13 of the best couture moments in fashion history
While the biannual couture shows in Paris remain the most exclusive of all the fashion weeks, the schedule is never short of controversies or thrills. Here’s ’s round-up of couture’s most haute drama moments.
Karl Lagerfeld’s first Chanel show (Chanel haute couture autumn/winter ’83/’84)
For more than three decades, Karl Lagerfeld has presided over Chanel as creative director. In 1983, when first charged with bringing the house into the modern era, the designer admitted he initially found couture frustratingly slow (according to WWD reports). Today, Lagerfeld’s Chanel epitomises what audiences around the world love about couture, the quintessential fashion escapism; in 1983, however, his modern vision was met with more than a few raised eyebrows from critics.
All that glitters is Gianni (Versace Atelier couture autumn/winter ’95/’96)
While once upon a time, couture presentations were a polite shopping expedition for well-heeled upper class women, Gianni Versace’s high-voltage shows at Atelier Versace in the 1990s were a noisy, starry affair. Audiences josselled for a front row view of the “Versace experience” and applause broke out after every shimmering look of the autumn/winter ’95/’96 couture collection – a masterclass in fashion history, capturing the era’s hedonism in every twinkling rhinestone – made its way down the runway on a supermodel muse. Deservedly so. The Versace couture woman was undoubtedly flashbulb-ready, primed for Hollywood’s red carpets rather than Paris’s Bal de Débutantes.
Larger than life (Christian Dior couture spring/summer 2003)
When the bi-annual couture shows rolled around in the 2000s, John Galliano’s Christian Dior catwalk proved to be the epicentre of theatricality. The British designer, who took the helm at Dior in 1996, emboldened his atelier and the clothes got wild. Nowhere more so than the spring/summer 2003 couture collection: “In Galliano’s hands, the vivid colours and patterns of Chinese costume and Japanese kimonos got transformed into some of the clothes ever invented,” Sarah Mower reported for American . “Models, almost completely submerged in cocooning swaths of brocade, taffeta and exploding chiffon flounces, teetered along on vertiginous platforms.”
Kate Moss blooms (YSL couture spring/summer 1993)
1993 was a big year for supermodel-in-the-making, Kate Moss. The star’s first cover (for British ) would hit shelves in March, by which time she’d already graced the Yves Saint Laurent haute couture spring/summer 1993 catwalk wearing a romantic bouquet of floral prints that were nothing short of intoxicating.
Thierry Mugler’s robot woman (Mugler couture autumn/winter ’95/’96)
The cyborg suit created by Thierry Mugler for his autumn/winter ’95/’96couture show was received as “a frightening and tantalising image for the dawn of the Internet age” by – which is no mean feat. Later that year the one-of-a-kind art piece went on to be immortalised by Helmut Newton for American ’s November 1995 issue in the magazine’s cult ‘Machine Age’ fashion story.
David Bowie by way of Dior (Dior couture spring/summer 2015)
Mix Raf Simons with couture and you get something edgier than an ordinary fashion romance. Mix Raf Simons with David Bowie couture, and you get a triumphant collection of thigh-high patent boots and second-skin printed catsuits. As then critic Tim Blanks noted after the show: “[Simons] is keen to create connections for couture that wire it to the wider world.” Those boots naturally became an overnight sell-out success.
Bella Hadid walking on water (Fendi couture autumn/winter ’16/’17)
For Fendi’s ‘Legends and Fairy Tales’ 90th anniversary show, Karl Lagerfeld took inspiration from the illustrations of Danish artist Kay Nielsen in 1914 children’s book, . Fantasy did indeed become reality: We’ll remember this as the moment models walked on water (well, a transparent catwalk staged over Rome’s Trevi Fountain).
Alexander McQueen’s mythology (Givenchy haute couture spring/summer 1997)
Shortly after British designer Alexander McQueen unveiled his debut couture collection for Givenchy, he revealed feelings that the show had not lived up to his own expectations. History, on the other hand, remembers a couture debut that was a startlingly elegant and mythological play on the house codes.
Birds of internet paradise (Valentino couture autumn/winter ’18/’19)
You’ve no doubt already seen pictures of the pink feathery Valentino couture gown that broke the internet twice in 2018. Model of the moment Kaia Gerber was the first to sport Pierpaolo Piccioli’s masterpiece during Valentino’s autumn/winter ’18/’19 couture show, leaving even hardened fashion editors in awe (and in some cases teary-eyed). Lady Gaga’s people were quick to leap on the look, securing the gown for the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival. Cue internet meltdown number two.
Going dotty for Armani (Giorgio Armani couture autumn/winter ’14/’15)
When Mr Armani’s atelier turn their hand to polka dots, they deliver a galaxy capable of making the Milky Way blush. No big historical backstory here, just a perfect moment of dreamlike beauty.
Schiaparelli’s 1930s salons
Rome-born designer Elsa Schiaparelli’s haute couture salons during the 1930s may look like a sedate affair compared to today’s swarming shows – but her Paris base at 21 Place Vendôme is still a hallowed spot. This was the decade that Schiaparelli collaborated with Salvador Dalí to create the lobster dress – worn by Wallis Simpson in in 1937. And while to modern audiences the pairing of an artist and fashion designer is a relatively regular occurrence, back then it was groundbreaking. Greta Garbo, no less, was a fan.
Renegade denim (Gaultier couture spring/summer 1999)
In his eponymous spring/summer 1999 couture show, French designer Jean Paul Gaultier parted ways with convention, sending a single patchwork denim gown (complete with feathered train) down his runway, a look markedly different from the other gilded pieces in the collection. Gaultier’s secret to standing out at the ball? Flout the dress code.
Linda as the Chanel bride (Chanel haute couture autumn/winter ’03/’04)
It wouldn’t be a couture greatest hits list if we didn’t finish with a bride. Enter Linda Evangelista, the woman behind countless iconic Chanel catwalk moments, seen here closing the house’s autumn/winter ‘03/’04 couture show in true super style.
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