There are Haute Couture Fashion Collections and then…There is Azzedine Alaïa

Toni Garrn in Azzedine Alaïa Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2011-12 © A. Alaïa

My expectations for the last Haute Couture Fashion Week shown in Paris at the beginning of July, was not of the kind that I thought would leave a lasting impression. The Fashion Designers Showing in the Official Haute Couture schedule is shrinking from one season to the next. I would love to see a revamping of the Couture Fashion Weeks in Paris. Luckily, there were some rays of light coming through the heavy cast of clouds to brighten up my day and the confirmation of a heavy trend: the arrival of the coat-dress for the winter season.

The Good News…

Giambattista Valli presented his first Couture Collection in Paris. It is always good news to see a new comer in the Haute Couture official Schedule reinforcing the statement that Couture has a raison d’être (reason to exist). The collection is quite complete from day wear with the coat-dress, the must of the season, cocktail dresses and evening gowns. The Giambasttista Valli clients are with no doubt feminin and chic, bringing a bit of a 60’s retro feel with beige, coral, animal-printed mousselines, beige ostrich-feathers and red dresses with Valentino influences.

Giambattista Valli Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © Yannis Vlamos –

Iris van Herpen was invited to present a retrospective of her poetic experimental work from her “Crystallization Collection”. She worked around a concept of the transformation of liquid into crystals. The volumes and materials are more about art performances and sculptures than wearable outfits like a skeleton dress to a water spray mini-dress. Her work is very organically inspired and reminds me of Alexander McQueen or Hussein Chalayan’s most conceptual work. I see a great potential in this young fashion designer, but would like to see how she transcribes her research into commercially viable clothing.

Iris Van Herpen Couture Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © VOGUE Paris
Iris Van Herpen Couture Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © VOGUE Paris

Giorgio Armani revealed a perfect contemporary elegant and emotional charged collection for Armani Privé implementing a Japanese inspired umbrella theme. Cherry blossoms on pastel prints underlined with black origami fold, Kimono lines and obilike belts. The structure of the silhouettes are elongated with an accentuation of a defined waist line and some asymmetry. The rigidity of an obi belt or a front piece is balanced with the softness and the fluidity of the skirt. This collection is by far my favorite from the recent collections by Giorgio Armani.

Armani Privé Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © Yannis Vlamos –

Giovanni Bedin, Creative Director for House of Worth is reviving the first Haute Couture House ever, founded in 1858 by Charles Frederick Worth, and relaunched by fashion entrepreneurs Dilesh Mehta of Shaneel Enterprises and Martin McCarthy. Bedin, who graduated of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, and previously worked with Karl Lagerfeld and Thierry Mugler, is firmly attached to the origin of the Fashion House “It’s a modern and contemporary collection with the right references to the house’s past – it’s a good way to show the future of the house”. With a luxurious choice of fabrics, sumptuous trimmings and attention to detail couture, Giovanni Bedin showed 8 pieces of highly-worked corsets with short crinoline attached. He called his new collection ”A Gilded Cage” to referr to the woman’s position in 1800’s high society.

House of Worth by Giovanni Bedin Fall-Winter 2011-2012 © VOGUE UK

Alexandre Vauthier showed off rich reds in a variety of geometric forms, mixing triangulated inverted structures juxtaposed with rectilinear counterpoints. Soft flowing fabric sprouting out of more rigid squared and rectilinear housings. A very innovative collection with a wonderful mix of fabrics that marry nicely with a great sense of balance with panache. An homage to the “Rouge Baiser” illustrator, René Gruau and master of Red, Couturier Valentino.

Alexandre Vauthier Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2011-2012 © Alexandre Vauthier

Azzedine Alaïa and the return of “The  Body-Consciousness Master”… This news alone was worth attending the Paris Haute Couture

Azzedine Alaïa Couture Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © A. Alaïa

No artificiality with Azzedine Alaïa, back to the basics where the clothing is the central point rather than the staging of a show. Azzedine presented a complete collection with the master piece of the season the coat-dress, the latticework cocktail dresses, the short full skirt and zipped pencil skirt, playing with his favorite materials from suede, knit, velvet, fur and crocodile-stamped leather. His fantastic knitwear shines again with black and beige flamenco like evening dresses revealing the body at the hips and ending up with tiers of ruffles: a perfect feminin, elegant, sharply cut and wearable collection in rich and muted green, eggplant, burgundy and beige to illuminate the profound predominant blacks. A perfect palette for the  fall season. Like in the 90’s the Top Models present in Paris for Couture Fashion Week did not want to miss this opportunity. The Walking Queen Karlie Kloss opened the show followed by Karmen Pedaru, Daria Strokous, Sigrid Agren, Ginta Lapina, Hailey Clauson, Sasha Pivovarova, Arizona Muse, Nimue Smit, Kinga Rajzak, Siri Tollerød, Yulia Kharlapanova, Alla Kostromichova, Alana Zimmer… and ending with Toni Garrn.

