R.I.P. Pierre Cardin

2020 has far too many sad news. Pierre Cardin, the prolific avant-garde French designer best known for his geometric, space-age couture and his maverick approach to business that would reshape the French fashion industry, died yesterday in a hospital in Neuilly in the west of Paris. “It is a day of great sadness for all our family. Pierre Cardin is no more,” the family said in a statement. “We are all proud of his tenacious ambition and the daring he has shown throughout his life.” He was 98 years old. “I don’t like to stop, I like to continually prove myself,” Cardin said in an interview with CBS back in 2012, a sentiment that his tireless work ethic all the way up until his death pays testament to. Renowned throughout his career for his groundbreaking approach to both design and business, Cardin expanded his empire through licensing of everything from automobiles to restaurants (he turned Maxim’s, the historic Parisian Belle Époque restaurant, into a global brand), to hotels, jewelry, glasses, fragrances, furniture, and even tableware. Though the practice of a fashion house lending its name to a variety of different products and concepts is now commonplace, Cardin’s approach was pioneering. So too did Cardin revolutionize the business model of a high fashion brand by introducing the concept of ready-to-wear in 1959, a reflection of his firmly-held belief that quality design should be accessible to all. The fashion world won’t forget him.

Visit the maison‘s website to go through some of the most striking archive works by Cardin.

Iris Van Herpen in Poznan

This might sound truly surreal, but yes, an exhibition dedicated to Iris Van Herpen‘s sci-fi creations has opened in my hometown, Poznań. “Alchemic Couture” is on show until the end of January in Stary Browar’s Art Station Gallery and presents some of the most striking designs coming straight from Van Herpen’s studio in Amsterdam. This exhibition shows how Iris van Herpen perceives haute couture as a transformative language, an interdisciplinary entity that emerges from the space in which innovation and craftsmanship interlace. The Iris van Herpen maison was founded in 2007 and showcases its collections bi-annually at Paris Haute Couture Week as a member of the Fédération de la Haute Couture. The brand stands for slow fashion with a multi-disciplinary approach towards collaborations with artists, architects and scientists. Each collection is a quest to venture beyond today’s definition of a garment, exploring new forms of femininity for a more meaningful, diverse and conscious fashion for the future. Organic, innovative femininity is expressed through state-of-the-art couture that embraces individuality powerfully and fearlessly. Van Herpen’s work is deeply rooted within nature – water, air and earth are elements that leave traces in the sensorial garments. The infinite properties alluding to movement such as the unbound forces and fluidity behind water or its crystalline formations are facets that flow into the designs. Through biomimicry, the maison visualises and materialises the invisible forces that shape our world, perpetuating a deep sense of organic presence. Captivated by architecture and how we embody space and inhabit sculpture, Van Herpen recognises both fashion and architecture as expressions of self, culture and community that link to the times and fabric of society. Changes of perception provoked through dichotomies between the hard and soft, structure and movement encompass the poetics of the brand’s craft. Transcending boundaries within the industry by liberating our sense of limitations, the maison is known for binding emerging technologies like elaborate 3-D printing or laser-cutting with delicate handwork such as embroidering or draping, creating a hybrid of haute couture. ‘Craftolution’, coined as the evolution of craftsmanship and the embracement of change form the core of the brand’s identity, fusing layered lightness, three-dimensionality, and undulating volume into ethereal creations. Summing up, seeing those works IRL is a mind-blowing experience.

Photos by Edward Kanarecki.

