Monday, 30 July 2012

Close To Perfection V: Givenchy Haute Couture - Autumn/Winter 2012-2013

Riccardo Tisci & his muse, Mariacarla Boscono
Image courtesy of: NOWMANIFEST

It is probably fair to say that the business of contemporary fashion is reliant on two elements: spectacle and, more often than not, hype; or—to put it another way and not so bluntly—marketing. This is equally true of a designer's reputation. It is imperative for a creative director of an eminent fashion House to find that elusive balance between his or her creative outlet and the economic survival (and viability) of the House for which he or she is (creatively) responsible.

In some respects, marketing is a double-edged sword: a House needs to make certain that its brand name is instantly and globally recognizable by the general public at large while, at the same time, retaining a cachet of exclusivity to attract a new well-heeled, posh consumer (but still maintain its current roster of privileged clientele)—one willing to enter that rarefied world of Haute Couture by committing herself  to that all-important, extravagant purchase (or two). And today's marketing can take several forms and find just as many expressions: the licensing of a House's logo and brand name to manufacturers and perfumers or cosmetics companies (although there is the danger that through licensing, a designer name may become redundant to the point of cheapness, thereby losing its lustrous prestige—the very thing which allowed it to secure such lucrative licensing deals in the first place); print and commercial advertising in slick, popular magazines and on television; savvy advertising on Internet sites (increasingly, more and more fashion companies are forgoing traditional television and print advertisements altogether and posting their tailor-made commercials directly on the Internet); and, most seductively perhaps, on the red carpets of annual award shows where celebrities (both, of  the major as well as the minor sort) and movie stars prance and preen before a barrage of the all-seeing eyes of the world's cameras, vying with one another for attention (and honourable mention in the press the following day). Fashion, once the exclusive province of acknowledged veteran journalists and industry insiders, has now become a veritable arena in which anyone and everyone has a seat—and about which, an expression of opinion (as is evident here); for better or for worse, it is the democratization of fashion—one that is now irreversible.

As for spectacle, nothing quite competes or compares with the exclusivity of the biannual Haute Couture shows produced in Paris—for just a few days—every January and July. And this particular Couture season (which began on Sunday, July 1st and ended on Wednesday, July 4th), Paris was positively abuzz by the appointment (and debut) of a new creative director at Dior: the forty-four year old Belgian designer, Raf Simons—formerly at Jil Sander and the fifth designer to be appointed at the helm since its founder, Christian Dior, died in 1957. (The list of designers who have been in charge at Dior include: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, and John Galliano.) Before Dior officially announced its new, permanent artistic director on Monday, April 9th, however, the industry was rife with speculation as to who will emerge and occupy the position left vacant by Mr. Galliano's prompt and spectacular dismissal in February of 2011. Several prominent names were theorized; most notably,  these centred mainly on Marc Jacobs, Alber Elbaz, Phoebe Philo and Riccardo Tisci—at one point, there was even talk that Azzedine Alaïa was approached by Dior but the designer had apparently declined the offer. (Sitting in the audience at Mr. Simons' Couture debut, incidentally, were some of the very same designers around whom so much speculation had swirled: Azzedine Alaïa, Riccardo Tisci, Marc Jacobs, and Alber Elbaz. Diane von Furstenberg, Donatella Versace, Olivier Theyskens, Pierre Cardin, Kris Van Assche, and Christopher Kane were some of the other designers included among the guest list; actresses Marion Cotillard and Sharon Stone were also in attendance.) (Source: Horyn, C., Past, Prologue, DiorThe New York Times, July 3, 2012)

For his first showing at Dior's Autumn-Winter 2012 Haute Couture collection, Mr. Simons, who, until his recent appointment had no experience in Haute Couture, is known for his avant-garde men’s fashion—(his contract with Dior allows him to continue his own men’s line based out of Antwerp)—and who only began designing women's wear as recently as 2005, showed fifty-four ensembles, staged against salon walls lined floor-to-ceiling with backdrops of innumerable flowers: “delphiniums in the blue room, orchids in the white room, mimosa in the yellow room, and so on. More than a million all told, making a gorgeous architectural abstraction of nature(Blanks, T.,
(Quote & sources: Blanks, T.,, July 2, 2012 | Horyn, C., The New York Times, April 9, 2012 & July 3, 2012)

