Paris Couture: Fall/Winter 2012

– By Leena Sanzgiri –

“I think couture is very much about curating something unique for women. Fashion is so mass-produced now; I hope there will come a refocus on how people see couture. And I would also hope for a new focus on the craft.” Exhilarated following a thrillingly explosive debut for Dior haute couture, Raf Simons thus wisely pinpointed the current shifting paradigm of couture that reverberated throughout the Fall/Winter 2012 collections shown the first week of July in Paris. If anything bridged a common link among the varying triumphs of each couture house, it was this palpable sense of reinvigorated modernity that made for an incredibly exciting week. Fashion has happily been maintaining that momentous sentiment for the past several seasons of ready-to-wear, but it was refreshing to have it appear so obviously during the often entrenched-in-tradition couture week. Karl Lagerfeld called it “New Vintage,” the concept of creating couture ensembles that have the timeless appeal to be reminiscent of the past, innovative in the now, and relevant for decades to come.

 The Newcomers: Maison Martin Margela’s avant-garde silhouettes (left), and retro femininity at Ulyna Sergeenko (right).

That spirit of the new penetrated the week’s collections in several forms, perhaps none so obviously as with the debuts of two design labels on the couture scene. Maison Martin Margiela showcased its first couture collection with fifteen looks that, true to the house’s trademarks, created avant-garde silhouettes by sourcing textiles from vintage fabrics and objects. Ulyana Sergeenko channeled the whimsical, retro femininity that has made her a street style star to unveil a deeply luxurious collection of finely cut military coats, fur-lined sweeping skirts, and quilted detailing.

Raf Simons’ debut couture collection for Christian Dior: a nod to the classic Dior “New Look” era in a houndstooth pencil skirt and beaded orange bustier (left), and a maroon, rust, and green printed maxi sheath (right) 

Additionally, the aforementioned debut of Simons’ first couture collection for Dior kept audience members abuzz with praise for the remainder of the week. Simons’ work proficiently demonstrated the more nuanced “newness” of this season; instead of relaying elaborate contextual fairy tales to establish cohesion within the collections (as is often the case with couture), the most talented design teams intelligently worked to let the clothes convey those connections on their own. For Simons, this resulted in updating references to the classic Dior New Look era with impressively crafted, yet contemporarily unfussy ensembles. Examples included a classic 1940s’ ball gown redone in acid yellow silk organza, a printed maxi sheath in dark hues of maroon, rust, and green, and a perfectly tailored houndstooth pencil skirt paired with a metallic belt and beaded orange bustier.

Head-to-toe leather fringing at Givenchy (left), and clean leather cuts at Bouchra Jarrar (right).

These standout debuts furthermore embodied the biggest highlight of this couture season—textiles. Fabric is having its moment in fashion; Proenza Schouler and Marc Jacobs made this abundantly clear with their FW 2012 ready-to-wear collections, seamlessly bringing together knits, leathers, and brocades. While textiles are always a standout during couture week because of how painstakingly they are hand-sewn, this season they were truly remarkable for the sheer variation we saw throughout the week. At Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci fringed leather from top to bottom with elaborately embroidered, floor-length capes, and these were shown alongside velvet-bodiced nude gowns and mosaic knits. Bouchra Jarrar, on the other hand, used clean leather lines on top to highlight magnificently tailored peplum accents over gabardine trousers and precisely cut, flowing silk skirts.

Metallic showings in a trimmed tuxedo at Gaultier (left), and Lagerfeld does trailing tulle for cap sleeves at Chanel (right).

Metallics made their mark at Gaultier: silver and bronze geometric print gowns were paired with colored, beaded fur, and Karlie Kloss removed a heavily embossed lamé cape to reveal a sultry gold jumpsuit with expertly stitched patterns. Karl Lagerfeld worked more subtly with metallics, spinning silver threads into tights, cuffed silk sleeves, and the trademark black, grey, and pink Chanel tweeds. His more spectacular move came with metallic beading that adorned the prettiest pastel cocktail dress with ingeniously pleated, trailing tulle for cap sleeves.

Rich, deep colors reigned supreme at Valentino (left), and Elie Saab's intricate Chantilly lace and gold-leafing are red-carpet worthy (right).


The “pretty” fabric factor was, not surprisingly, the reigning staple at both Valentino and Elie Saab. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli made a bold move away from the typical Valentino-red color choice with a collection that celebrated deep blues and navy, masterfully working sheer silk chiffon into sharp pleats and tufting, velvet into brocaded jackets, and angelic lace into a series of florals. Saab too used the most intricate Chantilly lace to introduce his own floral story, but beading and gold-leafing were his go-to techniques to embellish heavier silk and georgette gowns that will surely be seen on the red carpet come fall.

There is often talk that couture is a dying cause, too expensive a form of artistry for luxury houses to maintain in the long run. This may be the catalyst for the movement by couturiers to make smaller collections with sharper attention paid to the reinvention of modern fabrics and how they can—and should—be combined. The traditional link between couture and fairy tale that largely overemphasizes the spectacle of the show is becoming dépassé; in its wake have emerged the clothes that posses the textile craftsmanship to exude irrepressible fantasy in and of themselves. Certainly reason enough to live happily ever after.

Leena Sanzgiri is a Manhattan-based management consultant from Dubai, where she grew up loving fashion, art, music, and theater. She strives to balance writing, traveling, cooking, painting, socializing, and hunting for vintage finds with watching abnormal amounts of reality television. Stay tuned for her forthcoming personal blog and for more posts on, or follow her on Twitter: @leenasanzgiri

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