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Making couture relevant for the times

By Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 21, 2021 6:00 am

Even before the pandemic, haute couture was considered a frivolous flight of fancy; a lavish spectacle targeted at the privileged few. The nagging question about the relevance of couture and fashion in general is much louder now, however, after what the world has gone through, so designers and houses are particularly challenged to justify their raison d’être.

At the recent Paris couture shows, they were definitely resolute, offering solutions to concerns of sustainability as well as a heightened social consciousness and push for inclusivity. There were also many beautiful creations that firmly place couture at the very heart of the fashion ecosystem, the indispensable lifeblood of the industry that is fueled by excellence and cutting-edge innovation.


“It’s above trends, fashion and industrial dressmaking, a timeless and pure expression of craft and the architecture of silhouette that gives the wearer the strongest notion of elegance and sophistication,” says Balenciaga designer Demna Gvasalia.

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Known for decoding the desires of the marginalized millennial, his first couture collection for the house is a revolution in itself the way Cristobal Balenciaga subverted tradition with groundbreaking cuts and shapes.

The homage to the founder was there but all reimagined, from the sack dress turned into a jacket and parkas refashioned into opera cloaks to portrait collars that were curled and set back in désinvolte insouciance.

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There was austerity in the tailoring but in a new way that speaks of the present time. The challenge was to imbue the pieces with “couture, posture and attitude and how to give as much value to a turtleneck, a pair of jeans, utility jacket or T-shirt as to a grand ball gown or skirt suit.”

Jean Paul Gaultier

At Jean Paul Gaultier, Sacai’s Chitose Abe also gave a fresh, young vibe to the house’s iconic pieces. She has actually been a fan of JPG ever since, so she didn’t even have to consult the archives to come up with the conical bra over a deconstructed pinstripe suit that morphed into a shirtdress corset blooming into flounces. The matelot sweater was slashed with organza strip inserts that became a train.

JPG’s punk got a makeover with tartan cut into ruffled tiers interspersed with chiffon. The trench coat mutated into a voluminous farthingale, while pinstripe trousers turned into an empire-waisted dress. With a nod to sustainability, a denim ensemble had multiple vintage jeans for a skirt.


At Schiaparelli, upcycled jeans went surreal as a jacket with gold breast appliques. It also revisited Spain by going “matador” in a collection that designer Daniel Roseberry says “honors Elsa’s vision but is not in thrall to it.” After deconstructing a lot of her looks last season, he now felt free “to make something fiercely, unapologetically pretty — because sometimes you have to rebel against beauty in order to return to it.”

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And return he did with romantic looks that played on dramatic proportions and had jolts of bold embellishments and accessories incorporating anatomical references like lungs with capillaries.


Maria Grazia Chiuri’s collection for Dior was an emotional statement on the interdependence between couture and all the creations of craftspeople and communities dependent on fashion for their livelihood, from amazing handmade textiles to exquisite embroideries and other techniques that distinguish the métier.

Bristling at the “ungenerous attacks made on fashion” during the pandemic, she placed the artisans front and center in creating ephemeral silk gowns with masterful draping and delicate details like latticework and painstaking cutout patterns. There were also sarong skirts in gorgeous brocades matched with ostrich feather tops and new iterations of the bar jacket, all in the most luxurious fabrics.

Iris Van Herpen

Iris Van Herpen, known for some of the most innovative pieces aided by 3D printing, upped the ante this season by hiring a skydiver to model a gown up in the air, with the fabric flowing as she descended to earth, heralding the “Earthrise” collection that “explores the splendor of this blue body we call home.”

Her musings on our relationship with the planet was expressed in classic gowns that melded organic motifs with technology, producing kinetic sculptures while continuing her collaboration with Parley for the Oceans in cleaning up the sea and recycling marine debris into fabrics.

Viktor & Rolf

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Viktor & Rolf also did their share for the planet by using deadstock materials like fabric remnants, biodegradable faux fur, paste jewels and “reignited” Swarovski crystals — all patchworked to create witty, stately gowns and dresses with sashes and tiaras in a collection called “The New Royals,” which the duo wanted to be “uplifting and joyful and — ‘fun’ is not the right word —but colorful, sparkling and positive. You are your own creation.”

Pyer Moss

For Pyer Moss’ Kerby-Jean Raymond, the first Black-American designer to present in the couture calendar in the Chambre Syndicale’s 153-year history, this was a very personal collection that highlighted the history of his race, from the days of slavery to the continuing #BlackLivesMatter struggles against racism today, so he dedicated each piece to a Black invention or achievement.

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Although many pieces were larger than life, tongue-in-cheek “installations” like a 3D refrigerator and mobile phone dresses, there were still wearable ones like a mini of gold discs matched with a giant padlock headpiece. And most important of all, the show tackled one of the most relevant issues today and used fashion in the service of social and political awareness.