Azzedine Alaïa Couture Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © A. Alaïa

A Talent Without Compromise

Azzedine Alaïa71, is back after an absence of 8 years from Parisien fashion weeks.

Azzedine Alaïa posing with Stephanie Seymour for Flaunt © Gilles Bensimon

Born in Tunisia, his carrier started in the late 50’s in Paris where he worked at Christian Dior, Rochas, Guy Laroche, Thierry Mugler and shoe maker Charles Jourdan. Known for his close relationship with clients like Greta Garbo, Louise de Villmorin, Cécile de Rothschild, Claudette Colbert and Arletty for whom he designed the black zipped dress. Azzedine gradually learned from his clients how the clothing should articulate the feminin body and translate in to the now distinctive Alaïa look. In 1981, Azzedine Alaïa launched his brand and established his signature with the full skirt, the stretch mini-skirt, the zipped black dress, the knits, the crocodile leather patent… He was quickly adopted by celebrities and artists like Tina Turner, Madonna and the Super Models from the 80’s and 90’s who accepted to work for him for  free. Super Model, Naomi Campbell became one of his protégées at the age of 16 when she stayed in Paris and still revers him as a Father figure.

In 2000, Prada group bought out his brand. 7 years later, Azzedine bought all of his assets back from the Prada group and expanded his design studio with financing from Richemont Group.

Alaïa is a rare specie in the fashion industry who prefers the recognition of his loyal cliental, rather than the limelight. He recently turned down the Bernard Arnault’s proposal to replace John Galliano at Christian Dior considering that the rythme imposed to a Fashion Designer is not humane and goes against the natural creative process. The growth of his business has not been as fast as many would expect as some of his contemporaries like Karl Lagerfeld, who he openly criticized in a recent interview for Virgine Mag.

“I don’t like his fashion, his spirit, his attitude. It’s too much caricature. Karl Lagerfeld never touched a pair of scissors in his life. That doesn’t mean that he’s not great, but he’s part of another system. He has capacity. One day he does photography, the next he does advertisements for Coca-Cola. I would rather die than see my face in a car advertisement. We don’t do the same work. And I think that he is not doing a favor to young stylists who might think it works that way. They’re going to fall before they retire.” Azzedine Alaïa

Alaïa’s freedom of expression is a rare luxury in a non forgiving industry. Azzedine has nothing to prove and does not need anyone to confirm his success. He does not fear anyone neither. Here is what he said about Anna Wintour from American VOGUE, the most feared woman who can make or break a career with a snap of her finger.

“I said it before. She runs the business (Vogue) very well, but not the fashion part. When I see how she is dressed, I don’t believe in her tastes one second. I can say it loudly! She hasn’t photographed my work in years even if I am a best seller in the U.S. and I have 140 square meters at Barneys. American women love me; I don’t need her support at all. Anna Wintour doesn’t deal with pictures; she is just doing PR and business, and she scares everybody. But when she sees me, she is the scared one. [Laughs.] Other people think like me, but don’t say it because they are afraid that Vogue won’t photograph them. Anyway, who will remember Anna Wintour in the history of fashion? No one. Take Diana Vreeland, she is remembered because she was so chic. What she did with the magazine was great, with Avedon and all the great photographers. Vogue remains while its fashion editors come and go.” Azzedine Alaïa

Why would he anyways? When you have the loyalty of the clients and fashion ambassadors like First Lady Michelle Obama.According to French writter François-René de Chateaubriand “La Vieillesse est un Naufrage…” “Old age is a shipwreck”. Not quite for Alaïa, getting older offeres an extraordinary freedom of expression.