Velvet & leather
Image courtesy of: Photographic

For this Dior collection, Raf Simons included references—with, naturally, modern interpretations—to some of Christian Dior's more noteworthy and celebrated hallmarks: the very first look of the collection was a slim black pant suit whose jacket shape—and proportions—could easily be construed as a modern-day descendant of Dior's iconic 'Bar' suit from the great designer's own Spring-Summer 1947 debut collection—and one that he revisited again in about 1955 (see: V&A: The Golden Age of Couture &; another silhouette that Mr. Simons drew inspiration from was the classic full-skirted Dior ball gown (which, in its heyday, became a key, signature staple of the House), only in the Simons' version, the skirt was abbreviated to a peplum and replaced by black cigarette pants (Blanks, T.,, July 2, 2012). It is only fitting to acknowledge and draw inspiration from the past in order to point the way of the future—this is especially significant with a historical House as richly steeped in tradition as Dior's is. However, the challenge faced by any designer at the reins of an established House is not to allow the past to dictate the future, nor to be overshadowed by the legacy of its founder—should that happen, creativity is then vulnerable of becoming overwhelmed and stifled by its history. Worse still, a designer too slavish to tradition may become 'stuck' and unable to move forward, unable to create a new legacy, a new tradition—rendered incapable of shaping a modern history of a House.

Mr. Simons' debut was acclaimed by the fashion press; his collection received rave reviews. From the look of it, though, this first collection had a very pared-down, minimal feel to it—so much so that parts of it looked to be more along the lines of Prêt-à-Porter rather than Couture. At any rate, perhaps, after the unrestrained, grand extravagances and theatrical dreamscapes of the Galliano era, this is what is called for now, at this point in the history of the House of Dior—only time will tell. After all, fashion is about change, not stagnation—each new designer must, by necessity, find his or her own way and stamp a specific era (and House) with his or her own recognizable signature. Whatever direction Mr. Simons intends to take the House of Dior in the future, remains to be seen; but one thing is clear: by any standard, it is a monumental and by no means a straightforward task, a task made all the more daunting by the impressive list of predecessors in whose steps Mr. Simons now follows.

Riccardo Tisci's signature dégradé effect ~ done to perfection in bugle-bead fringed cardigan.
Image courtesy of: saint-warhol

Having sat through Raf Simons' debut Couture collection for Christian Dior the previous day, Riccardo Tisci presented his for Givenchy on the following one. In his review for The Washington Post, Thomas Adamson described Riccardo Tisci's latest Givenchy Autumn-Winter 2012/2013 Haute Couture collection as “...a master class in craftsmanship” and, further adding, “magnificent, arty pieces worthy of the Louvre museum.” Those are considerable words. 
(Quotes: Adamson, T., The Washington Post, July 4, 2012)

The static, capsule collection of ten, perfect pieces was presented at Paris's magnificent Hôtel d'Evreux (situated on the Place Vendôme and right next to the Hôtel Ritz) on Tuesday, July 3rd, where plenty of well-informed guides were at hand to explain and highlight the (Couture) techniques to the invited guests (Voight, R., Vogue Italia); the result of which, audiences were able to inspect and admire each piece individually at close proximity—and at their own leisure—precisely how Couture ought to be seen in order to be fully appreciated. While other designers and Houses pride themselves on massively-scaled productions with collections numbering in the forty-, fifty-, and even sixty-plus pieces—more often than not, the elaborate set designs and productions of some of these shows are far more interesting and beautiful than the actual collections presented—for a number of seasons now, M. Tisci, as the creative director of Givenchy, has opted to explore the opposite, more understated route. In essence, it is a thoroughly contemporary way to present a Couture collection, one that M. Tisci has honed to a fine art; indeed, in their intimate settings, the clothes and accessories take on a poetic aura of art pieces exhibited in a private gallery. The idea here is not quantity of pieces or enormity of set design but, rather, quality; even singularity.

