Atelier Versace and Dior: The New Abnormal Normal?


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The Dior couture collection was spearheaded by the two heads of studio under the former artistic director, Raf Simons.

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Landon Nordeman for The New York Times

PARIS — The world may be in the middle of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, at least according to the financial and political powers of The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which ended on Saturday. But in Paris, as of Sunday, fashion was still championing the preindustrial art of couture: garments made entirely by the human hand, to order, for one client at a time.

Does this mean they are out of touch? It was hard not to think that in the wake of a conversation about global technological disruption, the clothes on show (and indeed, the whole couture enterprise itself) could end up looking alarmingly disconnected. One day you have the economist Nouriel Roubini discussing what he has labeled “the new abnormal” state of world markets; a few days later, Giorgio Armani is unveiling a subset of his main Armani ready-to-wear collection entitled “The New Normal.” It’s a little disconcerting.

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Versace: Couture

CreditRegis Colin Berthelier/Nowfashion


Yet designers are not nearly as oblivious to this situation, and the need to make couture relevant, as you might assume. If not all their solutions are convincing, at least, as the run of shows began, they were wrestling with the problem.

For Donatella Versace, for example, the answer lay in the realm not of Silicon Valley, but silicon gel, as well as a variety of other symbols and fabrications that had to do with sports, and the power and energy encased in the human form, as opposed to a motherboard. Her argument posited the body as the ultimate smart machine.

So she christened the Atelier Versace collection “athletic couture,” set it to a specially commissioned soundtrack by Violet with the refrain “we march to the beat of our own drum,” and put it on a plain gray runway. The result was a relatively stripped-down (for Versace) show built on a blinding white base, shot through with chartreuse, orange and sky blue.

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Backstage at Versace Atelier.

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Landon Nordeman for The New York Times

Sharp smoking jackets cinched asymmetrically by luggage straps were paired with stretchy stirrup pants; sheer crystal-mesh bodysuits and T-shirts were layered under cowl-backed minidresses; and the usual bounty of cleavage-baring necklines were transformed into racer tanks and draped and dropped to show a flash of hip here, a slash of side there. Webs of “water jet-cut” velvet backed by leather formed bomber jackets and stiff skirts, and it was all held together, mostly, by crystal bungee cords. The only prints came in the form of ergonomic lines racing over the body.

Imagine Barbarella going on a jog around the Google campus, and you’ll get the idea. It wasn’t always flattering, and the tension between haute heritage and high functionality was not entirely — well, worked out, but it was full of effort.

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From the Schiaparelli spring 2016 couture collection.

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Gio Staiano/NowFashion

As was the high/low smorgasbord prepared by Bertrand Guyon at Schiaparelli, who served up a soupçon of politics with his embroidery via a play on the concept of taste: the kind that comes from your gut as much as your head.

“Today enjoying a great meal with friends may strangely become an act of resilience” went the show notes, in an oblique reference to the Paris attacks of last November, and out came a series of easy little skirt suits, the jackets embroidered with ornate teakettles or Wedgwood porcelain; bias-cut evening gowns in silk crepe printed with cherries and root vegetables, the shoulder straps twisted in the classical mode; and a navy blue jacquard covered in silver spoons (and assorted other cutlery).

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Schiaparelli: Couture

CreditGio Staiano/Nowfashion


It sounds clowny, but in fact the sartorial jokes and surreal references were less heavy-handed then they have been in the past, especially when it came to neat jackets in a patchwork geometry of 19th-century dish towels over Op Art awning-striped taffeta gowns, which elevated the ordinary to the interesting.

Even at Christian Dior, currently in limbo between designers, an attempt was made to “free” volumes and explore a “new realism.” That it did not succeed is perhaps a natural consequence of the fact that the creative team is working without an official guiding point of view.

Rather, it is being led by Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux, the heads of studio under the former artistic director Raf Simons, who are filling his shoes on an interim basis. It is their job to advance the vision he left behind without being too wildly assertive about their own ideas, so as to allow the next artistic director, whoever he or she may be (and the rumors are rife), to take the brand in a new direction.

In practice this meant new versions of the Bar jacket, the Dior classic that Mr. Simons revived, but oversize and mannish (and a bit clunky) or shrunken, with a frilled peplum and fluted sleeves (much better). It meant curving Bar coats and dresses cut away from the body with one shoulder tacked down as if it had slipped off, layered over thin jeweled tulle T-shirts.

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Dior: Couture

CreditRegis Colin Berthelier/Nowfashion .


It meant high-waisted pencil skirts, a stiff ruffle climbing over the waist and jutting out weirdly at the hips, three-dimensional lily of the valley and insect beading that referred to Mr. Dior’s favorite charms, but in a tougher, more dangerous way; and odd proportions that were potentially provocative to consider, but not particularly pretty to wear (corset minidresses with long sheer skirts attached). It meant the collection as a whole looked neither here nor there.

It was neither the new abnormal nor the new normal but maybe the new abnormal normal. It’s not a revolution, but in fashion, given the current state of designer churn, it may actually turn out to be a thing.



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