Limitless. Valentino AW20 Couture

And again, Valentino‘s Pierpaolo Piccioli is the king of haute couture, even after months of confinement that could basically cancel the entire season. Entitled “The Performance: of Grace and Light, a dialogue between Pierpaolo Piccioli and Nick Knight,” the presentation played as a hybrid digital / physical event staged in a darkened void on the famed Cinecitta movie lot in Rome for local press and friends of the house. In a Zoom press conference, Piccioli explained he’d conceptualized the 16-look collection as “an extreme response” to the tough circumstances of lockdown; a determination to overcome the technical problems of socially-distanced working in the Valentino atelier and the impossibility of creating prints and lavish embroideries. “I didn’t want to feel the limitations. Couture is made for emotions, dreams,” he said. “It was super-emotional for us all to be here together to win this challenge. A moment I will never forget.” First came a pre-recorded screening of an artily glitchy video by Knight, in which projections of flowers and feathers played over meters-long dresses worn by women who appeared to hover in an aerial circus scenario. Cut to real time: curtains drew back to reveal the models, standing perched on ladders in a static tableau, their dresses – some of Pierpaolo’s biggest couture hits, elongated to the extremes, and revealed to be all-white – cascading to the floor, videoed live. INCREDIBLE. The idea of taking the show to Cinecitta, Rome’s “factory of dreams,” led the designer to add the concept of “the magic of early cinema,” evoking the silent movie imagery of with silver sequins and waterfalls of glittering fringe. To make it even more ethereal, Piccioli commissioned recordings from FKA twigs – her extraordinary voice soared poignantly as the models swung from trapezes and floated through Knight’s digital performance. Fashion communication on multi-platform formats has taken surreal twists and turns as designers have tried to conquer the dreadful problems of the pandemic. In Piccioli’s case, the surrealism was right there, embodied in the theatrical form of some of the most gorgeous dresses the world has ever seen.

Collages by Edward Kanarecki.

Eccentric Girl. Chanel AW20 Couture

Things started looking up for this unusual, digital haute couture season the moment Chanel revealed its gorgeous collection by Virginie Viard. No pointless mega-productions with special effects, just a short video and a proper look-book shot by Mikael Jansson starring Adut Akech and Rianne Van Rompaey. The focus is on the clothes, which are a delight. “I was thinking about eccentric girls,” Virginie Viard said of her autumn-winter 2020 couture line-up. In particular, Viard was remembering Karl Lagerfeld heading off to parties with his sometime muse, the madcap Princess Diane de Beauvau-Craon, who as a teenage debutante got herself an American crewcut to give some punk edge to the pretty but detested pink dress her mother had chosen for her coming-out ball. “Life with her around is the ideal for me,” Lagerfeld said of de Beauvau-Craon when he spoke with Vogue, “because life must never be flat. She gives a light spirit, yet she is deeply spiritual.” Viard wanted to swing to some escapist opulence after last season’s soulful austerity – and because we all need the dream of a grand party right now! Viard was thinking of “things that maybe I would not do in a show – punk hair, fine jewelry.” Those Chanel haute bijoux included yellow diamond lions (Chanel herself was a Leo) and tiaras. The de Beauvau-Craon touch erupts in the form of a short frothy taffeta dress and faille ball skirts or a full-skirted retro cocktail dress of flowering black and white lace spliced with lacquered pink lace – and in punk feather mohawk bangs worn in the hair, and the lace-up court shoes that would have been perfect for dancing the night away in the great 1980s Parisian nightspots Les Bain Douches and Le Palace. As usual in her work, Virginie looks towards the essence of Chanel. Tweed figures large in the collection for day and night: a knee-length tunic worn over boot-leg pants, for instance, or a minidress with the traditional Chanel braid trim reworked in rhinestones. There is more amazing trompe l’oeil in the allover Lesage embroidery of a lean jacket worn with an ankle-length skirt, or in the Emmanuelle Vernoux–embroidered sleeves of a decorous wool ball gown, or the Montex sequin and wool tufts of an off-the-shoulder minidress. Viard provides subtle elegance too –  which I always adore the most in her collections – in pieces that include a sheath of inky faille with bishop sleeves or a solemn evening gown of steel gray silk velvet (my favourite), discreetly dusted with embroidery at the waist and cuff, and jackets with midriffs defined by hand smocking. Viard aptly describes the looks as “casual and grand” – and this is what I call relevant couture.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.