By distilling or reducing a collection to its essence and presenting it in such an intimate manner, the designer is afforded the opportunity to concentrate, lavishing time (along with the impeccable craft of the atelier—craftsmanship being the very heart of Couture) on each piece—and perhaps therein lies the secret to M. Tisci's superb collections: time. To consistently create artisanal collections “worthy of the Louvre museum,” requires research, exploration of ideas, refinement of details, and experimentation with technique—all of which are time-consuming and something that is impossible to devote when creating or staging large-scaled collections. The art of Haute Couture is more than mere technique and craftsmanship (after all, every House doubtlessly creates beautifully-made pieces), though: much like fine interior decoration, it demands a great eye for editing, harmony, balance, proportion, composition and—to some degree—a talent for reinvention or, at least, re-imagining. As is evident by a quick browse through the latest Paris Couture collections, however, not every designer is in possession of such a disciplined or discerning eye.

Details of some of the exposed & “caged” crystals.
Top left image, courtesy of: Photographic | Top right image, courtesy of: SHOWstudio
Above image is courtesy of: SHOWstudio

The chosen theme of M. Tisci's latest collection is 'opulence of the gypsy world,' or, as the notes for Givenchy's presentation indicated more precisely, “opulence of the gypsy world meets the pure lines of the 1960s.” And that theme is clearly manifested in the silhouettes of the pieces—there is a discernibly bohemian mood to this collection, albeit a decidedly sophisticated one. (Quote: The Guardian, July 4, 2012)

In fact, the gypsy-bohemian motif of this presentation is a continuation of (the earlier) Givenchy's 2013 Resort collection—thirty-nine pieces in total—shown in June. It was there, before it resurfaced in the recent Couture line, that M. Tisci first approached and reconfigured the elements of 1960s vintage: “romantic, but with a sharpness,” as M. Tisci himself explained it over a long-distance telephone call from Paris (Phelps, N., As was just mentioned, some of these elements made their first tentative appearance in the Resort: patchwork; geometric patterns; slightly-flared and jutting elbow-length 'samurai' raglan sleeves—even the sarouel pants, which were painstakingly hand-beaded in jet bugle beads in the Couture line and where they were paired with a hand-strung, bugle-bead fringed cardigan that featured M. Tisci's signature dégradé effect, progressing from cappuccino at the neckline to a deep espresso at its hem—all had their beginnings in Resort. The main colour palette (with added splashes of turquoise blue) that coursed through the Resort and made its way into the Couture collection is also comparable: accents of scarlet; ebony-black; white and varying shades of brown, including beige and nude. Likewise, similar footwear in both collections can be noted as well where, versions of the open-toe, high gladiator boots were also featured. But the original inspiration of that bohemian idea was first sparked, inadvertently enough, when M. Tisci came across an old photograph of M. Hubert de Givenchy's muse, Bettina (Simone Micheline Bodin Graziani), who worked for M. de Givenchy for two years in the 1950s. (For his premiere collection in 1952, M. de Givenchy named a signature white blouse after her, the 'Bettina Blouse.')
(Quote & sources: Phelps, N.,, June 11, 2012 | Bowles, H., Vogue, June & July 2012 | Nika, C., Interview Magazine, undated)

Above left, intricately-cut & layered leather 'lace' detail of the finale dress (above right).
The above two images are courtesy of: Vogue Paris | Pinterest

Leather 'kitten heel' shoes.
Above left image, courtesy of: J'ADOREPRETTYTHINGS | Above right image, courtesy of: Vogue Paris | Pinterest

What began as a kernel of inspiration, gleaned from an old photograph of M. de Givenchy with one of his muses, was articulated and then fully developed—first in the Resort line and then, finally perfected to its conclusion, in the ten-piece Couture collection—into a modern interpretation of the 1960s gypsy style. A good example: the opening look of the Resort line featured a belted, boldly geometric colour-block printed evening dress with long, cape-like sleeves slit up from wrist-to-shoulders, exposing the arms (a concept repeated on shirts and outerwear throughout the collection)—an idea that matured into sweeping shoulder-to-floor-length nappa fringe capes and ponchos in the Couture. Fringe—so quintessentially 1960s in spirit—whether it was precisely cut and intricately woven in leather or painstakingly strung, bead-by-bead, into exquisite Mitteleuropa patterns, seems to have been the central component around which the rest of the collection hinged. (The decorative possibilities of leather were further explored in basket-weave patterns and complex passementerie embroidery, normally used on furniture and military uniforms.)

