It’s too often said that haute couture is a dying art. With few designers on the couture calendar, it’s no wonder that so many in the fashion stratosphere join in on the cliché bandwagon of dubbing couture irrelevant. The new focus is instead on gratifying the salability factor of prêt-a-porter and the accessory of the moment, an entry-level way for anyone to partake in the fashion conversation.
Fashion folk have instead placed relevancy on what happens in the streets, generally outside a fashion show. In 2014, much doesn’t seem entirely relevant about the enormous evening dresses and towering stilettos so commonly associated with couture. That’s not to say that those things don’t have their place, but the focus is now on the streets, not the ballroom. The fête of today happens where the aforementioned accessories and prêt-a-porter are greeted by an onslaught of street style photographers and fanatics, desperately trying to have their “personal style” immortalized by photographers like the indigenous Scott Schuman from The Sartorialist and Tommy Ton of Style.com.
It’s also no wonder that the few designers practicing couture are feeling the push of a relatively new movement: designer sneakers. It must have started when someone decided to wear a colorful pair of New Balance sneakers (the current sneaker du jour) with their cropped suit to a show, because for the last 3 years, street style photographers have captured some of the most important faces in fashion donning the most ostentatious sneakers available.
And the proof is most certainly in the pudding: Karl Lagerfeld for Hogan, Raf Simons and Rick Owens respective collaborations with Adidas, Riccardo Tisci’s upcoming excursion with Nike, and my personal favorite, Phoebe Philo for Celine’s knockoff of the classic skate slip on sneaker from Vans, perfectly illustrate the urge for the designer sneaker. It’s very literally convenience couture.
But perhaps it’s not what the sneaker is, but what it represents: youthfulness, agility, and relaxation. Youthfulness in the rebirth of couture, agility in the casual approach taken to such an old art, and relaxation in regard to the mood designers Raf Simons of Dior and Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel established at their couture presentations for the Spring/Summer 2014 season.
Simons yet again exercised his ability to make couture youthful, while still retaining the expertise and maturity that is needed as a couturier. The key here wasn’t so much the construction, but the discussion about lightness and fabric innovation, usually resulting in dresses slashed or cut open. Worn with a couture-sneaker hybrid, they hung loosely off the body and closely resembled lattice, even when layered with additional fabric underneath. Even the sleeves of jackets seemed to employee a wider, bell-shaped silhouette that somehow seemed less restrictive than prior seasons.
At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld left history firmly planted in the past and like the house’s founder, stripped away all excess: no jewelry, no hats and no overt or complicated silhouettes. But it wasn’t all in homage to the heritage of Chanel, and that’s what felt modern about it. Most obvious was the fact that this season, Dior and Chanel switched places, but maintained striking sensibilities through the footwear they employed. The corsetry that Coco cast off almost a century ago for ease and movement seemed to be replaced this season by the rigorous underpinnings of Dior’s strictly corseted garments, yet at Dior, fluidity and freedom ruled supreme. The silhouette at Chanel was simple and fresh: three pieces, a cropped top, corset, and skirt, generally in an array of pastels, and worn with a matching sneaker. The models echoed that sensibility as well: fresh-faced, skipping, and running down glistening stairs with an uncanny resemblance to that of 31 rue Cambon, smiling at the audience.
While the clothing was great, the real focus at these two shows was the sneaker. It was a relief (for the models, too) to see something as old as couture take a nod from the streets, and for lack of a better term, “ease up a bit.” The price tags certainly won’t be obtainable for most, but the inclusion of sneakers made it seem so much more possible, and that may just be the best idea yet.