Besides the 31 houses listed on the official runway calendar of the Paris haute couture season there are a good score more presentations and off calendar shows in the French capital. We caught up with five worth seeing.
An opulent return by the Australian couturier Tamara Ralph, making her comeback to couture on Monday, and choosing the gilded magnificence of the Shangri-La Hotel as the setting of her opulent vision of couture.
In her previous existence as Ralph & Russo, Ralph had won kudos for her ability to dress London hedge fund wives and an international financial nomenklatura. This show marked the debut of her eponymously named house.
What’s best about Ralph is her skillful use of volumes, and understanding that when women buy couture they want clothes that look darned expensive. Ralph’s always do.
Tamara is certainly no couture slouch and her ability to harness an atelier based in France was evident from the opening sorties – a grid skirt, corset and a long sheath all made of chains of pearls, both topped by pearl chokers.
For ladies who lunch she cut wool bouclé suits with mid calf skirts, their hems left shaggy. For evening – which was 80% of this collection – diaphanous white dresses in shantung, trimmed diagonally with cock feathers; and a stunning black gown topped with giant shoulders made of a cloud of faille molded into dozens of roses. The single best look was a head-turning blue violet ruffled Contessa gown with thousands of ruffles. All made in a color palette that was soft – pale pastels, rose, light peppermint.
“We are creating the world we wished truly existed,” commented Ralph, who took her bow with her daughter in her arms. In a generous gesture, accompanied by a score of her atelier dressed in white work-coats.
AZ Factory: The Great Outdoors in a Montparnasse garden
The fledgling marque of the late Alber Elbaz, AZ Factory, continued on its novel path of hiring youthful Amigo talents to create one-off collections this week with a series of 10 looks by Lora Sonney.
Born in a village in the eastern region of Franche-Comté, Sonney attended Head in Geneva, and this collection was in part an extension of her masters collection from that noted fashion school.
Sonney clearly enjoyed her rural childhood and that insouciance is clear in the collection, staged in the garden of the Cartier Foundation. Cartier’s owner Richemont bank rolls AZ Factory, whose studio and atelier is located on the fifth floor of the foundation, a Jean Nouvel designed building located in Montparnasse.
The results were faintly farming clothes cut in voluminous shapes, made in striking prints and finished with ruffles in a clear Elbaz reference. While a long fluttering dress made in a red silk sourced from Switzerland’s great fabric resource Jakob Schlaepfer of St Gallen, was both cool and contemporary. In a nod to sustainability, hats and bags were made of recycled garden hose.
In a charming display the 10 models marched about the garden, before posing inside a metaphysical style well, which was entirely dry. Though it did contain two buckets, one suspended high and leaking very slowly, the other on the ground, where a microphone magnified the dropping water into the show’s soundtrack.
There are few better image makers than Charles de Vilmorin, who staged a collection entitled Battlefield in a wrecked old concrete building on rue Richelieu, an infamous eyesore in the 2nd arrondissement in Paris.
But if the location was raw and dusty, the collection was raw yet beautiful. And all a little perverse. A perfectly draped opening cocktail was fully transparent, to make sure you know the model was not wearing a bra. A great hussar’s jacket in ecru cotton came finished with silver fringes and giant tulip sleeves and worn with colonial shorts.
“Siamese twin” attached model boys with diaphanous transparent gowns, each of their heads topped by life sized stucco swans.
While a series of de Vilmorin’s surrealist eye prints were seen in men’s blouses under giant cloaks made of layers of soft cotton. The collection also featured a rock billionaire’s dressing gown and a beautiful cocktail dress in a co-ed show, worn by a model carrying a stucco gargoyle head.
One fabulous black gown was fronted by a one-meter-high totem mask, causing a ripple of approval before the audience broke into applause when veteran super model and designer Ines de la Fressange made an appearance in a naughty reverend mother look.
All told, a great performance from young Charles, whose career got sidetracked during his tenure at Rochas. This show was a timely reminder of the talent of de Vilmorin, a doppelganger of the young Yves Saint Laurent. But also a reminder of his limited business model. Charles needs to create clothes that thousands of women will want to wear not just images to impress fashion insiders. Where is his Pierre Bergé?
Paolo Sebastian: Another Aussie wows in Paris
One of the most impressive indie talents is Paolo Sebastian, an Australian couture house founded by an Italo-Bulgarian Aussie named Paul Vasileff who hails from Adelaide and showed with great style in Place Vendôme.
Paul celebrated his house’s 15th anniversary with real panache – showing some highly accomplished clothes fully worthy of the couture étiquette; as he riffed on classic couture concepts.
Lusciously draped black technical faille, made in such a dense weave it could be molded into curling and looping capes or fantastic bubble-shaped little black dresses.
Plus, his Adelaide atelier clearly knows what it is doing – seen in thoroughly chic skirts and cocktails dusted with bugle beads, sequins and crystals; and an absolutely beautiful sexy Victorian lace dress with a graceful train all embellished with beading and 3D crystal flowers. Easily one of the finest looks of the season and a couture home run for Paolo Sebastian.
Jisoo Baik: New talent and new couture
Another punchy debut and discovery this week is Jisoo Baik, a Korean-born designer, schooled in Central Saint Martins and Paris’ IFM, who has made her home in St Germain.
Her graduate collection has already been shot by the likes of Self Service. Vogue Italia, Bjork and Ariana Grande are fans. These new looks will win legions of fans.
Jisoo showed inside the Hotel de Guise, a decayed old hotel on rue de l’Université. Though in a telling omen for the future, it’s located right opposite Karl Lagerfeld’s old mansion on the same street.
Models wandered around the forgotten mansion in swirls of divinely draped silvery or flamingo pink taffeta, or in black crepe cut with true bravura. Emoting in a mock shoot, as lights flashed, and they posed before smoky old mirrors and dusty windows.
Catherine de’ Medici was always taught by her councilors to never trust a Guise, but we will trust in the future of Jisoo Baik. Methinks a star was born.
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