I remember the first time Couture made me cry. I was laying on my couch watching Naomi Campbell close Valentino's Spring 2019 show in a beautiful black organza silk couture dress with the 'Flower Duet' echoing in the back. I was a stressed senior at Fordham University, heavily affected by the uncertainty of life after graduation. But, the sway of the oversized skirts, the regal air emitted by powerful women, and the grand mysticism of it all offered a sense of hope. It was a feeling that would not be felt again until this past Couture Spring/Summer 2021 season — a welcomed awakening after the past year.
When fashion historians look back at this time, they’ll notice the terms “WFH” and “loungewear” used over and over again to the point of exhaustion. They’ll notice how plain sweatshirts and softer fabrics made their way into vogue while gowns and taffeta collected dust. And, perhaps the most shocking of it all, I'll remember how uninspired I felt with this neutral-colored, cotton fleece trend.
Being a month shy of the one-year anniversary of the start of quarantine, loungewear and relaxed fits have been examined ad nauseum. The fantasy of fashion — all of its glamour, escapism, and sheer fabulousness — seemed lost and forgotten. That is, until this past week. Although the aforementioned attributions are not new (more of the blueprint), this season of couture felt different. I was struck with a sudden epiphany: Where has my love for extravagant dressing up gone? Through glittering embroidery, opulent beading, and detailed craftsmanship, fashion’s crème de la crème ushered in the same extraordinary energy that I felt two years ago. To me, it filled the absence of optimism the same way Christian Dior did after World War II, when women felt the weight of the troubling time associated with utilitarian ensembles. And, most importantly, served as a beacon of why so many of us fell in love with fashion in the first place.
At Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s arcane world of tarot was presented through high-waisted corseted bodices and brocade robes reminiscent of the European Renaissance era. Using wooden arches covered in flowers and wooden chairs for socially distanced guests, The Grand Palais turned into a makeshift summer garden where an invitation to an imagined family reunion was held out by Virginie Viard at Chanel. Kim Jones’s debut at Fendi couture was marked with a monumental '90s supermodel reunion featuring Kate Moss, Christy Turlington, and Naomi Campbell. Though not officially on the calendar, Area gave us nightlife glamour and brought us back to the nights with blurred eyes for their debut show during couture week. And, Valentino proved that everything that glitters is, in fact, gold. Each show felt not like a reminder of a far-away past, but a nod to a celebratory future.
Sustainable couturier, Didit Hedipresetyo, understands the enchantment of couture from first-hand experience. Unlike other divisions of fashion, couture's emphasis on artistry, storytelling, and handmade crafts is what makes the practice especially divine according to the designer. "What makes it different are the possibilities," Hedipresetyo tells TZR in an email. "The glimpses of both past nostalgic fantasies and hopeful aspirations of the future can be intertwined freely. That's the magic of couture."
This extravagance was a stark, glittering contrast to what many fashion consumers have been seeing for the past year. When the pandemic first hit the U.S. last March, clothing sales plummeted by a whopping 79 percent in the United States according to the New York Times. But, to no surprise, sales in sweatpants skyrocketed to more than 80 percent during the same period, according to the same study. The narrative of relaxed fits and loungewear being the only type of clothing needed during quarantine was splattered everywhere: on ads, on influencer pages, and even on the runway with luxury labels like Chanel and Max Mara embracing comfy pieces.
For many months, I refused to raise the white flag. In my pre-quarantine personal life, these soft-garments were usually reserved for physical activities: hiking through the Mojave or running down Riverside Park. Although there's no shame in choosing cozy apparel during a time when there's nowhere really to go, wearing what I'd usually wear outside of my normal life would only be a direct reminder of all the tribulations society has endured in the past year. Dressing cozy would be a token obviously opposing my life before covid (which I dearly miss), and a constant reminder of the echoing, harsh stillness of this time. It’s the simple act of putting on boots and wearing a crisp white collared-shirt under my favorite Marni sweater that keeps me feeling optimistic and healthy. Fashion is like painting, singing, or any other outlet of creativity — except you are the new canvas every day. Why, in a time when escape is more than needed, would I give that up? The simple acts of putting effort into dressing fulfill my need for creativity and normalcy.
Michelle Elie, fashion collector (most notably of Comme des Garcons) and jewelry designer, who is often photographed for her eye-catching ensembles, never gave in to the lazy dressing. “Life is too short to wear boring clothes!” she tells TZR over email. According to Elie, everything from dreaming of fun, extravagant clothing and recreating your own looks is a gateway to an escape during quarantine. "Dressing up is divine happiness. It's kept me alive and sane while reminding me that there is always an end to bad times."
Couture week was my fairy godmother — reminding me of the power of dressing up. Its otherworldly extravagance transported me into my wildest dreams during the time in a reality where it oftentimes seems hard to do so. First by turning my living room into ballrooms filled with clinking champagne flutes and tulle by Giambattista Valli. Then, by replacing sweatshirts with blazers with lifted pagoda shoulders at Armani Privé. Finally, defying reality with gravity-defying silhouettes at Iris Van Herpen. When sweatpants and hoodies reminded me daily of the pandemic-induced reality, Couture Week took me out of it like a lighthouse guiding the ship back to shore. Even if only for a moment.