At Givenchy and Balmain, designers are reviving high fashion – with Céline to come next season
“It is an incredible moment – one I have never experienced before – so it’s quite special; an amazing few months bringing all the ideas together and crystallising them,” said Givenchy’s Artistic Director, Clare Waight Keller, who revived the haute couture originally seeded by the maison’s founder, Hubert de Givenchy, back in 1952.
The new designer, who left Chloé for this role last May, showed an intense 40-piece collection on a dramatic stage-set of a moonlit garden, where the models flittered through the half light, black dresses sinking into the dark and bright colours gleaming like fireflies.
Only a men’s outfit was off-message as a latex coat in bright blue. Yet later the designer defined the complex fabric as “latex couture”.
This sudden ramping-up in the new millennium of the hitherto fading couture practice has been given another fillip by the news that when fashion idol Hedi Slimane takes over as Creative Director at Céline this spring, he will launch an haute couture line at what started as a French accessories company.
This season, even Balmain – part of the Paris couture world since its foundation in 1946 – has launched 44 François Premier, a “demi-couture” range by red-hot designer Olivier Rousteing.
The revival of couture at Givenchy, already toyed with by previous designer Riccardo Tisci, was given full-on treatment by Waight Keller – even though she told me backstage that she had only three people in her team. That was admirable, considering the generous mix of tailoring, shapely dresses and all the couture trimmings from lace to feathers. Although the surprise elements came more from the colours and textures than anything deeply original, as a first effort it was impressive.
“For me, it was an amazing experience to have a laboratory of techniques at my hands, which I have never had before – mixing incredibly big volumes of dresses and then narrow columns – while working on texture,” said the designer, who was congratulated backstage by LVMH supremo Sydney Toledano, Chairman and CEO of LVMH Fashion Group, the division that oversees smaller brands including Givenchy, Loewe, and Emilio Pucci.
“For me it was a complete freedom that couture offers,” Waight Keller continued. “There isn’t even a season to think about. You are just creating a poetry of beauty. It’s an open book.”
The only quibble about the designer’s words is to ask where Givenchy goes from here? Her design predecessor brought pungent sexuality and played to a hip-hop audience. There was not an ounce of those influences in the new offering. Yet her enthusiasm was catching. And let’s hope she can revive the romantic grandeur of couture’s past for the here and now.
Balmain 44 rue François Premier
“We didn’t want to call it couture because it’s not. But it is for the evening, for the red carpet, and after that we got a lot of requests from proper clients. So this is a way to officially position Balmain in that couture world,” said Olivier Rousteing, waving at the 10 sparkling dresses displayed on mannequins at the Balmain headquarters.
But, significantly, this new collection is named “44 rue François Premier’’– the address of the original couture atelier of Pierre Balmain. And, as Olivier put it, “That was when the founder was dressing Josephine Baker, Brigitte Bardot, and the Princess of Thailand. With this collection I am bringing back that DNA.”
The twinkling dresses looked more suitable for Beyoncé and other celebrities bound for today’s red carpet. But Olivier has caught something in the air: the need for personal treatment of a special client and clothes that express her singular spirit. Dare we call it 21st-century couture?
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