications of our collective re-emergence into the world, and the need to approach his designs from a different perspective because of it. Will this re-examined headspace extend to a departure from the standard walk and turn, and convey more of the sexily eccentric nature of his designs?
Jean Paul Gaultier (Glenn Martens guest designer) – Wednesday, January 26 at 13:30 GMT
If there is one house that seems unafraid of change, it is Jean Paul Gaultier, now in the second season of having a guest designer take over the atelier - this time with Glenn Martens of Y/Project. Martens has called couture an 'absurd fairy tale'; perhaps not necessarily an indicator thematically of what to expect from his vision, but of a looseness in approaching how the Gaultier fashion story is told.
Certainly the tradition of Gaultier is steeped in the progressive and Martens comes from the lineage of conceptual Belgian designers. This presentation might be the best positioned to explore avant-garde methods of displaying the fruits of their union.
Yuima Nakazato Couture – Thursday, January 27 at 13:30 GMT
The A/W 21 Yuima Nakazato couture show was inspired by the shape of sound waves and featured water-themed music; a multisensory approach to the inspiration behind the Japanese designer’s looks.
While the focus of digital to this point has been primarily on the audio-visual, who better than the house that developed Biosmocking, a sustainable form of textile fabrication inspired by spider silk, to explore the haptic potential of online presentation.
Regardless of the content of this season’s haute couture, guaranteed to be gorgeous by virtue of its very existence, the real innovation in design will be how this craft is shared and engaged with by its audience. What remains to be seen is how willing houses are to stay uncomfortable and take risks in an industry increasingly focused on what form post-pandemic fashion might take and questioning the relevance of couture itself.