The Sober Age of Couture

Christian Dior

With the Spring/Summer 2013 Haute Couture Fashion Week in Paris fresh in our minds, FAULT contemplates the new sober era of Paris couture.

Haute couture is fundamentally lavish and decadent by default. Catering to an audience for whom money is no object – a prerequisite in belonging to the notoriously exclusive club of couture clientele – luxury will always be a key part of its DNA. The recent seasons have, however, shown a fresh approach – the theatrics of yesteryear have been replaced by a simpler and more sober take on the subject. Paris is bursting with fresh ideas and nowhere else has the change been as obvious as in haute couture. As the 16 fashion houses took to the stage the trend towards new sobriety became clearer than ever.

Christian Dior
Giambattista Valli

It would be presumptuous to put all the ‘blame’ on just one man, but Raf Simons certainly has got something to do with it. Only presenting his second couture collection at Christian Dior this season, he has already demonstrated enormous talent and remarkable ability to learn new aesthetic languages and make them his own. Simons spent months studying his master Christian Dior, perhaps the most famous man of haute couture, and is now – respectfully – translating Dior’s vocabulary into a modern artistic expression. By reinventing the ‘New Look’ Simons put a fresh and relaxed spin on a-line skirts and cinched waists. Giambattista Valli also turned down the volume in his collection: while remaining loyal to his repertoire of opulent proportions and flower blossoms, he ditched his usual loud colour pallet for a less vocal combination of blacks and whites, creams and toned down pinks and yellows. It was still Valli at his best, but lighter and easier to digest.

Elie Saab

The house of Valentino at the hands of Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli has been promoting the new simplicity for seasons. Borrowing from the fashion repertoire of forest fairies, the ethereal beauties of pre-Raphaelite paintings and the golden age of couture, they re-imagined not just couture but Valentino’s own heritage. The mandatory red popped up in the shape of flirty strapless dresses that would have made Grace Kelly jump with joy. The go-to designer for the red carpet stylists, Elie Saab, masterfully covered up his glamour puss in long-sleeved grownup gowns and stuck to sober pastels without making discounts on his signature style of heavy beading and luxurious embroidery.


While Dior, Valli and Valentino paid tribute to the golden age of couture, Karl at Chanel remained true to his usual habit of plagiarising himself. While we may be accustomed to Lagerfeld re-heating the same soup over and over again it was refreshing to see him try to adopt the same rhythm as the younger designers. The Chanel girl of the season is lovely – she covers up and she keeps her cool. She is grown up and sophisticated, even in the feathery fairy dresses (do we see a trend here?) of the finale set. Karl perhaps made the biggest statement of the season by sending out not one, but two brides in the finale, clearly expressing his views on same sex marriage.


Even Donatella at Atelier Versace chose a more sober approach by experimenting with pinstripe suits (!). Naturally it was all gold embellished and provocatively over-decorated, but what would Versace be without being too much? Pants and pantsuits (with little less embellishment, naturally) were also seen at Armani Privé and Alexis Mabille, opening the door to a whole new set of ideas.

Armani Privé
Alexis Mabille

There are many reasons why couturiers are exploring their more sober and sophisticated heritage. Undoubtedly John Galliano’s unceremonious dismissal from Dior in 2011 and Raf Simons’s subsequent appointment as the new Creative Director influenced the new aesthetic, as did the bankruptcy of Christian Lacroix in 2009. Both men were known as the pioneers of exuberant decadence, their catwalks often resembling the opera stage. Galliano’s dismissal marked the end of an era making way to new creativity. It may also have something to do with the inclusion of avant-garde fashion house Maison Martin Margiela to the couture schedule and it most definitely has a lot to do with the economic downturn of recent years. The younger designers in Paris have steered the ship to calmer seas – the future of Paris couture is respectful, both towards the female body and its own heritage.

Words: Katlin Siil