It’s the couture shows that tend to produce the most beautiful, transportive photos—both on and off the runway. These backstage photos offer a rare insider perspective. From the fantastical hair and makeup to last-minute styling tweaks and zoomed-in details. Enjoy!


Christian Dior

Oddly enough, though pretty and cute, it wasn’t the glittery, fragile fantasia of girls in tiny playsuits and body stockings that stood out, nor the on-brand assortment of semitransparent caged crinoline gowns. The stars of this show were the female ringmasters: everything Chiuri had developed in black and white, from greatcoats and cutaway tailcoats, to the details of band-boy frogging, right through to a wholly tailored ivory satin three-piece suit.

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Armani Privé

The collection was rooted in Art Deco, and more specifically, the craftsmanship of red lacquer, thus offering beautifully ornamental, albeit slightly time-worn, design possibilities. Sprays of tulle studded with crystals, geometric incrustations, bows, staggered fringes, feathered volumes, velvet point d’esprit, and 3-D jacquards enhanced silhouettes that spanned cocktail attire to red carpet.
With influences that spanned Asian to Op Art, and, of course, Deco, this was an ambitious, daresay overwhelming, display in the full Armani Privé spirit.

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GIVENCHY

Waight Keller will refer to clothing construction as architecture, yet within the same breath she mentions the pursuit of absolute lightness. While this duality represents the essence of haute couture—tailleur and flou—she seems intent on considering a more hybrid approach: a Swiss guipure dress that appeared sculpted, or skirts that were flawlessly contoured before giving way to a cloud of sheer organza. From the sexy racerback of a dress shooting down between the shoulders to the glistening red embroideries shooting through the pleats of a skirt, Waight Keller was working through experiments of form and technique.

“I tried to take the most modern approach possible with everything,” said Clare Waight Keller following her third haute couture collection for Givenchy.

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VALENTINO

The collection was indeed transportingly beautiful, a triumph of audacious color, flawless workmanship, and bravura statements for night leavened with glamorous and insouciant real-life propositions for day.

“You don’t invent color,” said Piccioli, “but you can invent new harmonies for color.”

Seven hundred hours of handwork, meanwhile, went into a floral-print dress with insertions of metallic lace, creating a subtle patchwork. And the narrow organza ruffles on a gown of pale organza and lace—each one rolled and finished by hand with stitches so small and invisible that they can barely be detected by the human eye—contributed to the 1,050 hours of work on the dress. This is what haute couture means; even the handcrafted hosiery was fashioned from collages of couture lace.

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Ronald van der Kemp

For his fourth show, Van der Kemp wisely ditched the camp performance aspect that had started to feel like a detriment when overlaid atop the dramatic ’80s referencing that he favors in all forms. Here, he seemed to be thinking in timeless terms: the opening Grecian gown, for example. And though color-blocked tracksuit, porter uniform, and Barbie-inspired dress still conjured stylistic archetypes, several looks possessed their own inherent elegance and arty character. It’s worth reminding that because Van der Kemp’s creations are determined by his supply, deadstock suddenly becomes ultra-desirable—see the unisex tracksuit, slick bomber, and sneakers made with stock from Amsterdam sneaker brand Filling Pieces. To him, the industry’s excess is an opportunity to express his creativity.

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Chanel

Lagerfeld summoned the amazing skills of the French couture suppliers to evoke those flowers in feathers and hand-painted sequins, even using dried flowers dipped in resin, that were embroidered or applied to materials running the gamut from airy organza, chiffon, and lace, to gleaming leather and the house’s signature handwoven tweeds. In other examples of tour de force workmanship, lace was hand-painted or iced with silicone whorls to suggest blue or pink and white china; tulle was shredded into strips so fine that it suggested a cloud of swansdown trim at the cuff and hem of a suit ensemble or was plaited and sewn into dense grids over a base of filmy lace to create the illusion of plaid when seen from afar. Evoking the delicacy of the pieces that Lagerfeld created for Chloé in the 1970s were dresses composed of tiers of finely pleated silk chiffon, each layer with a slightly wider gauge of pleat toward the hem—a subtlety only noticeable up close.

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The lean tailoring, meanwhile, focused on a firm, angled shoulder line to the jackets and pencil-slim skirts that sometimes exploded into kick pleats at the calf. That narrow silhouette was occasionally broken with a flurry of asymmetric ruffles, or loops of fabric (or even ostrich feather fronds) draped into panniers to suggest an 18th-century silhouette. This being the haute couture, some of those loops were lined with solid crusts of embroidery, an extravagance only partially revealed in movement. Haute Couture Spring 2019 26


Giambattista Valli

Classic haute couture tropes were given a streamlined sensuality and an attitude of confidence and sumptuous ease that had a fresh appeal. It was particularly in evidence in the collection’s first part, where dresses were kept short and tight, embellishments and embroideries were lavished with a controlled hand, and volumes looked fabulous, as in a black silk faille pouf cape worn over a draped mousseline minidress. In a positive-negative effect, a black velvet shirt tunic had billowy pouf sleeves in white silk faille. It had allure in spades, also effortlessly exuded elsewhere in a series of tight cocktail dresses, densely embroidered with a night lily motif.

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