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A Paris couture week lesson: minimalism can be a party-stopper

Spring Summer 22 haute couture shows echoed a pared-back sensibility, with a new focus

A model presents a creation for Chanel during the Spring-Summer 2022 Haute Couture collection fashion show in Paris on 25 January. (AFP)

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It's been a season of comfort-driven haute couture, with designers proposing covetable daywear, edited evening pieces while staying true to their design métier. 

From artfully constructed ecru pantsuits, monastic dresses to minimal but unmissable capes, the offerings speak volumes about the post pandemic mood of craft-centric comfort and a decidedly scaled-back take on maximalism. While Virginie Viard at Chanel captured the 20s and 30s zeitgeist by experimenting with chiffon and organza dresses, which came with uneven hems, at Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri sent out an ecru cashmere cape juxtaposed together with embroidery, a simplistic pantsuit and a woollen day dress with faintly visible embroidered accents.

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At Alaïa, Pieter Mulier's tailoring-driven outing featured car coats borrowed from gentlemen's closets and Alexandre Vauthier offered a fresh take on the New Look by sending out a power shouldered peplum jacket paired with voluminous trousers.

Stylist Anaita Shroff Adajania says, "There was creativity, beauty and inspiration, but there was definitely a turn to wearable fashion as well. It was a tapered down approach to couture and a huge emphasis on clothes which were day-centric, like jackets, dresses and suits. One always looks at couture shows as the ultimate inspiration for fantastical thoughts, new direction…. However, given the hugeness of the pandemic, one can sense an urge to be less indulgent in some way or the other. Having said that, it was great to see fantasy couture at Schiaparelli and designers like Rahul Mishra transporting us to a garden of hope."

 

Models present a creation for Dior Spring-Summer 2022 collection fashion show during the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, in Paris, on 24 January.
Models present a creation for Dior Spring-Summer 2022 collection fashion show during the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, in Paris, on 24 January. (AFP)

While the likes of Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad stuck to their core idea of one-dimensional evening glamour, couture houses like Chanel, Dior, Azzaro, Fendi and Vauthier showcased pieces which exemplified a heightened degree of savoir-faire techniques like pleating - all executed with restraint. Only when one sees the garments up close or goes through the behind-the-scenes videos, one can actually gauge the extent of dextrous handwork which went into the creations.

Stylist Ami Patel observes that couture needn’t be about floor-sweeping creations. "I do admit that an element of wow has to be there, but couture is mostly about the fit of the garment with a client going to the maison for multiple fittings and adjustments. Today couture prices are exorbitant and in the last two years, events have reduced. Hence creations may not be OTT. Also, Gen Z values craftsmanship over theatrics," she says.

Moreover, Kim Jones at Fendi showcased an array of column-like goddess dresses, evoking the beauty of Rome, and Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino, presented an array of twinsets and trousers - apt for a chic daytime outing. Which brings one to the question - does the new couture customer value construction techniques over the larger-than-life theatrics one usually associates with couture?

Artist and couture buyer Michelle Poonawalla observes that this season saw a lot of the designers focusing on a clean minimal approach to design, sort of a rebirth. "Fluid lines, simple drapes, though block colours, show the beauty of the piece. Perhaps focusing more on bringing out the simplified beauty of the wearer. We saw tailored suits in various collections, though with fluidity. And the main focus was less fuss and more clean design," she says.

Embellished Mary Jane replaced the vertiginous high heels at Dior and the classic two-toned shoes at Chanel came minus any frills or glitzy accents. Guess the Galliano-era theatrical heels are a thing of the past now. 

Designer J.J. Valaya believes the West is showcasing couture in its true spirit after some unfortunate covid affected seasons. "The world is indeed still transitioning from a pandemic era to an endemic state of mind, therefore a simplicity in form and function was expected. Besides, Chanel is also coming to terms with an era sans Karl Lagerfeld after more than two decades of his brilliance. Such circumstances naturally have an impact which will signify change," he says.

He observes that Indian couture, on the other hand, is unlike the West and is connected to a large extent with weddings. "Therefore, such effects are seen less in luxury Indian clothing. Either way, my guess is that in a couple of seasons, the urge to celebrate more and the sentiment of living the moment will take over and get things back on track. Couture is meant to be special and timeless, it always has been, it always will be," he adds.

Designer Vaishali S., who showcased her collection at Paris Couture Week last year, believes that couture keeps evolving, and it is never for its own sake, rather interprets the sentiments of the times. "Over and over, we have seen it shifting from minimalist to maximalist or revolutionary. This period we have even more reasons for this. We have gone through a long period of lockdowns. The common mood is one of more respect for nature and our planet, and our own time. It is also a period when we have sought comfortable dressing solutions. Hence you see enough reasons why these tendencies of the couturiers," she says.

Dieter Tretter, lecturer at Istituto Marangoni, Mumbai, agrees. "Even couturiers need to think commercially and given how restricted our lives have become, so has the opportunity to wear an ostentatious gown for 20 lakh rupees. I can’t imagine even the super-rich donning their finest while isolating on their yachts, country estates or private islands, and with a distinct lack of red carpet opportunities, couture needed to adapt," he says.

 

A model presents a creation by Fendi during the Spring-Summer 2022 Haute Couture collection fashion show in Paris on 27 January.
A model presents a creation by Fendi during the Spring-Summer 2022 Haute Couture collection fashion show in Paris on 27 January. (AFP)

The simplicity of shapes, timelessness, lack of embellishments and tailoring across collections certainly might resonate with a 'new' couture customer, who values the highest level of craftsmanship yet prefers this pared-down aesthetic, which one can incorporate into their daily lives versus haute couture for special occasions. "Perhaps it might also be seen as bad taste or vulgar to promote such exaggerated glamour at a time when many are suffering, whether financially, physically or emotionally," Tretter adds.

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