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Fashion in a time of pandemic

The Paris Fall Winter Haute Couture Week 2021

Last year, international designers had to show their collections in unconventional ways: there were videos, then puppets, and even boat rides. While fashion shows went live again for Paris Fall Winter Haute Couture Week 2021, there are still traces of the trauma we’ve collectively endured: masks were everywhere, of course; there were limited audiences, open air shows, and some designers still opted to showcase their offerings via social media instead. Still, fashion endures, and has the ability to dream of a better world for all of us.

In her autobiography, D.V., Diana Vreeland presented an anecdote about Balenciaga founder and namesake Cristobal Balenciaga. During a Balenciaga show, she says, “Audrey Hepburn turned to me and asked why I wasn’t frothing at the mouth at what I was seeing… across the floor, Gloria Guiness was sliding out of her chair onto the floor.” Balenciaga exciting couture career ended when he shuttered his house in 1968, and when he died in 1972. After more than 50 years, couture returns to Balenciaga in the guise of Creative Director Demna Gvasalia.

The collection was stunning, shown in complete silence, with the sounds of photographers and fashion journalists completely audible amidst the bevy of models walking through a series of rooms. The clothes are from, and for, another place and time. Think a tall pillar of fabric, actually an opera cloak showing a just a model’s face, with the actual cloak extending past her head. There were padded stoles draped across arms and shoulders, and wide-brimmed hats paired with capes.

The show ended with a Balenciaga bride, in a dress cut and draped in a way that made it appear as if a sculpture had melted. It would be a dream come true if one saw them moving in real life.

Designer Virginie Viard shows classic femininity in her haute couture offering for this season, opening the Chanel show at the Palais Galliera with a swelling of strings, showing a model in fully beaded lilac and pink. This then transitions to various pop hits, showing these early 20th century girls moving at pace in the modern world.

There are candy-colored tweeds, flowers the color of ashes embroidered onto black bodices, and rich beading and embroidery appearing so flawless as if painted into life. The fabrics’ weights, echoed in a white dress with a swing fit for a French resort town, show a lightness of being that only the privilege of couture can bring. The show ended with a Chanel bride, in leg-of-mutton sleeves and a spangled veil.

Truly, how many more ways can weirdness be so interesting?

Schiaparelli Creative Director Daniel Roseberry may have dug into Schiaparelli’s surreal archives for his collections, but has managed to make the clothes his own, pulling this 1930s relic maison into modern times (where they may be more appreciated).

His collection for this season is centered around bullfighting and matadors, and — my, my, what an arena. A particularly arresting dress is one that reminds one of a bull, with horns pointed forward forming the bodice. A deliciously villainous dress had the same horns pointing upwards, embroidered all over with gold. A demin matador jacket was studded all over with Schiaparelli locks, keys, and eyes, with gold upper and lower backs peeking from keyholes made in the denim.

A black fringed dress (appearing like the same material from which casette tapes are made off) is opened by a model, revealing underneath armor molded to look like breasts: sexy and subversive. Several details also suggest, and not show sexiness (which made it all the more exciting): think sculpted hands on waists, or a sculpture of flowers rising from a skirt and covering a body.

The show ends with a model in a giant white dress, with silver lips open in a slight pout serving as the bodice. — Joseph L. Garcia