Paris Haute Couture Week: Highlights From the Runways of 2021

Paris Haute Couture fashion week has wrapped up. The schedule included live catwalks, digital-first and short film presentations, with a few key names dominating the highlights.

Credit: CNN

This year, The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode put forward their most exciting haute couture presentation to date, after recurrent schedule disruptions over recent seasons. Paris couture AW21 returns to the status quo, including more live shows than that of any other schedule over the last 18 months. Balenciaga makes its anxiously awaited re-entry into the world of couture; making a strong impact and featuring IMG’s Ella Emhoff in her couture debut. Jean-Paul Gaultier’s long-awaited collaboration with Sacai reveals a fresh take on the Gaultier P.O.V and Pyer Moss celebrates diversity, promoting fashion-in-action during an artistic display of America’s black history.

Balenciaga’s Fresh Point of View

Demna Gvasalia’s AW21 collection is modern by necessity. During the fashion industry’s pivot towards internet culture, this creative director’s fresh perspective enables a necessary link between youth culture and the established aesthetic for which Balenciaga is most well-known. A fully restored version of founder Cristóbal Balenciaga’s original couture salon hosted the show after a decades-long closure. Demna said after the show, in monastic silence à la Cristóbal,

“I learned that we cannot only look into the future, we need to look into the past to know where we’re going.”

Demna’s AW21 couture debut communicates Balenciaga’s first presentation of this kind since 1968. This is the year in which the label’s founder, Cristobal Balenciaga, shut down the brand’s couture house, famously stating that “There is no one left to dress”.

The brand’s highly anticipated move towards haute couture results in 63 modern-day couture looks for AW21. This contemporary expression marks the start of a fresh creative direction for Balenciaga, led by Gvasalia’s vision.

“a contemporary uniform of archetypal clothes — you could even call them banal — elevated to subversive levels of luxury, redefining what the latter means in the 21st century.”

Source: i-D

Emhoff’s Debut

Credit: The Cut

There are discussions within the industry concerning the topic of couture and its place in the future. Can Gvasalia successfully adapt the concept for our modern age? The young creative director has already made a clever choice to represent the next generation of buyers via Ella Emhoff, the 22-year old step-daughter of US Vice President Kamala Harris. The model/activist walked for Balenciaga on Wednesday whilst celebrity attendees Bella Haddid, Salma Hayej and a masked-Kanye West looked on from the audience.

Pyer Moss Revolution

Kerby Jean-Raymond’s Pyer Moss AW21 haute couture debut displays playful artistry and a strong political undertone. Within it, the designer demands a rewiring of our understanding toward high fashion.

“Though the show wasn’t in Paris, but at the estate of Madam C.J. Walker – the first female self-made millionaire in America – 30 miles north of New York City.”

Source: 10 Magazine

The Fall presentation sees the designer pioneering a movement in fashion. In addition to this, he’s the first Black-American designer to receive an invitation from the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode to show via the couture schedule.

The live runway show opens up with former Black Panther leader, Elaine Brown. The revolutionary discusses black history and racial equality in an address to the audience,

“All power to the people. So now that we’ve said that, where to do we go from here? That’s what Dr. King asked, when he talked in 1967 to the SCLC convention, “where do we go from here?”. He meant where did the freedom movement go from here, it wasn’t the civil rights movement, it was the freedom movement. Where does the freedom movement go from here? He said, you know, we’re building a movement that’s been a centuries-long struggle of black people for freedom, o freedom… Over me and before I be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my lord and be free.”

The collection aesthetic is centred around black entrepreneurs throughout the ages, paying tribute to black inventions throughout American culture.

The AW21 designs feature a cape comprised of hair rollers referencing Solomon Harper, inventor of the first heat-hair products. Ice cream cone chaps are a nod towards Alfred Calle, inventor of the ice cream scooper. A giant tub of peanut butter is a tribute to agricultural scientist George Washington Carver. A tent-dress with an African flag adornment, an evening gown in the shape of a lampshade and a mini dress in the image of a traffic light each look towards other unknown black entrepreneurs.

“Black imagination is this world’s greatest technology” reads the show’s press release. The audience, host to influential fashion figures such as Sergio Hudson (who dresses Michelle Obama) and former model and activist Bethann Hardison, indicates the changing shape of Afro-American fashion advocacy. Also in front row- attendance: rapper A$AP Ferg and actor Tracee Ellis Ross.

Iris Van Herpen’s Skydiving Models

Credit: Vogue

Skydiving and couture both “relinquish the thrill of leaving aside everything that holds one to the ground,” said Iris Van Herpen in the collection show notes. The designer’s overwhelming display of innovation and artistry combine perfectly to elevate her AW21 presentation.

“She’s connected to nature, art and innovation,” says fashion designer and couturier Iris van Herpen of the woman she designs for. “But she also sees the value of material and construction.”

Source: Vogue

The 37-year-old Dutch designer founded her eponymous label in 2007. Her multidisciplinary approach to design results in elements such as 3D printing, laser-cutting and the utilisation of digital fabrications which are previously unseen. Her designs are known for their boundary-pushing design concepts and her clientele list includes Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Naomi Campbell.

The Jean-Paul Gaultier Archives

Credit: Harper’s Bazaar

In March 2020, Gaultier announced his retirement from the fashion industry. In a cryptic Instagram post, the designer reveals his future plans to keep the label alive and thriving via seasonal collaborations with new designers. Gaultier’s AW21 couture season saw the design house collaborate with Chitose Abe of Sacai. With the collection, she brings her refined, trademark point of view to Gaultier’s archives. The resulting designs are pure poetry, enabling a modern twist on Gaultier classics which compliment some of Gaultier’s most iconic pieces.

Zuhair Murad’s Renewal

A year has passed since a devastating explosion hit Beirut, resulting in thousands being injured, hundreds dead and the country in shock. This resulting blast decimated hundreds of building across the Lebanese capital, including the atelier of iconic design-house Zuhair Murad. “My heart is broken,” designer Rabih Kayrouz said in a social media post regarding the attack. “Can’t stop crying. The efforts of years went in a moment.” In the time since the devastating loss of his beloved atelier, Kayrouz’s clients have shown support for the designer. Kayrouz says of the AW21 show,

“I wanted to show it in a physical format as a celebration of renewal and hope,” he said. “My clients almost demanded it. They want to enjoy life, go out again, buy new pieces and look beautiful, resuming a sense of luxe fastueux.”

Source: Harper’s Bazaar

Featuring Zuhair Murad’s signature fabrics and delicate bead-work, this couture collection is a rebirth of the glamorous label. The show displays a typically astounding and visceral runway, displaying technical prowess and pure artistry.

Check out the official site for Paris Couture Week HERE.

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