But the collection did not end with an explicitly retrospective gypsy look—far from it; the brilliance of M. Tisci's collection is its synthesis of dilettante, bohemian insouciance married with sophisticated, ladylike elegance as the materials used attest to and hint at—(beaded) velvet; crêpe de Chine; nappa leather; exposed and “caged” crystals (encased in either wool or cashmere of the finest quality—and, by now, an essential Tisci standard). There was also sheared mink used on its own—as it was when twisted into a fichu bodice for a crêpe dress—or as a thick, edging border trim. In what M. Tisci called “plucked,” sheared mink—(“sheared so fine it feels like chiffon velvet,” as Hamish Bowles described it)—was cut out and shaved into geometric patterns in substitution of embroidery.
(Quote & sources: Bowles, H., Vogue, July 2012 | Voight, R., Vogue Italia, July 2012 | Phelps, N.,, July 3, 2012)

Above, a two-piece ensemble—a dress & matching poncho—which well illustrate the decorative & artistic possibilities of intricately woven leather fringe.
 The above two images are courtesy of: SHOWstudio


The austere,  linear purity of the 1960s was also echoed in a twist-neck halter gown that had a built-in, off-the-shoulder cape that was entirely embroidered with sequins—not on its outer shell but on its inner lining. (The halter-neck cut has surfaced and continues to resurface in M. Tisci's collections for Givenchy.) But the collection was not only about fanciful Couture embroidery, reminiscent of rococo volutes—“so densely worked with bronze sequins that they become three-dimensional, like the handles on a Regence commode(Bowles, H., Vogue)—worthy of Catherine II's Great Hermitage (though there was plenty of that, a testament to the stupendous skills of the atelier and the numberless hours required to actualize such work and bring it to fruition). Beneath the elaborately patterned embroidery and leather weaving, mastery of cut and sublime simplicity were also showcased: wool and cashmere dresses and skirts—with just a  smattering of  subtly-patterned “caged” or “encased” beadwork—“like the most sophisticated scarifications(Bowles, H., Vogue)call to mind the restrained, understated cuts of M. de Givenchy as well as the severe lines of the 1960s era, “when Hubert de Givenchy was at the center of the Paris scene(Phelps, N.,
(Quotes & sources: Phelps, N.,, July 3, 2012 | Bowles, H., Vogue, July 2012)

Image courtesy of: SHOWstudio

In late June of 2011, famed French designer Jean Paul Gaultier, following the unveiling of his first-ever retrospective exhibition at Le Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal—The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk—was interviewed by Luigi Tadini for Paper Magazine. Towards the end of the interview, M. Gaultier was asked about the future of Haute Couture, to which he responded: “We're at a moment of complete saturation and over-consumptionthere are more clothes manufactured than people can buy. And there are too many people who live off this industry. So what is going to be fashion? Everything is super-produced. Like, for example, the Italian brands that put out collections that are 1,000 outfitsit's unbelievable. It's all about labels and sales ... It takes a toll on haute couture. Outsourcing, bad quality—things are changing in the industry ... That is why we have to protect haute couture.” (Quote & source: Tadini, L., The Last Great CouturierPAPERMAG, June 28, 2011)

For the majority of those who live outside the boundaries of the world of fashion, that world must seem trivial at best. Even more so and from that point of view, the concept of Haute Couture may be regarded as such—a luxurious world very far removed from the ordinary, day-to-day lives of the masses; the preserve of only the privileged few. Though there is, absolutely, some truth to that perception, it is also, admittedly, a simplistic one.

