Americans in Paris


PARIS — The upcoming Olympic Games are inescapable in Paris. Couture show-goers this week are most likely to experience them via the time they spend in cabs, edging at a snail’s pace through snarled traffic. But Monday, the first day of the shows, mercifully offered other takes on the impact of the world’s biggest sporting event.

In Daniel Roseberry’s case, it was entirely oblique. For the past three seasons, he’s shown his couture collections for Schiaparelli in the grandiose surroundings of the Petit Palais. He saw them as a trilogy. So when the Olympics placed his old venue out of bounds, he had the opportunity to close that chapter and open a new one somewhere else. He fancied something dark, intimate, “as cinematic as possible.” Which is how we ended up in the cellar of the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild. Dark it most certainly was, and hot. Nina Simone was on the soundtrack. We were groomed for transport. â€œThe Petit Palais was almost like going to church,” said Roseberry. “This one I wanted to feel like going to a ballet.”

He called his show “The Phoenix”, perfect title for his new chapter. And the collection, a tight 31 looks, did have a transformative edge. If not quite balletic, the show moved with a glacial grace. The models stopped to fix audience members in the eye, adding to the drama of the clothes. The first look, a black velvet cape with huge embroidered feather wings that wrapped the model’s body like she was a bird of prey sleeping, established the mood: glamorous with a hint of danger. Later, there would be a dress studded with leather thorns, and a jacket whose shawl collar was festooned with orange quills (silk organza, which took the edge off their lethality). Which felt in tune with Elsa’s own sharpish sensibility.

Schiaparelli Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Schiaparelli Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Schiaparelli)
Schiaparelli Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Schiaparelli Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Schiaparelli)
Schiaparelli Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Schiaparelli Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Schiaparelli)
Schiaparelli Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Schiaparelli Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Schiaparelli)
Schiaparelli Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Schiaparelli Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Schiaparelli)

She has never been far from Roseberry’s mind in his regeneration of the fashion house she founded almost a century ago, but this season her ability to reinvent herself really captured his imagination. The broad shoulders, puff sleeves and inverted V silhouette were Elsa at her most austere, while a swathe of midnight blue neoprene, or an equally voluminous jumpsuit in a trompe l’oeil zebra pattern felt like the kind of sweeping modernist gestures she would have relished. Roseberry indulged his urge to experiment with volume and colour. The most striking look in the show was a mesh bustier tied up in a huge absinthe satin bow. “It would have been up here in the 50s,” he indicated. “We just dropped it down and exposed the bustier.”

The invitation arrived in the form of a golden key. “The more I went into the archives, the more I found the key to make it modern,” Roseberry said. â€œI wanted the season to feel unlocked.” But it wasn’t modern I got so much as other-worldly. On the soundtrack was “Rachel’s Song” from “Blade Runner,” the most perfect piece of music ever written for a replicant. And Roseberry’s models were perfect too – hair, makeup, the occasional veil – in their utterly exquisite dresses. It was an off-planet moment for haute couture.

Thom Browne’s acknowledgement of the Olympic presence in Paris was much more direct than his erstwhile design director Roseberry’s. The famously athletic Browne already tipped his cap to the Games with the spectacle he staged in Los Angeles during the pandemic. His show on Monday opened with a tug of war and closed with gold, silver and bronze on the prizewinners’ podium. Throughout the presentation itself, an Olympian referee monitored the event, gold wreath on her head, huge whistle-shaped purse swinging from her shoulder. Fortunately, there were no infractions.

To reach the heights of sporting fame requires a degree of superhuman obsession. It’s hard to escape the notion that Browne is no stranger to such obsession. In show after extraordinary show, he has stretched the limits of creativity, endurance and credibility. And he does it in schoolboy shorts, with an aw-shucks modesty. Latest exhibit: a couture collection that took the grandest of fashion gestures back to ground zero, the humble muslin toile, the prototype where all of those big fancy dresses begin. The Blueprint, rather than The Bomb. â€œLast July, everything was highly finished, highly embroidered,” said Browne. â€œI wanted the exact opposite, to bring it back to where it all starts with the customer.”

Thom Browne Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Thom Browne Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Launchmetrics.com/spotlight)
Thom Browne Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Thom Browne Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Launchmetrics.com/spotlight)
Thom Browne Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Thom Browne Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Launchmetrics.com/spotlight)
Thom Browne Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Thom Browne Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Launchmetrics.com/spotlight)
Thom Browne Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture
Thom Browne Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture (Launchmetrics.com/spotlight)

The power of the toile is such that I still count an exhibition of Balenciaga’s toiles I saw at FIT in New York many decades ago as one of my all-time favourite shows. Which is why it made perfect sense that Browne saw his collection for women and men as a celebration of the art of making clothes. It’s often been said that you can judge the quality of haute couture by the fact that the inside should be as perfect as the outside. The inside-outness was a key feature here. You could see the hand-basting on the seams. Browne compared his efforts to his partner Andrew Bolton’s curation of the “Ex Machina” show at the Met “showing the beauty of handwork compared to machine work”. Still, it was a bold move on his part to offer a toile as the finished garment, and it made for a fascinating show.

Because, of course, it was no mere muslin we were presented with: 300 yards of the fabric were smocked in one look that sailed past. Normally, we’d be looking at some gorgeous silk. Then there were embroideries so extraordinary that Browne admitted, “We had to pull ourselves back to keep it true to the concept. I love finish and I love perfection, but where it all starts was such a great story.”

Everything was muslin: muslin yarn in the cardigans, muslin ribbon in the trim, muslin tweed miraculously conjured up by Lesage, and muslin making up the flowers in the massive bouquet that weighed down Anna Cleveland in the bridal gown she had to be sewn into after a zipper broke just as she was about to take to the catwalk. But Browne emphasised that none of it came cheap. â€œIt’s the most pattern work we’ve ever done. And the Lesage muslin tweeds were as expensive as real tweeds.”

I was feeling there was a point to be made here about the humblest of fabrics being co-opted by the most extravagant of métiers. A conceptual have-and-have-not moment that felt oddly apposite to everything that is going on in the world now. I doubt that Browne would take to that suggestion. Still, amidst the relentlessly neutral palette, there was a quietly stunning flash of colour in a dress that was bifurcated to reveal one half of a flayed torso, beaded red. It was a reminder that this designer has always had a killer instinct for the dark side.

Schiaparelli Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture

Thom Browne Autumn/Winter 2024 Haute Couture



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