Ralph Rucci

Good question… This most recent round of Couture presentations for
Fall 2014 further defined the new as well as begged the same nagging
question, “What constitutes Haute Couture?” It should be more than the
sticker price. If you read the reviews of the collections on Style.com
or in the New York Times you might think that there exists a collective
brilliance that centers in and around Paris’ Grand Palais. Names such as
Chanel, Armani Prive’, Versace, Givenchy and Valentino represent the
21st Century concept of Haute Couture, or they certainly used to. One
must be vetted by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture to be
accepted and invited to show. One must have a certain number of models
(styles), the models must be made predominantly by hand, a minimum of
Premieres d’Ateliers and Petit Mains working under them (the
seamstresses and tailors) in order to technically apply. The larger
question is a creative one but that’s purely subjective though the
Chambre Syndicale… is designed as an objective body of what at least used to be of the most stringent and high standards. All of these
conditions as it were are neither here nor there when looking at an
actual Haute Couture collection. Just for the record, I apprenticed at Givenchy Paris when Monsieur Givenchy was  at the wheel. While there, I sat as an apprentice assistant and watched 2 Haute Couture collections and 2 Pret a Porter collections conceived and created.

The price of fabrics,
embroideries and woman/man hours, not to mention the multiple fittings
that are included make this the Grand Daddy of dress shopping. The
luxury of clothing made specifically to fit, flatter, hide, transform
and enhance a woman’s body is, I guess, something so astoundingly
satisfying that women who can shop the Couture, do and those who can’t,
dream. None of that is at issue here. What stymies me are the motley
crew of collections trotted down the runway that look neither
particularly astounding, trans formative, satisfying and least of all
“Haute”. To read it in the press one might think the price tag was all
that mattered. There was no criticism per se, just a droning dialogue on
the beauty and sociological implications of clothes almost completely
devoid of context or message.

Christian Dior

At Dior, Raf Simons’
re imagined Marie Antoinette was yet another trudge down a chic cul de
sac. With his Resort collection I started to change my mind about him
and the validity of his message. His recipe for modernity left me
starving in the beginning and only began to tempt me with little bonbons
that started to become cupcakes if not full on cakes with lavish
decoration. Fall and Resort gave me a jolt like the best of his last
work at Jil Sander. The double dresses that laced and played color
contrasting duets in a single piece pointed to a path out of the thicket
he’s busily created since taking charge of the house. To my dismay, the
collection shown a couple of weeks ago was so silly in proportion,
detail, and (tired) concept that my eyes glazed over after the 10th
exit. His explanation of drawing from the past to create a language that
is new and modern was little excuse for these sad sack dresses. Over
lunch with a great friend we got down to the nitty gritty of the discrepancies that pass undetected by “knowing” eyes. Poor construction, a paucity of creative curiosity and the fact that ultimately this demi-couture may very well become just good enough for a public no longer even aware of what this highest form of craft used to mean. I was
distracted by the shape of the skirts that suggested panniers but
without the structure underneath to hold them up and out. Beyond that
there was the question of proportion that was exaggerated beyond reason
as the shirts shot out in some cases well below the low hip and then
stopping at the shin. Very bottom heavy milkmaids in dresses that read
more as upholstery than rich fabrics. Still it was passed off as a
deliberate manipulation but read to my eyes as just lazy, crazy chop shop
drag. There was more said on this and other subjects but that’s private.

Chanel                                                  Alexis Mabille

Chanel didn’t
fair that much better. Lagerfeld’s was a collection of tweedy ensembles
molded into rounded shapes like a series of ellipses. Coats over dresses
and suits were all rounded front, side and back, shoulders, sleeves,
you name it it was molded to a round plumpness that made the thinnest of
his models look short fat and dumpy. The strangeness of shapes
culminating in a series of stark white dresses at the shows end didn’t
suggest so much the future as it did an undecipherable present.
Lagerfeld can do no wrong and the press never came close to taking him
to task. Rarely, do they. It seems that everyone is so convinced of his
brilliance that they fear questioning his authority, much the same as
that of editors at most of the big mags. Think Anna Wintour and
extrapolate from there.

Armani Prive’

Armani Prive’ was just old. The
shapes, the tame jackets that were straight out of his archives from
20-30 years ago and splashy beaded numbers were saying not so much about
the future as they sat sleepily in the past. The sound was more the
sharp outtake of a yawn. There looked to be no future there, only a past
whispering its authority.

Alexis Mabille was just ugly.
This young man who looks like a student or some one’s kid has
consistently delivered stillborn collections for years now. Poorly
conceived, wretchedly executed and totally lacking in chic, his clothes
leave me annoyed. There is no mystery there. Enough.

Versace

Versace
is, well, Versace. Think of the girls who service oligarchs or Naomi
Campbell and you get the picture. Vulgar displays, the lead foot instead
of the soft touch, the obvious over the implied, blood and sweat
instead of ease and elegance and you get where I’m going with this…

Giambatista Valli

The
exceptions to this curious state of affairs would be someone like
Giambatista Valli. His collection that played a symphony of stripes in
black and white with his signature shots of yellow were a treat. It looked to me as though it were the collection that should have walked down the Dior runway. Valli is a clever iconoclast with marvelous technique that gets better with time but is
it Haute Couture?

Ralph Rucci, the American Couturier based here will never lower his standards which are
some of the most staggeringly high in existence. He shames
the “competition” just by his mere existence.
Valentino is another that shames the competition. The work coming from
the team of Pierpaulo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri is exceptional in
so many ways, but they are worthy of their own story as they showed us
again what the Couture can and should mean for today and the future.
Just look closely. You can’t miss it.

Ralph Rucci