Kerby Jean Raymond had “a better idea.” Thus, without elaborate excuses, the designer and creator of Pyer Moss justified himself via social networks. With permission from Balenciaga, his show was the most anticipated this week in haute couture: he is the first African-American creator invited to show his collection within the official calendar. He also decided to do it from Villa Lewaro, the mansion in Irvington (New York), which belonged to CJ Walker, the cosmetics entrepreneur considered the first African-American to become a millionaire in the United States. In the live before that parade that was not seen the guests arriving at the house under a total rain. Two hours later than planned, Raymond decided to cancel. Not just because of inclement weather. As he told on his Instagram, the parade, which will finally be held on Saturday, will be open to the public, who can sign up for the guest list through a link.
The fact that Pyer Moss, a brand that focuses all its discourse on anti-racist activism and has never adhered to the dynamics imposed by the industry (it parades where and especially when it wants), has entered the exclusive list of brands in Haute couture is the definitive proof that this area has opened the door to change, after several years in which it has been debated about its necessary modernization. That Raymond, in addition, has mocked its rigid system, postponing its debut and turning it into a democratic event, open to the first to join the list, says a lot about the new values that for some should prevail in this sector after the pandemic.
However, there are things that never change. After two editions held, with few exceptions, in digital format, half of the firms involved have decided to return to the physical format, either in fashion shows or in presentations for the press and clients. A few months ago, the president of Chanel, Bruno Pavlovsky, told S Moda in an interview that in thirty years he had not discovered a more effective form of communication than that of a traditional catwalk. And the truth is that for certain brands the parade is still necessary, even more, if possible, if it is haute couture, where each brand shows its potential not only in terms of design and crafts, but also in terms of its ability to excite and entertain live. In the same way that a concert is not the same as a video clip (even if the concert is seen even remotely), see in streaming a live catwalk continues to engage the audience more than watching a short film showing the collection.
Except for exceptions. The video that Margiela made with director Olivier Dahan shows that filming, depending on what cases, is more relevant than the catwalk. With A folk horror story, the short film that the brand used to showcase its new collection of Artisanal, the house’s historic haute couture line, became the John Galliano narrator of great stories, the one who resurrected the aura of Dior a quarter of a century ago by revisiting historical episodes and dramatizing fashion. In Margiela, he has obviously replaced classical excess with conceptualization and the appearance of austerity, hence the focus on seventeenth-century Dutch painting to tell the story of an isolated community struggling against the natural elements. A stark story devoid of artifice in which the garments function as narrative elements, pieces that tear, spoil or disintegrate reflecting the passage of time and the power of nature.
The third major involved in the last day of parades also opted for the historical story. In his second sewing collection with Fendi, Kim Jones entrusted himself to Luca Guadagnino to revisit the history of Rome, the firm’s headquarters, through the eyes of a third party, Pier Paolo Pasolini. “When a historian analyzes history, he does it directly,” Guadagnino explained in the press release after the parade. “But when a great director and poet like Pasolini looks directly into the eyes of history, his gaze sublimates everything. Through it, history becomes a delicate and insistent possession of the now … the past enters the present ”.
This time game served Jones as the central axis of a collection full of hidden nuances: silks that imitated marble, embroidery that evoked the scrolls of Roman columns, pleated leather that simulated the folds of sculptures … the history of Rome told through garments made with technical mastery. And the story of Fendi told through that of Jones himself, an English creator who has been inspired by the British idiosyncrasy for decades and who now serves as the creative director (and, somehow, outside viewer) of a century-old Roman house.
The mixture of traditional and technical luxury, classic silhouettes and innovative manufacturing is not only a constant at Fendi, it has also been a constant in many of the brands that have presented their collections this week. The new haute couture is more rational than excessive, and explores craftsmanship and handmade through the synergy between centuries-old traditions and innovative techniques. Even the two big heavyweights in the industry, Dior and Chanel, have made relatively classic garments. The myth of the excessive and ostentatious customer has given way to that of the consumer who wears sewing in her day to day life. Balenciaga has shown that jeans also have a place in the most elite and luxurious terrain of fashion, and the union of Gaultier and Sacai that two seemingly opposite identities can be mixed in exclusive pieces that celebrate contrasts. Suddenly, haute couture week has become a more modern and edgy event than many of the usual catwalks of ready to wear. Perhaps it is because the economic ravages of the pandemic have made firms need to surprise again to stay relevant or because, indeed, times have finally changed, also in sacrosanct haute couture.