Shades of Elegance. Valentino SS20 Couture

From all the couture shows this season, I (of course) anticipated Pierpaolo Piccioli‘s line-up for Valentino the most. For spring-summer 2020, a very different facet of Piccioli’s imagination transpired. The designer challenged himself to stop the operatic volumes and begin his search for a new silhouette. This time, it was structured, linear, fishtailed, modular, yet still drenched in color and pattern by turns. Looking back at the previous, ecstatic collections he dreamed up for us, he decided it was time to step off the path. “I hate it when people talk about ‘storytelling.’ I am not a storyteller. I don’t have the feeling that Cristóbal Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Charles James, Mainbocher, whatever—I don’t feel they had stories of the season.” Trusting himself to free-association meant exploring form and emotion in ways that emphasized choice, variety, and the ingenious devices that only the Valentino craftspeople are able to realize. There were more trousers, more columns than before; an interest in constructing layers in ways which only the wearer will know about. Bubbles, bows and plenty of Valentino red recurred. There was a gorgeous color palette – purple, eau de nil, scarlet, pink, mint… and black (this one looked super refined in the eveningwear section). As usual, the best.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

A Lesson In Parisian Style. Bouchra Jarrar Couture SS20

So happy to see Bouchra Jarrar back at work on her name-sake label. After her traumatic time at Lanvin, one would wonder if she ever comes back to the industry. She did this couture season, quietly, yet with confidence. “I wanted to do fashion that resembles me,” Bouchra said moments before her intimate show. Staged in her own apartment, with a slender sheaf of wheat leaning against the wall and raw quartz crystals displayed under a glass dome on a marble mantel, the presentation of Edition n°1 brought together a dozen or so of her very recognizable signatures, primarily influenced by menswear. A backless gilet was ticked out with feathers and pearls. Ample trousers were grounded by a merch-style T-shirt. Feather Maasai-inspired bracelets reprised her sports stripes. Other standout pieces included a very pretty fringed bias-cut tweed top; a sublime khaki overcoat with silver buttons; a flawless perfecto with ribbed shoulders. The presentation was a lesson in Parisian style: take a white shirt, impeccably cut black trousers, and eclectic accessories (like a fringed Berber-weave scarf) and suddenly you’ve gone from standard to elevated chic. Jarrar called those Berber weaves “ethnic with a perfume of couture.” A Paris-based couture artisan with whom Jarrar has collaborated everywhere she has worked makes each one after Jarrar picks the yarn and the dyes. She chose a russet hue, for example, in tribute to her Moroccan roots. “These are my colors. They remind me of how my grandparents wore their shawls. They carry all the warmth of my origins,” she said. The loyal, couture-buying client base of Jarrar will be more than pleased.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Haute Upcycling. Maison Margiela Couture SS20

Upcycling the heritage of the craft to make something for the present that is beautifully creative: John Galliano tackled the challenge of our times with his glorious Maison Margiela haute couture collection. For a designer who began his career with a graduation collection about the French Revolution in a time when young people in London were chopping up vintage clothes from markets, this was almost a reclamation of all of Galliano’s first principles, elevated and reenergized amid the 21st-century youth rebellion against waste and overconsumption. Most of the collection was made from materials that already exist: “memories” of bourgeois classics, recut, turned inside out, dissected, collaged, and punched through in a riot of color. Galliano spoke in a house podcast about how he and his studio team had sat and decided “there are too many clothes in the world.” He reflected on the rise of the bourgeoisie and capitalism after the 19th-century Industrial Revolution. Next thing his assistants were out scouring thrift shops for materials to work into the collection. Haute upcycling is not just possible; it can look refined, intriguing, incredible. For instance, bedsheets were repurposed as evening capes, a delicate elegance found in wisps of pink and apricot chiffon draped and taped in place as in a spontaneous Madame Grès–like moment. The attitude of a girl in an emerald 1950s ball gown veiled with a black tulle cape seemed to symbolize it all. Striding forward in an echo of an Old World couture pose, she held one arm elbow out, her yellow-gloved hand in a fist. Cut, mix, create, amaze.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.