The Handmade’s Tale: Musings on the Fall 2019 Haute Couture Collections

Valentino Fall 2019 Couture

The rarified world of haute couture is a celebration of pure artistry. The finished product is a result of the painstaking work of armies of skilled tailors, craftsman, and seamstresses.

Among the many things that struck me about the fall 2019 couture shows that began in Paris last Sunday and came to an end in Rome on Thursday evening, was the sheer variety and the divergent methodologies employed on the runways. In fashion, there is a yin and yang to everything and at least two sides to every coin. That holds true for haute couture.

There is a palpable push and pull between the traditional and nontraditional, the minimal and the maximal, and there is a notable rift between masculine and feminine. Sure there were those jaw-dropping, entrance making designs that are perfect for the red carpet.

Giambattista Valli Fall 2019 Couture

Assuredly, many will satisfy even the most discerning A-listers like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and J.Lo who are always on the lookout for something out of this world. J.Lo will also be looking for a wedding gown in the near future, and I can easily imagine her in one of Giambattista Valli’s dreamy frothy pastel tulle confections.

Alexandre Vauthier Fall 2019 Couture

But couture is not just about special occasion evening dresses and ball gowns, and it’s certainly not just about designs that are forthrightly feminine and fancy. There is plenty of room for men’s tailoring. It has been noted that about half the couture collections opened with tailleur. This speaks volumes about the desire many women have for made-to-measure suiting.

Maison Margiela Fall 2019 Couture

Modern is a word that is continually bantered around, and it certainly was last week. Maria Grazia Chiuri used Bernard Rudofsky’s 1947 essay “Are Clothes Modern?” which accompanied the MoMA exhibition of the same name, as the jumping off point for her Christian Dior collection.

Nothing is more modern than disruption. John Galliano, one of fashion’s most noted disruptors, always wants to push the envelope with his highly conceptual, deconstructed, gender-bending designs for Maison Margiela.

Iris van Herpen Fall 2019 Couture

Another celebrated fashion disruptor is Iris van Herpen who pioneered the use of 3D-printing as a garment construction technique and routinely uses technology in her work. She is truly in a class of her own, and her exceptional museum worthy designs blur the lines between fashion and pure art.

Ronald van der Kemp Fall 2019 Couture

Fellow Dutchman Ronald van der Kemp brilliantly uses materials that already exist (cast-offs) rather than employing new fabrics. He is another couturier who wants to disrupt fashion with his sustainable practices. Hopefully, he will inspire others to follow suit.

Haute couture is an art form that needs to be supported and maintained. To those who ponder its relevance in the real world and wonder whether or not it exerts any influence over ready to wear, I would say that yes, there is bound to be a trickle-down effect.

The most noteworthy example is the Chanel spring 2014 couture collection in which every model came out wearing a sneaker (albeit a fancy sneaker). Karl Lagerfeld added knee pads to exaggerate the sporty, athletic vibe. By doing so, he effectively put his stamp of approval on comfortable sneakers which had previously been thought of as ugly and unfashionable unless they are worn for sports. Boy, have things changed.

Even if nothing from the fall 2019 couture showings takes off in quite the same way, there were ongoing trends that might have wide application beyond the couture runways. Very few of us can afford to buy haute couture, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be somehow inspired by it.

There are many ideas and elements that we can take away and apply to our own wardrobes.

Chanel Fall 2019 Couture

Flat shoes: I don’t recall seeing sneakers on any of the runways, but designers including Virginie Viard for Chanel, Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior, and Ralph Rucci for RR331 were among those who endorsed flat shoes for both day and evening.

Chanel Fall 2019 Couture

Among the selections shown were loafers, slip-ons both plain and decorated, boots, and lace-up sandals. Being well turned out is not predicated on how high a heel one is wearing!

Valentino Fall 2019 Couture

Folkloric fashion: Pierpaolo Piccioli’s collection for Valentino was undeniably grand, but at the same time, it was folksy; a celebration of diversity, inclusion, and individuality. The colors (often clashing) and patterns were glorious, the fabrics were exceptional, and it was perfectly accessorized. It was inspiring, inspirational, and everything a couture collection should be.

Viktor & Rolf Fall 2019 Couture

Folksy can also describe many of Viktor & Rolf’s dresses which featured intricate patchworks of vintage sourced fabrics and re-constituted needle-punched textiles. It was described as being a cross between Klimt and quilt.

I would be surprised if I don’t see vestiges of folk in upcoming collections. If nothing else, it might inspire you to find one-of-a kind-vintage pieces that have the same overall effect.

Christian Dior Fall 2019 Couture

Black is the new black: Black is always the height of fashion, and nothing can ever take its place. It makes a statement whether worn minimally, or lavishly. This was perfectly illustrated at Christian Dior which played out almost entirely in noir. Maria Grazia Chiuri made the most of openwork lace, tulle, and feathers.

Givenchy Fall 2019 Couture

Birds of a feather: Another perennial favorite among designers and customers are feathers. Even when used sparingly, they always add a whimsical touch. Feathers are readily available at notion stores, and it’s relatively easy to buy them in bulk and add onto an existing piece you already own.

Chanel Fall 2019 Couture

Coat dressing: Coats, especially floor-grazing versions, were the undeniable stars of the collections. A beautifully made coat is a timeless investment piece and adds a wow factor regardless of what you wear beneath it. FYI, capes, which are always dramatic, also looked stellar.

Valentino Fall 2019 Couture

Who wears the pants: Pants were given the star treatment by designers. They were shown for both day and evening, and some were so wide, it was often hard to tell them apart from a ball skirt. Some of the best were made of colorful, lustrous satin, which is a fabric that really stood out this season.

Chanel Fall 2019 Couture

Accessorize! Sometimes all you need to elevate an ensemble is a statement-making necklace or pair of earrings. Of course, it is possible to turn a pair of simple reading glasses into a great accessory too, as exemplified by Virginie Viard. Looking studious has never been so chic

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Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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