Spring 2019 Haute Couture: Round-up

A cape resembling a ball of feathers at Schiaparelli, giant wing-like bow-backpacks at Givenchy, an exciting circus-inspired theme at Dior and an organza dress embroidered with real flowers set in resin and another sequinned one embroidered with hand-painted ceramic flowers at Chanel: Paris couture week for Spring/Summer 2019 offered plenty of whimsical moments that helped distract from the cold Parisian winter.

Just the weekend before, the yellow-jacketed protestors had once again demonstrated in the street of Paris about taxes, inequality and the rising cost of living, but while ready-to-wear often reflects the zeitgeist of the time, couture remains defiantly above the fray with most designers offering four days of supersized tulle, shimmering sequins, feather flowers, and other extravagant embellishments that can require hundreds of hours of works by highly skilled artisans.

 Olivier Theyskens

As Olivier Rousteing unveiled his first couture collection for Balmain, and the house’s first couture collection in 16 years, he posed the question: What is couture in 2019?

“Yes,” he acknowledged, “couture remains as exclusive as it has always been—a luxury well beyond the reach of most,” pointing out his collection relies on more than a million Swarovski crystal pearls, stones and beads. However, he also remarked that away from the constraints of setting trends and bowing to commercial needs, couture also allowed him the “luxury of stepping back for a minute” and “revel in a moment of unfettered creativity.” Thus, mostly eschewing practicality, Rousteing’s collection included many all-white outfits, supersized and asymmetrical silhouettes, bulbous shapes that recalled the vast number of pearls sewn on garments, while bringing a fresh twist to luxury fabrics associated with couture by mixing them with ripped denim.


Meanwhile, Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy offered an exercise in purity of shape and line, combining the skills of her tailleur and flou ateliers to offer garments that had structure as well as fluidity. She surprised her audience with a mix of sexy latex (not often seen in couture) combined with lacquered guipure lace as well as her couture take on the backpack (attached to a giant silk bow).

At Dior, creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri proved a deft ringmaster who could mix whimsical Pierrot-like outfits with red-carpet-worthy gowns. After the show, Thai actress Araya Alberta Hargate, a regular on the red carpet at Cannes, told CNN Style she felt it was Chiuri’s best show. “I like a bit of bling, and it had a little bit more of that,” she said, referring to Chiuri’s offering of fluid metallic plisse and gold lame pleated dresses and a short ruffled dress sparkling with circus animal sequin embroidery. 

Here are some key take away from the Couture Spring/Summer 2019 collections:

Most memorable couture presentation: Iris Van Herpen’s dramatic, yet still wearable collection inspired by celestial cartography and astrological chimera. Designs included barely there organza printed with the liquid clouds of New York-based artist Kim Keever, voluminous sculptural dresses that resembled hybrid butterflies and were created out of cartographic-like layering of gradient dyed silks, and an optical illusion dress that seemed to hover around the body through the use of the designer’s ‘Galactic glitch' technique that heat binds cloud-printed silk to mylar and is then laser cut to create the finest lace that form ‘harmonica waves’ to create the optical echoing effect as the wearer moves.

Escapism decors: Dior erected a circus big tent in the garden of the Musée Rodin and decked out the inside with hundreds of fairy lights, and invited an all-female troupe of acrobatic performers, Mimbre, to perform while the catwalk presentation was taking place. Chanel — without Karl Lagerfeld taking his customary bow reportedly due to ill health — brought the coming seasons’ warmth to a snowy Paris transforming the Grand Palais into a scene from the French Riviera, complete with Italianate villa, palm trees and potted shrubs trimming the catwalk and even a swimming pool (the bride wore a sparkling bathing suit to fit the theme). Meanwhile, Ralph&Russo looked further afield and greeted their guests with a Mariachi band setting the tone for their collection inspired by the vibrant culture and colors of Latin America.

Creative Craftsmanship - Basket weave silk tulle, curling organza ruffles, and gilded horse hair bands at Dior, finely ground mother of pearl woven into silk fabrics at Chinese couturier Guo Pei, a suit embroidered with porcelain flowers at Schiaparelli; all showed the variety of skilled hands at work bringing designers’ dreamy visions to life.

If it’s pink, let it be fuchsia! - Hot pink is a color long associated with Elsa Schiaparelli collections, but this season the color made a bold statement on many catwalks, from Ralph&Russo and Giambattista Valli to Valentino and Alexis Mabille. The bold fuschia tone was even present among high jewelers, with Chaumet offering a Josephine set with a striking deep shade of pink sapphires from Madagascar.

Color therapy - While pastels continued to abound for Spring/Summer 2019, there were also vibrant hues with acid green at Ralph&Russo and clashing pink and green at Alexis Mabille and Schiaparelli.