In France, more than anywhere else in the world, where its tradition is taken very seriously and where its roots run deep, the heritage of Haute Couture—as an industry as well as a syndicated establishment, Mode à Parisholds special significance on multiple levels: historically, socially, economically, traditionally, and artistically. The irreplaceable skills needed to create such sartorial works of art—les petites mains de la Haute Couture, as the craftspeople employed in it are knownare bequeathed from one generation to the next, as they have been for countless of years. (Like all great works of Art, great Couture has the ability to uplift the spirit and to inspire. Nonetheless, there are those who differ in their opinion of Couture—or even of fashionas being an independent, legitimate form of art—M. Gaultier among them.) No one can say with any certainty whether or not Couture will continue or even thrive into the next century. What is certain is, without it, Franceand the rest of the worldwould be all the poorer: many depend on its industry; many more on its dazzling enchantment. Presumably, this is what M. Gaultier meant by the need to 'protect it.' In every sense, it is a laboratory for creative ideas and technical possibilities—a laboratory of dreams. If for no other reason, that is the purpose of Couture in any era—when secure in the capable hands of a gifted designer—to resonate with an individual (either a viewer or a potential client) and to allow anyone the chance to dream, even if it is only vicariously.

(N.B.: it must be reiterated that, as was stated in the previous installment of this series—Close To Perfection IV—Ŧhe ₵oincidental Ðandy does not in any way condone the use of animal skins or furs of any kind.)

The above twenty images are courtesy of: Fashion Gone Rogue

The above two images are courtesy of: Photographic

(Video by: afp-fashion | Source: Dailymotion)

Riccardo’s couture pieces may not be designed for Everywoman, or even for everyday life, but with each collection he pushes the boundaries of what is breathtakingly possible when the greatest and most extravagant refinements of skilled handwork are applied to silhouettes and concepts that are sci-fi modern.”
~ Hamish Bowles (Vogue, July 2012)

A Master of Modern Couture
(British Vogue, October 2012 | Photo by Willy Vanderperre)
Image courtesy of: Givenchy

Suggested readings:

The Art of Haute Couture (1995), by Victor Skrebneski & Laura Jacobs: Abbeville Press

Christian Dior: The Man Who Made The World Look New (1996), by Marie-France Pochna: Arcade Publishing

The Givenchy Style (1998), by Françoise Mohrt: Vendome Press

Paris Fashion: A Cultural History (1998), by Valerie Steele: Berg

Hubert de Givenchy (2000), by Jean-Noël Liaut: Grasset

Christian Dior: The Early Years, 1947-1957 (2001), by Esmeralda de Réthy & Jean-Louis Perreau: Vendome Press

Dior (2005), by Marie-France Pochna: Assouline

Made for Each Other: Fashion And The Academy Awards (2006), by Bronwyn Cosgrave: Bloomsbury Publishing USA

Luxury Fashion Branding: Trends, Tactics, Techniques (2007), by Uche Okonkwo: Palgrave Macmillan

Dior (2007), by Farid Chenoune & Laziz Hamani: Assouline

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster (2008), by Dana Thomas: Penguin

Dior (2009), by Alexandra Palmer: V & A Publishing

The Great Fashion Designers (2009), by Brenda Polan & Roger Tredre: Berg

Luxury World: The Past, Present and Future of Luxury Brands (2009), by Mark Tungate: Kogan Page Publishers

Fashion, Media, Promotion: The New Black Magic (2010), by Jayne Sheridan: John Wiley & Sons

Dior Couture (2011), by Ingrid Sischy & Patrick Demarchelier: Rizzoli International Publications, Incorporated


  1. Fascinating blog... what a shame that you're not on twitter (as I'd love to direct others to your site) ~ Patricia

    1. Dear Ms. Patricia:

      In a delightful way, I am wholly amused by your comment (it's the thought of being on 'twitter' that I found so amusing) - for which I thank you. It's a nice way to end the night ~ with a smile.

      With warmest regards,
      ₵. Ð.