Although being absent from Paris couture this season, in fact, I was halfway across the world, through viewing even just a few shows online with sketchy wifi, it was immediately clear that something different was happening.
After many consecutive seasons where couture was looking less and less like couture, we saw a return to beauty and grandeur of the old-school variety. Even Maria Grazia Chiuri let go of her go-to streetwear influences and gimmicky forced-feminism. It was…pretty. And most agreed that it was the creative director’s best collection for the house to date.
In one of the most standout shows this season, Clare Waight Keller’s homage to house founder at Hubert de Givenchy was nothing short of hauntingly beautiful in the piercingly severe yet deeply elegant way that only the former Chloé creative director knows how to deliver.
And just when you thought it was all too good to be true, there was Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino. The imagery speaks for itself, but boy was beauty of the visceral-wow-factor variety and bold imagination evidently soaring in this collection. There was no mediocre look.
Which all beckons the question – why the sudden change? Many of us who had been longing for the classic elements and aesthetics of yesteryear fashion feared it may never return. We deeply missed the pretty, but had written it off as outdated perhaps. Or maybe the frou-frou was not exuding the democracy that we were fighting for in the industry. And then the obvious: could it be a response to ugly fashion?
In short, yes. But it may even go beyond an aesthetic response. Marred with issues that have come to the surface the past year – from sustainability and fashion’s impact on the environment to sexual and psychological abuse, the fashion industry has become a sort-of bad guy, not allowing us to appreciate the type of beauty that may be perceived as excess. And while it’s been crucial to expose these issues so we can correct them and, hopefully eventually heal, the transparency has inevitably weakened our positive associations with fashion. It’s hard to dream when you think of cheap clothes in landfills and the uncomfortable ordeals models and junior workers have had to go through. While it’s not the couture ending up in landfills, we also can’t ignore the fact that luxury fashion ignites the motivation to keep buying new clothes, and for most, cheaper throwaway makes.
Like many that grew up as working-class kids yearningly looking through Vogues, I more than get the need for fashion to subvert codes Gvasalia-style, ironize all the exclusivity and ultimately democratize itself. But’s it’s worth nothing that classic beauty and democracy should not be perceived as mutually exclusive.
It’s fundamental to remind ourselves that fashion still has its virtues. Let's think beyond the hackneyed phrase ‘to make us dream’, as what this really means is, fashion that speaks to the core of our identity makes us aspire. Not aspire to be someone else we never we will be as some misunderstand this to mean - as daydreaming for the sake of it is frankly worthless - but that in visualization we create the best version of ourselves. The person we are working on becoming. This motivates us to do the hard stuff required to get there. And that’s fashion’s best quality – and a powerful tool to help us with life’s hardships. So inspired by the beauty of this season’s couture, let’s make up with it.