In the world of high fashion, July is Haute Couture month. The world’s most celebrated designers present collections that represent the highest standards of design and construction. If you work in the industry, you’re probably inspired to art direct new fashion editorials for the fall issues. If you are an ultra fashionable “civilian”, you’re probably frantically trying to figure out how you can work the high fashion trends into your everyday wardrobe. If you’re Daphne Guiness or Catherine Deneuve you’re probably standing on a block in a couturier’s atelier enduring endless fittings for your fall wardrobe.
For those of you who weren’t glued to your computers waiting breathlessly for the latest slide shows to be posted, here is an Haute Couture primer for the Fall Winter 2011 season. This is what the world’s most fashionable women – the names you’ll see on the Best Dressed list come March 2011 – will be wearing.
Chanel has long been go-to brand for “conservative” women of style – if that word can even be applied to the select group of women who can afford both the cost – in money and time – of maintaining a couture wardrobe. Karl Lagerfeld never fails to disappoint his couture audience, somehow melding the DNA of a brand that is deeply ingrained in the minds of fashion folk with the future of fashion. This season’s offerings stayed in a moody palette of black and midnight navy with one notable exception – magenta. Couture customers may have followed slavishly through recent forays into pink and fuchsia (and purple before that), but those “investments” will have to be archived or donated to the Costume Institute for a tax write-off. This season, magenta will reign supreme. Those who donned last season’s ruffles and volume are probably distressed to realize that this season’s new silhouette is streamlined a la Flapper. The “new” volume is tromp l’oiel. Ruffles, volume, and movement are now suggested by intricate beading on slim sheaths.
The fashion obsessed have followed the Givenchy Haute Couture shows since Hubert himself dressed America’s favorite gamine, Audrey Hepburn. The reins have changed hands several times since then. Most notably, Givenchy was Alexander McQueen’s first gig on his way to his eponymous line. The current exhibit of his work, Savage Beauty, at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute here in New York is literally leaving fashion folk gasping for air as they experience the transcendent beauty of his designs. Current Creative Director, Ricardo Tischi, continues to leave the fashion world breathless. His personal vision of Paradise for the Fall Winter season included tromp l’oiel ostrich skin, painstakingly created by setting Swarovski crystals into faux pearls then beading them onto tulle. Another showstopper in the tightly edited ten look collection is a dress featuring thousands of hand-cut and hand-sewn square silk tulle paillettes that create an ombre effect from white to ivory. No doubt the phrase “a vision in white” will apply to more than just brides this season.
With all the controversy swirling around the former Creative Director, the Christian Dior Haute Couture collection was easily the most hotly anticipated of the season. Newly elevated assistant designer Bill Gaytten put his own spin on the iconic silhouettes of this legacy brand. Skirts, whether short and flirty or luxuriously long, had the very same effect of shocking indulgence on today’s recession-weary fashionistas as the New Look had on those who survived World War II. Gaytten may have worked within the framework of the iconic brand’s silhouettes, but he undeniably put his personal stamp on the collection by drawing inspiration from the swirling architecture of Frank Gehry. The effect is decidedly post-modern.
Every season, even since the retirement of the storied brand’s namesake, aficionados of Valentino Couture keep an eye out for at least one creation in Valentino Red. The formula for this particular shade is trademarked and instantly recognizable whether on the grand staircase of the world’s great opera houses or peeking out from under the hem of a burqa. The dynamic design duo who currently head the brand – Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli – paid homage to the founder with a thoroughly modern gown with a draped plunging neckline in the house’s signature color, Rosso Valentino. They also took another step forward with the brand by offering one look in the most luxurious of velvets. The bandeau vaguely evokes Josephine Bonaparte, but in a fresh and up-to-date way.
Any follower of red carpet fashion is familiar with the other Paris Haute Couture show that is designed by an Italian. Each season, looks from Giorgio Armani’s Armani Prive collection appear on the most celebrated actresses and musicians of our time as they attend awards shows. For Fall Winter 2011, Armani’s showstopping color choice is Safety Orange. Ombre sequins soften the shade and give it beautifully sense of movement. For the woman who really wants to stop traffic, Armani also offers a slim strapless gown covered entirely with clear square plastic paillettes in this vibrant hue.
No matter how you choose to draw inspiration from the great design houses of our time, be confident in your choices and boldly lead the way for other fashion pioneers wherever you are. You can swallow these trends whole or just pepper them into your existing wardrobe, but, no matter what you do, fashion marches on. You either evolve and adapt or risk becoming as obsolete as a rotary telephone. I, for one, already have a head start on the safety orange, having ordered several things for fall – including a collar and leash for my dog!
1. Chanel Fall 2011 Couture
2. Givenchy Fall 2011 Couture
3. Dior Fall 2011 Couture
4. Armani Prive Fall 2011 Couture
5. Valentino Fall 2011 Couture