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This Season, Couture Came to Play

couture fall 2021

Courtesy of the brands; Moss by David X Prutting/BFA.com; Viktor & Rolf by Marijke Aerden

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Style Points is a weekly column about how fashion intersects with the wider world.

Your garden-variety couture review will note the history of the form, the craftsmanship behind it, and the acres of infinitesimal details stitched by the petits mains, or artisans, who are helping keep the tradition alive. And along with it, the enduring question: Is couture relevant?

This is not your garden-variety couture review. Yes, all of the aforementioned tradition was in full effect at the latest round of shows. But perhaps more interestingly, the biannual event got a shot in the arm from designers, many of them young and up-and-coming, ready to question the codes and tear the rule book to beautiful shreds. Has couture ever felt so, well, fun?

pyer moss couture 1

A look from Pyer Moss’s couture collection.

David X Prutting/BFA.com

In the “new to couture” camp was Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond, showing not in Paris but in Irvington, NY, at the historic home of beauty mogul Madam C.J. Walker. Jean-Raymond became the first Black American designer to be invited by the Chambre Syndicale to show his work as part of couture, and his show celebrated the innovations of Black inventors, elevating everyday objects—from curtain rods to bicycle handles to a jar of peanut butter—to runway status. The outsize shapes gave everything a sense of playfulness, but also reflected a rich history, the pièce de résistance being a stately hooded coat made from curlers that paid tribute to Walker. The collection served as a reminder that, as Jean-Raymond’s show notes put it, “Black imagination is this world’s greatest technology.”

balenciaga fall 2020 couture

A couture look from Balenciaga.

Courtesy of the brand.

In the “back at it” camp stood Demna Gvasalia, as Balenciaga returned to the couture fold after 53 years with a collection that melded pure Funny Face joie de vivre (big hats; Cristòbal-evoking shapes; models carrying numbers, old-school salon style) with his own brand of hipster cachet (Ella Emhoff made an appearance as a model.) The show, held at a restored version of Cristòbal Balenciaga’s original couture salon, was a celebration of the medium and a reminder of its continued resonance. As Gvasalia said in his show notes (signed “Love, Demna,”) “Couture is above trends, fashion, and industrial dress-making….it is not only relevant in today’s mass-productive industry but even absolutely necessary for the survival and further evolution of modern fashion.”

schiaparelli fall 2021 couture

A look from Schiaparelli’s couture collection.

Courtesy of the brand.

Another designer who excels at melding fashion’s past and present is Daniel Roseberry, who has found a way to play tribute to Schiaparelli’s surrealist DNA while simultaneously turning out work that’s cheeky and modern. He riffed on the house signatures with witty anatomical gags, like literal breastplates and shoes with painted toes (Bella Hadid has already worn his stunning gold-lung dress to Cannes.) But he also embraced couture’s expansiveness with exuberant shapes that swallowed up the room and thrillingly impractical gold floral glasses. And never one to shy away from an out-there statement, Viktor & Rolf (remember when they took a chainsaw to couture?) showed royals-inspired looks with sashes made for a an offbeat pageant queen: the memes write themselves.

viktor  rolf fall 2021 couture

A look from Viktor & Rolf’s The New Royals collection.

Marijke Aerden

charles de vilmorin fall 2021 couture

Charles de Vilmorin fall 2021 couture.

Courtesy of the brand.

Charles de Vilmorin, recently named the head of Rochas, showed a couture collection that only included one print, in contrast to his color- and paint-soaked debut couture collection. A witchy maximalism was the order of the day, with feathers and hoop skirts enlivening his black silhouettes. When I caught up with him in February, shortly after his first season, he said, “The fact that my young brand was on the couture calendar is proof that couture wants and needs to change, and be more open and [current]. I think it’s a really good thing.” Here’s to new blood.

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