"The stars shall fade away, the sun himself grow dim with age, and nature sink in years, but thou shalt flourish in immortal youth."

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pure Opinion: Straying Away from the Typicality of Haute Couture

By: Allysha Nila

 Maison Martin Margiela, Spring/Summer 2014-2015 Artisanal. 
Not quite your typical couture dress, right?
Haute Couture season is over and before you know it, Fashion Week has commenced in New York. But I’d like to look back and see what we can all take away from the shows. One thing that has cemented in my mind is that no longer should couture simply be regarded as an elite manifestation of craftsmanship. It is already full of overwhelming designs and ostentatious use of material. Couture is tiny, on the top of the fashion hierarchy, and mostly pointless to many people who don’t have any form of fashion interest (and these people in many cases think more logically than most of the writers reviewing such Parisian collections).

But there is hope. We have seen strong concepts and personable executions that transcend different groups of people, which is a fundamental element in fashion. Martin Margiela, for example, pioneered the emphasis of garment treatment. To this day, the iconoclastic fashion house pays great detail to the sharing of information about the construction, material and use of the clothing. Designer Hussein Chalayan, whose discipline very much synthesizes the means of art, architecture and technology, now heads the historic Parisian house of Vionnet. Instead of producing top-tier couture pieces, he’s decided to go for demi-couture, which is a more affordable range of couture, to put it simply.

Still, very few designers have managed to break down the traditions of Haute Couture, and created a contemporary body of work relevant to today’s world. Many designers opt to play it safe and create unsustainable pieces by producing elaborate dresses with exaggerated use of precious stones and exotic skin. Couture will be responsible for its own peril if it refuses to realize that the art is not simply about the physical form or the craftsmanship involving the garment.

Remember that haute couture is the definition of luxury at its height, and I refuse to think that luxury simply exists within a product. People who can actually afford couture prefer to relish in experiential extravagance. That’s the whole reason Bvlgari creates hotels and Gucci have ventured into cars. Couture parallels to this by the utter service provided for the exclusive customer. In addition to that, some creative minds have conceived truly unique pieces that justify value in a dress costing six figures, by simply innovating ideas that are of immeasurable intrinsic value. This elevates the entire couture experience, which is why the rich still splendor themselves in ridiculously expensive high fashion clothing.
Viktor and Rolf at their comeback presentation, Fall/Winter 2013-2014 Haute Couture

Dutch duo Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren continue to wow minds when it comes to couture shows. After a thirteen-year hiatus, it’s a pleasure to welcome not only two beloved figures at the helm of their craft, but also breathe in fresh air amidst a dying art’s world. With well-executed presentations, forward-thinking ideas and idiosyncratic designs, Viktor and Rolf have made another mark to challenge the state of couture.

Their comeback last season (Fall 2014) sought inspirations to the East, creating a Japanese Zen garden using completely black garments, modeled by girls choreographed to remain still like a stone. The duo, who usually are also on the stage, carefully positioned the garments to their intended form. This to me, was always what struck me most about the two of them: their absolute discipline and respect towards garments. Meaning, it’s indicative of how a Viktor and Rolf client experiences getting her couture dress.

This time, though, they pride on Western culture and inject new DNA to ballet. The Spring 2014 collection glorifies the delicateness of the female form. Modeled by real ballerinas of the Dutch Royal Ballet, we witness a truly expressive art form in the dance’s elegant and geometric movements. It’s also slightly painful to see the girls walk down on their toes in tiny, tiny distances. It almost brings me to tears to see such fragility and simplicity that we haven’t seen in the runway for some time now.

Femininity has recently been substituted by the favoritism of typical, pretty girls. When Lottie Moss was scheduled to be ‘the next big thing’, I automatically dismissed it, she’s just Kate Moss’s pretty sister. But having that said, of course there’s a lot of nepotism in fashion. All this reinforces the stereotype fashion seems to be permanently stamped with: superficiality. So I was delighted not only by the fact that they didn’t cast models, but have put an entire group of girls dedicated to an art under a microscope. The clothing has amplified a ballerina’s personalities, something you really don’t get to see in a performance, where they are beautifully moving clones. Look at their hair: it’s not typical of a ballet dancer either. Again, we return to this idea of complete personalization that resonates across Viktor and Rolf’s entire work.

A few looks from the Spring/Summer 2014-2015 Haute Couture collection modeled by the ballerinas 
The ballerinas are also perfect to show the relation of the body, clothing, and the mind. Closely look at the garments, which stray far away from the usual elaborate gowns that seem to be a staple to couture collections. The trompe l’oeil details are beautiful and cheeky. Our sense of touch is tempted by the sheer fragility of air-thin material — the clothes and the dancers’ hair move with the slightest of breeze. It’s fair to say that these are a cross of aerodynamics and aesthetic pleasure. Is it costume? That’s a question I will not attempt to answer here, for it is almost a parallel discussion from what I’m trying to point.

It’s about time that people understand that there is a function element in fashion, as Viktor and Rolf have identified by exploring ballet costume. There is customization. People actually have needs when it comes to clothes, and it’s so blurry that it passes as a want. More people should know that designers actually contribute to the art world, in that respect, integrating ideas altogether. Fashion is such an interdisciplinary world. This collection, if anything, to me, has shown that.

Allysha Nila

“Pure opinion” is a manifestation of the writer’s unrehearsed thoughts. It isn’t a full article or a research paper, but merely her outlook on some undertones crawling under fashion’s skin. She writes with her belief that honesty is a sharp blade that pierces mercilessly into the flesh.

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