First Lady Michelle Obama wearing Azzedine Alaïa © D.R. & Chris Jackson – Getty Image

And Some Special Spices  from Christan Dior to Elie Saab…

Since the brutal departure of John Galliano, the Artistic Direction position for Christian Dior is temporarily occupied by his long time right hand at Dior: Bill Gaytten. Despite some rumors about potential replacements being considered names like Riccardo Tisci, Haider Hackermann, Alber Elbaz, Heidi Slimane, Rodarte and Azzedine Alaïa are being bandied about. However, the position is still officially vacant as Bernard Arnault and Sidney Toledano have wisely decided to take their time to find that rare talent required to fill the void left by Galliano’s departure. Under the present circumstances, it is impossible for a Designer to give a clear lasting vision and create a coherent Couture Collection until a concrete decision has been made as to who will be the captain at the helm. As a result, we witnessed a collection that resembled an homage with references to John Galliano from his geometrical architecture to Disco Queen collections, crescendoing with Karlie Kloss dressed as a Pierrot…

Christian Dior Haute Couture – Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © Yannis Vlamos –

The richly abundant Chanel Collection (69 looks) highlighted a retro look with peplum jackets over pencil skirts and very classic tweed suits with short enough skirts and long enough boots to occasionally highlight the knee; a detail that goes against Coco Chanel’s conviction in covering the knees as she found them espacially unappealing. Lagerfeld seems to have used some references from the Paul Poiret era with long tube “lamp shade” evening dresses as a perfect example. This is a rather curious reference, when we know that Poiret was Gabrielle Chanels’ biggest competition when she launched her own business and rapidly pushed him “Out of Fashion”.

Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © Yannis Vlamos –

Although there were some wonderful pieces, we have seen more upscale original and innovative Jean Paul Gaultier Couture shows. This season was more of a retrospective of all of his favorite dress codes put together (masculine-feminine – corset – dandysm – Breton shirt – men skirt – trench coat) with ballet dance as an overlying theme featuring some of the famous faces associated with his Fashion House from the 1990’s: Quebecois shaved and tattooed headed model Ève Salvail and long time male friend and model Tanel.

Gaultier Paris Couture Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © Yannis Vlamos –

It has already been 3 seasons that Riccardo Tisci has explored the 10 variations of  Off-White and Champagne tonalities with long dresses for Givenchy Haute Couture. After a Samouraï inspired last season, Riccardo chose to explore the “Albino Angels” with an exhibition on Stockman of 10 magnificent silhouettes mixing embroideries, lace, tulle, fringe, pearls and feathers craft techniques. Despite the beauty of the 10 dresses, the systematically small evening Couture Collections is becoming somewhat frustrating for established Couture House Givenchy who had a long time Day Wear tradition. Haute Couture is as much about Day Wear as Evening Gowns, the two are complementary, do not use the same techniques and would balance the collection.

Givenchy Couture by Riccardo Tisci Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © Givenchy

Like the brush that paints thick and thin Indian Ink strokes, Stéphane Rolland draws an endless, elegantly rendered Carmen dell’Orefice silhouette. Highly influenced by architecture, Stéphane Rolland defines clothing structure that is with appliqué scrolls. Unfortunately, rather than complementing the structured lines of the collection, the hair and make-up challenged the silhouette with heavy smoky eyes, deep purple almost black lips and forehead hair structure.

Stéphane Rolland Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © D.R.

Valentino by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli brought us back to the Roumanoff family in the Russia of a century ago. The Russian Aristocratic overtones  were suggested and instilled with a 1960’s feel. The coat-dress was a dominent theme with elegant light cocktail dresses were followed by pure beige sheaths that the duo have shared with us over several seasons. The references to the red dresses from Emperor Valentino were not missing neither.

Valentino Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © Yannis Vlamos –

Elie Saab is sticking to the Cocktail and Red Carpet extravaganzas, with an expected coherent collection where one dress are variations of themes of the precedent collections. This is a good thing for clients wishing the classic chic and glamorous Red Carpet gown emphasizing feminine curves.

Elie Saab Couture -Fall-Winter 2011/2012 © Yannis Vlamos –
About Frederique Renaut
Born in Paris, France, Fashion & Beauty Director for Frédérique Renaut wears 2 hats: 1/ Consultant in Communication for the Luxury Industry specialized in International Communication, Media & Advertising, 2/ Creative Direction, Video Direction for Fashion and Beauty shoots for publications like VOGUE & Harper's BAZAAR. She has also worked as an International Executive Manager for major cosmetics brands (Jean-Paul Gaultier, Issey Miyake and Narciso Rodriguez fragrances) and Couture Houses (Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Féraud & Givenchy by Alexander McQueen).