Paris couture climbs Mount Olympus, plumbs marine depths

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A model wears a creation for Iris van Herpen Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2020 fashion collection presented Monday Jan.20, 2020 in Paris (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

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PARIS (AP) — Female empowerment, controversies about race, and designs that plunged to the depths of the seas then climbed Mount Olympus were among themes to grace Paris Couture Week on its drama-filled first day.

Here are some highlights of Monday’s spring-summer 2020 couture shows.

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DIOR: WOMEN RULE (AND GLIMMER)

Dior’s first ever female designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri, is onto something.

Her feminist logo-emblazoned T-shirts have famously been among the house’s biggest sellers — and so she went back on the girl power charge to capitalize on this popular unique selling point in the Rodin Museum collection.

The starting idea was a question posed by the artist and set-designer Judy Chicago, blown up as text at the show: “What if Women Ruled the World?”

Chiuri answered it herself by basing the shimmering Greco-Roman designs around the theme of “The Female Divine.”

Though at several points Chiuri strayed into heavy-handedness, the overall result was an archetypally couture collection that harked back to the couture origins of draping and strapping.

Athena, the ancient warrior-goddess, was evoked in a tightly-strapped gold bodice and sections of gold fringing.

And the Hellenistic sculpture “The Winged Victory of Samothrace,” that stands in the Louvre, provided inspiration for long billowing silk skirts and rope-like straps that pulled tightly around the busts and waists of several looks.

But ensembles sometimes fell victim to their own divine ambition — such as an iron-colored goddess-version of the house’s signature bar jacket. Though it captured a feeling of chain mail, accordingly, it proved ungraciously clunky at the hips.

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DIOR FRONT ROW

Alongside Uma Thurman, “Alien” star Sigourney Weaver, who’s rarely spotted on the fashion scene, led the celebrity pack.

Weaver, who’s known for her feisty and feminist roles, had something to say about couture — and Dior — empowering women.

“It is always an ideal,” she said, before entering the show.

“Haute couture is very strong, and assured, which I think women sometimes need help being as assured as we should be. And we need to have a little Christian Dior inside us to sort of step out, you know?”

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SCHIAPARELLI’S PERFECT BALANCE

Daniel Roseberry seems to have the winning formula at Schiaparelli: Less is more.

The Texas-born designer managed on Monday to include all the Surrealist references of the late, great couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, without them straying into the kitsch or the overpowering — as has been the case in the past. He used them sparingly, carefully giving each bold object the necessary space to breathe.

A large gold earring resembling a human ear, for instance, was placed above a bare chest and dark tuxedo. Not only did that allow the statement earring to be the sole dominant feature, Roseberry very cleverly re-enforced the idea of the human body being — literally — on display. The same idea was repeated on a statement sheeny royal blue leopard-skin print tuxedo twinned with the model’s bare human-skin.

The couture itself was simple, but deceptively so. A raisin-black tuxedo with four gold buttons had a monochromatic giant ruffled fabric hood that enveloped the model’s face. The design was visually arresting yet handled subtly as it was in a monochromatic dark hue.

In the final flourish, Roseberry tackled shocking pink — the color-name Schiaparelli was said to have coined. What was shocking about it was its tastefulness, for instance on a giant dropped-waist full skirt that contrasted stylishly with a bodice in ultramarine, royal blue and flash of orange.

Adding to reasons to love this show: 23 of the 36 looks were modeled by non-Caucasian models and women of color, in a rare moment on the Paris catwalk.

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COMME DES GARCONS’ RACE CONTROVERSY

Brand Comme des Garçons ended men’s fashion week trying to defend itself against accusations of racism after last week’s show featured white models wearing braided wigs.

Critics of the show, which AP didn’t attend and only saw photos of, said it smacked of racial appropriation as the wigs resembled hairstyles of the black community, and some black models in the same show walked with just their natural hair.

The hair stylist Julien d’Ys said on social media he was influenced by Tutankhamun and Ancient Egypt.

In a statement sent to AP, the house said “it was never, ever our intention to disrespect or hurt anyone – we deeply and sincerely apologize for any offense it has caused.”

Race is a hot topic at fashion weeks all over the world, after a host of recent controversies, including an ad campaign by Dolce and Gabbana that was deemed racist against China.

In 2018, Comme des Garçons was criticized for lacking diversity over models on its runway.

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IRIS VAN HERPEN EXCELS

Another season of Dutch wunderkind Iris Van Herpen, another moment to delve into her unique world of visual poetry.

Floating jelly fish and skeletal underwater crustaceans are often evoked visually in the designer’s award-winning couture, but rarely referenced by the house as inspiration.

This season, it acknowledged that spring-summer’s designs channeled “the sensory processes that occur between the intricate composition of the human body, mirrored with the fibrous marine ecology of our oceans.”

It made for one of the designer’s most beautiful collections ever.

Twisted silk strands on a gown descended down a model’s body in pastel blues, grays and coconut white, like the tentacles of a deep-sea creature, with the floating feeling of suspended gravity.

A black floor-length gown with undulating straps could have been a poisonous medusa, with coral-red dye bleeding down its multi-layered skirt.

Toward the end, one of the most beautiful pieces of couture in memory appeared — a brilliant white structured three-dimensional gown made of thousands of interlocking petals of white fabric that evoked a swan, or perhaps a section of human bone under the microscope.

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GIAMBATTISTA VALLI’S EXHIBIT

The fashion seasons run at a relenting pace. And France’s longest transport strike in decades complicated an already frenetic calendar last week.

This was perhaps in the mind of Giambattista Valli, who this season decided to take his foot off the pedal and put on an exhibit, instead of a high-octane — blink and you miss it — runway show.

The — mostly — fun designs proved it to be a good decision.

On mannequins inside Paris’ Jeu de Paume, the Italian-born designer showed off his couture skills of abstraction with pieces that possessed flourishes at the shoulder or skirt.

Crimson tulle ruffles appeared like vertical columns on both sides of a sleeveless silk gown. A voluminous white feather headpiece looked like a wild, windswept shrub. While a bitter lemon-colored dress with huge gathered full skirt was lit up on a yellow mannequin — to make the whole world seem yellow.

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