In the week leading up to the fall-winter haute couture shows in Paris, there was national unrest over a police killing of 17-year-old teenager Nahel Merzouk in a suburb of the city. People were protesting and getting arrested, stores were being looted and fires being started — how would the fashion industry respond?
Haute couture is the most elite level of fashion. The bespoke garments are handcrafted by highly skilled artisans in the finest fabrics for the 1%. It denotes style, class, money and most importantly, access. It’s one of the most visual markers of privilege and exclusivity in the world. However, Hedi Slimane canceled his Celine’s menswear show and afterparty scheduled on the day before couture’s official kick off. In an Instagram post on the designer’s personal account, he stated: “Having a fashion show in Paris, while France and its capital are bereaved and bruised, from my point of view alone, seems inconsiderate and totally out of place.” Balenciaga, Bulgari, Chloe and Courreges also canceled their parties in the context of current events.
The shows went ahead despite being at odds with what was happening outside of the couture bubble. Celebrities came out in full force to support the houses. Cardi B was spotted at several shows including Schiaparelli wearing a custom black velvet dress worn with a dramatic black coat and a pair of gold ear-shaped earrings. She was also seen at Thom Browne, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Fendi and at Gaurav Gupta where she arrived almost an hour late dazzling the crowd in a scintillating lime green dress and oversized puffer hood and sat beside Chinese star Fan Bingbing.
The Federation de la Haute Couture didn’t give any directive on how to respond to such extraordinary circumstances. As such, there wasn’t a collective decision within the industry on how to proceed appropriately. Brands showed their collections as planned and barely acknowledged the protests.
Perhaps the most anticipated show of the season was Thom Browe’s couture debut. The American designer’s distinct point of view fuses Americana with high romance, a bit of camp and a whole lot of precise, intricate tailoring. Each collection begins with the gray suit and for his first couture outing, Browne took the idea and owned it, sending 58 iterations down the runway, each more fantastical than the last.
“He’s so specific with his vision. You feel like you’ve stepped into this world and Thom is one of those people who gets excited about an idea and sees nothing else apart from it,” said hair stylist Eugene Souleiman, who created gravity-defying wigs for Browne’s show.
In keeping with Browe’s palette, the wigs were dyed gray. Some models wore abstract bobs with a section jutting out on one side “so the head’s elongated on one side,” Souleiman told CNN. Others had softer, more elaborate hair that gave nod to the 18th century style.
And to give it that Thom Browne twist, Souleiman put the wigs on slightly off-kilter so they look like they’re about to fall off.
In keeping with the asymmetric theme, makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench drew from the New Romantics. Bright shadows were spray painted across eyelids and finished with bold black lines above the brows and under the eyes. Top lips were colored in magenta or orangey-red.