The world’s a stage and none more diverse than Paris couture. Where a Gibraltar-born designer creates couture for a Belgian maison; a Phoenician master dreams floral fantasies in Beirut; and a young mum fashion godmother mentors young students and allows them to work on an actual Paris calendar collection. Three contrasting designers showing on the Champs-Elysees, St. Germain and Beirut.
In other words, we take a look at John Galliano at Maison Margiela Artisanal; Elie Saab and Julie de Libran.
Maison Margiela Artisanal: Daphne du Maurier’s deconstructed damsels
At times it felt more like Daphne du Maurier than Maison Margiela Artisanal when John Galliano presented his latest collection in a show film unspooled in a Champs-Elysees cinema.
Galliano didn’t stint on the production, hiring Olivier Dahan to direct what was possible the longest fashion collection film in history.
Dahan, famed for directing La Vie en Rose and Grace of Monaco, certainly made a handsome product, entitled A Folk Horror Tale.
A dark yarn about a clifftop village collapsing into the sea, it featured scores of handsome, skinny fishermen and fishwives gadding about on the shore. Think deconstructed Rebecca in Frenchman’s Creek.
Though the actual feature film – which ground along for 70 minutes, without dialogue – began with Galliano providing an informative explanation of his ideas and techniques. Accompanied by multiple stills of him draping, editing and working with his staff in Margiela’s atelier in Paris’ 19th arrondissement.
John’s biggest ideas were using images of ceramics from Delft to create atmospheric patchwork fabrics. The Gibraltar-born couturier’s other big plan was upcycling, especially in denim – ripping, shredding or tearing off pockets, before throwing the whole lot into giant dyeing machines. The results were then sewn into Restoration drama outfits – grand gowns, flirty dresses and padded jackets, worn by gals who looked like they knew the insides of multiple taverns.
Though his most brilliant composition was a simple sheath made of shards of glass, so full of gaps and spikes it looked like dangerous seaweed.
After spotting a pirate’s galleon rolling in through the mist, our hero cabin-boy discovers a matching glass crown which for no obvious reason he wears diffidently before burying it.
Other models sprout whole trees from their mouth, some panic when whole walls turn to bubbling blood.
At the finale, a druids’ bacchanal, and locals watching their clan chieftain floating out to sea on a burning funeral pyre.
Inventive and provocative like all Galliano collections, but also overlong, pretentious; and not half as good as any du Maurier novel, or film adaptation.
Elie Saab: Buds of hope from Beirut
Hope springs eternal, even in the most difficult of moments, which was the message this season from Elie Saab.
Throughout the pandemic, he has been largely based in his native country Lebanon, in the midst of one of its most embattled periods, creating beauty even as the capital’s center was blown to ruins by the enormous fertiliser explosion 10 months ago.
Hence, Saab entitled his collection ‘Buds of Hope.’ Presented in a studio-shot show video that opened in a fantasy backstage and bleacher fences behind which his towering models laughed and gossiped in festive, and backless, floral ball gowns.
Before the action moved into a colonnade studio and daylight, the better to illustrate the ethereal embroidery, as Elie’s hand-picked couture team displayed their skills.
“We are all waiting for spring to bloom again in our world. It’s about time. So, that’s why there are so many petals and flowers,” explained Elie in a Zoom from his studio.
Even when the dress was a column in ivory crepe, the look was finished with chiffon peonies, fabric roses, and tulle petals, in a particularly brilliant display.
“I wanted a certain sense of volume, so feathers were treated them like rose petals and then embroidered on delicately,” Saab added.
Elie Saab – Haute Couture Fall/ Winter 2021-2022 – Photo: Courtesy of Elie Saab – Foto: Cortesia de Elie Saab
The Phoenician couturier composing multiple crinolines constructed with light interior frames the better to capture his vision. Seen in a poetic fashion movie directed by Felipe Sanguinetti.
All modern fashion classicism, clothes that demand a great occasion, whether noble wedding, gilded ball or awards-ceremony red carpet. Climaxing with a stunning crystal-dusted faded lime wedding gown that cried out for a princess to purchase it.
All of them in marked juxtaposition to the hard times experience by Lebanon.
“It’s been politically and financially very difficult here in Beirut. But we have to rebuild, and will,” said this proud Lebanese.
Like many international designers, Saab is doubtful he will bring his ready-to-wear in October to the Paris season, where he traditionally shows.
“I miss Paris beaucoup. The heart hurts,” he sighed. “I wanted to come, but I prefer to do so in January. Due to this Delta variant, it could all become dangerous again quite quickly.”
Julie de Libran: Of godmothers and grandmothers
Nice to see a talented designer putting something back in. Case in point: Julie de Libran, the Godmother of Fashion Design at the Istituto Marangoni Paris fashion college.
Working with her students, De Libran upcycled and revamped several existing ideas and looks from her debut independent collection in a charming collection, displayed in the garden of her mid-century modern apartment in St. Germain.
As models paraded about Julie showed off a black crepe robe, a look culled from her debut collection that was reinvented with a layered collar, prepared in the college atelier by her students.
“I wanted the students to learn the discipline and beauty of working in haute couture. This season is about celebrating the savoir-faire that we have the great fortune to be able to work with here in Paris. That, and a transmission from my grandmother,” explained de Libran.
The experienced designer also ventured to north Paris and the city’s new Shangri La of couture specialists, 19M, where over a dozen craft companies owned by Chanel provide their expert skills to designers, both independents and from major global brands.
Like the beautiful lace silk lace from Julie’s granny’s wardrobe that was maintained in the pages of a newspaper from 1964. Which Julie recut, re-embellished and reinvented as a superb evening gown, with the handwork done in Paloma, the top notch 19M couture atelier. Or a rather fab beige silk tunic emblazoned with gold lace and sequins by another 19M marque, Maison Lesage.