Couture is the precious, rare, gem of the fashion empire. It is the foundation of fashion design, coveted for its history, collectibility, and unprecedented elegance. But as the couture industry has reach near obsolescence, the availability of such luxe, paintstakingly hand-constructed garments is limited to those which have been delicately preserved, fighting their way from decade to decade.
Thankfully, although pret-a-porter is the dominating culture of fashion, there are a handful of designers who have clung to their roots, producing soulful couture collections year after year inspired by and geared towards the most elite of fashion’s connoisseurs. This year’s couture season featured the work of just 12 designers, including Dior, Gaultier, Versace and Chanel. While the collections reflect the sensibility of 2012 tones and trends, the references and techniques are rooted staunchly in the past. It is living vintage. Although each collection was a sensation, a few stood out for their impassioned odes to the past:
Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri’s sensually ethereal, flowing collection was poignantly inspired by eighteenth century France and the Age of Enlightenment. Although delicate floral patterns and heaps of flowing fabric were dominant themes, the lines remained chic, with Piccioli and Chiuri taking care to remember the body and embrace form within the movement. Evoking the country quality of ornate French gardens (ie: Versailles) this collection is breathless and effervescent in its lightness, and rich in elegance inspired by royal ingénues.
Jean Paul Gaultier
Gaultier’s collection playfully created an exaggerated depiction of the 1950s infused with his couture homage to Amy Winehouse. Sartorially a triumph, his work was attacked by Winehouse’s father, who told the British Sun that it was “in bad taste,” and glamourized “some of the more upsetting times of her life.” Outrageous black bouffants were punctuated by highly stylized suit, skirt and pant combos in bold hues and a cheeky mix of grunge, pop and sequined accents. A powerful tribute reflecting adoration, and not antagonism, this collection is a brilliant addition to Gaultier’s canon.
Valli’s extraordinary, breathtakingly elegant 2012 Couture collection represents the “best of” in atelier couture training, with the designer aiming to translate everything he’d learned as a couturier into one runway show. Austerity is the name of the game here, with Valli incorporating the historical techniques and design sensibility of everyone from Roberto Capucci to the Ungaro atelier where he once trained, peppering his opulent collection with a nod to Ava Gardner’s inspired glamour. Many models seemed nearly sewn in to garments as form-fitting as a corset — hearkening to an age where the female body was truly the canvas and a mold for sartorial sensuality.
This season, Ricardo Tisci emboldened Givenchy with a futuristic Gothic elegance, inspired by his past seven years at the design house, as well as the 1972 film, Metropolis, and 1924’s Aelita: Queen of Mars. This cache of references is perhaps the most poignant reflection on history of the couture collections, marked by brilliant styling and extraordinary design — not the least of which, a crocodile gown that took over 350 hours to make. Tisci modernized the vintage qualities of couture in a way that completely erased contemporary fashion. In the past decade, we’ve rarely seen a designer ignite fashion with such inspiration and ingenuity as to displace the current moment. His bold statement is a gift to us all.
Tisci was not the only designer inspired by Metropolis, and the allure of old Hollywood glamour this season. Versace’s collection, evoking the power of “warrior women” functions as an army of gilded second skins. One might detect a slight battle between good and evil, with the smooth, reptilian glamour of seductive floor-length gowns battling their corrupt seductress alter egos. Equally as luxe. Equally as sexy. In the glory days of couture, clothing was designed and built to empower femininity — almost weapon-like in its ability to seduce, tempt, and allure. Versace’s references were powerfully on point — a reminder that in moving forward, we must always keep a keen eye fixed on the past.
— Amanda Aldinger
Image Layout: Amy Newling
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Tags: Giambattista Valli Spring 2012 Couture, Givenchy Spring 2012 Couture, Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2012 Couture, spring 2012 couture, Valentino Spring 2012 Couture, Versace Spring 2012 Couture, vintage inspiration for couture 2012, vintage inspiration for the runway