PARIS — Imagining high fashion without its fabulous fabrics is like thinking about a peacock without its dazzling feathers, and much of the magic from the fall couture collections presented here last week came from the materials.
“To do a collection without the right fabrics is as absurd as a painter creating a canvas without any oils,” said John Galliano, who dedicated Christian Dior’s fall couture collection to flowers of every variety. “Fabrics are developed, dyed and chosen especially for each design and collection we work on. From Mr. Dior to today, the designs come to life with the fabrics we chose.”
Working this couture season with silk organza, mohair, felted wool, bouclé, braided mohair, tulle and a “very special” triple-layered organza, the designer said he summoned the aid of embroiderers, painters, printers and plumassiers — couture’s behind-the-scenes elves — “to bring a floral spectrum of ideas to life.”
From there, organza petals were glued to a skirt to evoke a trembling chrysanthemum, flushing from black to white. Bright felt featured jagged appliqués, tufts of ribbon-embroidered lace or fringed organza and tulle, and a gauze bustier base grew a layer of silk sun pleats resembling mushroom flesh. Fabrics were hand-painted with pansies or hand-dyed with indigo ink stains.
“In France, there is this wonderful saying that the fabrics are ‘ennobled,’” Galliano said. “I like to search for the perfect texture, the perfect dye, the perfect print, to exact my ideas.”
Before sketching Chanel’s couture collections, Karl Lagerfeld chooses the fabrics, taking inspiration from colors or the way a fabric falls. Naturally, tweed, Chanel’s signature, formed the core ingredient of the house’s daywear, in a bouclé finish or enriched with lamé and red chenille yarns. Then came cashmere in a houndstooth print, embroidered cotton lace and a heavily worked wool jersey, a fabric not often used in couture, which came braided, embroidered and bordered by silk tulle. Allover embroidered frocks had tulle or organza bases.
Just as designers view couture as a playground for letting their fantasies run wild, the few European fabric mills still specializing in the domain view it as an opportunity to experiment.
“[Couture is] a fashion laboratory,” said Hans Schreiber, creative director of family-owned Swiss embroidery specialist Forster Rohner, which boasts more than a century’s worth of savoir faire. “We stretch the limits of embroidery in every direction. It’s interesting because you come back to this know-how as the base and then bring it further.”
Classical fabrics often form the base for couture collections, said Schreiber, but are subtly modernized with twists. Forster Rohner produced three such fabrics used in Valentino’s fall couture collection. These included a black floral guipure treated to give a leathery, glossy finish and a labor-intensive “cutout” silk lace, mixing hand-cut motifs with surface appliqués to achieve a textured 3-D effect. A white-on-white superposed guipure based on a Fifties archive design was “freshened up” with a more playful pattern. Compared with the prevalence of light, papery fabrics a couple of seasons ago, Schreiber observed a mood for thicker, denser fabrics this season, with a Sixties influence coming through.
“It’s about simplicity, modernity,” he said. “The fabrics had to have a certain volume and density to give the geometry a base.”
Eve Corrigan, chief executive officer of French novelty tweed expert Malhia Kent, described couture as a laboratory for new ideas that often filter down to ready-to-wear fabrics. Malhia Kent has a research and development facility in Paris, with a fabric library containing more than 30,000 swatches. About 10 percent of its fabrics are dedicated to couture. Innovations this season included ultralight technical paper tweed, where paper threads were dyed and woven in warp and weft. A new induction fabric involved printing flowers on tweed that were then coated with plastic.
Working on couture collections, Corrigan said, allows mills to maintain close ties with the studios of luxury houses. The firm’s founder, Michèle Sorano, collaborated with Coco Chanel, and is credited with having invented the woven sequin.
Business this year for Malhia Kent, based near Lyon, France, has jumped 80 percent compared with last year, Corrigan said, adding that she has had to increase staffing by 50 percent and extend the premises. Corrigan believes this success comes from the firm’s doubling of its collection during the crisis instead of pulling out old stock.
“It’s both exhilarating and exhausting,” she said.
Having suffered a “terrible year” in 2009, Martin Leuthold, creative director of Switzerland’s Jakob Schlaepfer, said business has picked up and is “very hectic and enthusiastic.” The firm dedicates around half its fabric offer to couture, a rarity nowadays, churning out 250 to 300 new designs each season.
The price of couture fabrics is reflected in the price of a couture frock. A velvet sequin innovation by Jakob Schlaepfer, for instance, which carries one million sequins per 9 meters of fabric, costs around 1,000 Swiss francs, or about $950 at current exchange, per meter.
“We’re always doing strange things like plastic foils bonded with foam, and we’ll always say, ‘Maybe we’ll find the right person who will know what to do with it,’” Leuthold said. “Then we see it up there [on the podium] and the whole world is watching. It starts from there, from the top of the pyramid.”
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews