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The Designers Proving That the Future of Couture Silhouettes is Anything But Normal

With designers exploding couture’s clichés, the future of form seems to be very different.

Robert Wun

Couture is the pinnacle of fashion as an art form; the distillation of a designer’s artistic vision and talent. It is also a playground for new ideas – both a mirror and a crystal ball, reflecting what is and showing what’s to come. At the FW23 couture shows, Thom Browne upended what a sleeve could be (and seem), while Balenciaga weaponized dresses into rigid, overstated contours. The shape of things to come, it seems, is anything but normal.

Iris van Herpen

“Risk-taking is the fun of it all,” says celebrity stylist Karla Welch. After visiting couture shows in Paris with Tracee Ellis Ross, Welch immediately snagged a mountainous hot pink Valentino gown for Ross to wear to the 2018 Emmys. “This dress was so extreme at the time,” Welch notes. “That moment shifted volume and silhouette on the red carpet.” It’s a trend that has only gained momentum, as stars and normies alike step away from conventional mermaid dresses and LBDs. Welch has since put Kristen Wiig in a Valentino dress with vertical ruffles for the 2020 Academy Awards, and Sarah Paulson in a Louis Vuitton two-piece with a square crop top for the 2022 Emmy Awards. The hourglass is out, the quadrilateral is in – as is the cylinder, the cone, and the balloon.

Viktor & Rolf

Thierry Mugler’s alien women, Viktor & Rolf’s ultra-exaggerated tailleurs, and Iris van Herpen’s circle shapes representing infinity are all pioneering avant-garde couture statements. Daniel Roseberry is mainstreaming the new unconventionality since his arrival at Schiaparelli in 2019. The Texan designer took a maison known for its surrealist daring and reinvented it for the modern age, showing that Elsa Schiaparelli’s singular spirit lives on. He continued the irreverence with his SS23 couture, playing especially with trompe-l’oeil shoulders and stiff, undulating waves. Chinese designer Guo Pei has also played with these proportions, following up the viral yellow cape she created for Rihanna for the 2015 Met Ball with collections inspired by Ming vases and even a “Siamese twin” dress worn by two models.

Rihanna in Guo Pei

Designers use fashion to explore and challenge societal norms, cultural boundaries, and personal beliefs. “My exaggeration with some silhouettes take me back to a time where fashion was pure excitement, where you look at a piece and smile because it’s not fitting in most of the boxes you can find,” says Jad Hobeika, co-creative director at his father Georges’ eponymous Lebanese house. For Georges Hobeika FW23 couture, bright purple fringe coats with bobbled sleeves are worn over tiny twin sets, while a feathered bodice wraps around an ethereal white gown like a fluffy boa. “Women who wear Georges Hobeika have a high understanding of the world of fashion,” Jad continues. “They don’t only look beautiful from the outside, they also have an influence on their surroundings. They are independent and brave.”


To pull off shapes not traditionally associated with actual pieces of clothing, it takes fearlessness. It is a look and an attitude that is not polite or predictable. “These are clothes that make you aware of the fact of your body; that make you think about how you move through the world,” Roseberry noted at one of his shows. Perhaps that is the point of fashion breaking away from its conventional shapes – to make us more aware not only of the power and provocation of our own bodies, but to be acutely conscious of the spaces we move in. For women, especially, these spaces are not always safe or welcoming. Showing up in an unexpected shape says more than just “look at me;” it signals a rejection of norms and societal authority. You don’t have to take it as far as Kanye West’s girlfriend Bianca Censori in her bodycon dress with shoulder pads like walls, simultaneously hiding yet drawing attention to her face – but thoughtfully placed statements such as surprising volume or atypical outlines show you know these radical times call for unconventional looks.

Thom Browne

At Nina Ricci, creative director Harris Reed has been upending the heritage house’s codes with novel interpretations. Fresh from dressing Florence Pugh in a mandarin orange tulle dress for this year’s Bafta awards, the pleated fringe bodice bursting upwards like rays, Reed sent giant bows and fluoro feathers down the runway. Pouf-sleeved jackets and dresses almost as wide as the catwalk itself further announced a new aesthetic – one not necessarily concerned with practicability or “prettiness.” “It’s a bold new statement,” the designer said backstage. Hong Kong designer Robert Wun also stunned crowds with his couture debut this season, presenting sculptural peplums, pleats, and headwear with entirely unconventional burn marks and drink stains.

Couture designers have also been experimenting with various cutting-edge techniques and materials, blending traditional craftsmanship with modern technology. Indian designer Gaurav Gupta, for instance, embraces his heritage in the creation of futuristic showmanship. His shows are immersive artistic affairs, taking in sculpture, theater, and poetry alongside his fantastical dresses. His SS23 collection displayed gowns in undulating wave shapes, with exaggerated pleating creating new forms and dramatic visions. “I love the sense of freedom from monotony,” Gupta notes. “Exaggerated shapes tend to tickle multiple fantasies in all of us.”

Originally published in the September 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia

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