by Koh Chuin Ying

Spring couture week in Paris wrapped up in January. But where once magazine editors and fashion enthusiasts rushed to their laptops to report on the visual treats they devoured, this year there was confused-to-amused bewilderment. There were no emerging trends. No sense of direction. No goal in sight. What emerged instead is a “storm of existential self-questioning roiling the fashion world”.


From the cognoscenti’s perspective, everything in fashion is being tossed up in the air. After Alexander Wang’s last show for Balenciaga — his post now filled by Demna Gvasalia, head designer for Vetements — Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz announced he was leaving the company. Arguably the biggest surprise was Raf Simons’ abrupt resignation from Dior. Now operating without a leader, it was a young Dior team of 20- and 30-somethings that ran out to take their bows after the couture presentation. To top it off, the shows took place amid high security in a Paris still tensed after November’s terrorist massacre.


Certainly, deciding on what choices were appropriate, hitting the right note and reading the mood of consumers, brewed in the minds of couturiers. After all, these presentations are the only ones showcasing clothes for the impending season. Trying to make sense of it all, critics are racking their brains over what haute couture is and ought to be now — should it create dreams and distract? Or register reality?


I came away thinking that this season veered towards disarray, and with rather extreme results. At Atelier Versace, sportif was celebrated in displays of taut pants, body-con gowns and fitted mini dresses. Giambattista Valli looked to Paris’ parks and gardens for inspiration in his signature short lengths and exaggerated volumes. For Chanel, semi-conscious suits ruled by way of fabrics like organic woven yarn embroidered with wooden beads and chards. And at Jean Paul Gaultier, the message was club culture of the early 80s.


Given that accessories always accommodate the clothes, the jewellery was equally all over the place. Most kindly described as an eclectic mix, we saw animal motifs, antique gold pieces, religious iconography, crystal ropes and more. Even current trends like the single earring at Dior looked perfunctory, proving that less isn’t always more. Perhaps the one show that made sense was the nonsensical one John Galliano put on for Maison Margiela, where high fashion and streetwear merged in swathes of couture fabric alongside Surrealist necklaces.


So maybe the point here is that even the industry doesn’t know where it is headed. What we do know is that when it comes to fashion, the shows will always go on. The hope is that it will find its way back to the realm of fantastic.

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