Kendall Jenner in Spring Couture

Kendall Jenner in Spring Couture

Karl Lagerfeld and Amanda Harlech draw inspiration from classical Chinese watercolors, conjuring a languid masterwork with muse Kendall Jenner while Andrew Bolton and Derek Blasberg reflect upon the artistry of couture's history

Karl Lagerfeld and Amanda Harlech draw inspiration from classical Chinese watercolors, conjuring a languid masterwork with muse Kendall Jenner while Andrew Bolton and Derek Blasberg reflect upon the artistry of couture's history

Photography: Karl Lagerfeld

Styling: Amanda Harlech

Text: Derek Blasberg

“Couture is still the pinnacle of the fashion hierarchy.” So declares Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York. His newest exhibition, “Manus x Machina,” takes an interesting vantage point on haute couture by questioning how technology has changed the way high fashion gets made. As the world gets smaller and smaller—and as fashion gets faster and faster—Bolton stops to think about what some of the most intricate fashion processes in the world mean today. Editor’s note: just after discussing a fusion of couture and prêt-à-porter, Hedi Slimane showed an entirely haute couture Saint Laurent collection during Paris ready-to-wear week. Coincidence?

DEREK BLASBERG I’ll start with the question everyone asks: is the haute couture relevant in modern times? 

ANDREW BOLTON Absolutely. The couture is more relevant than it’s ever been because now it’s the integration of the handmade and technology. People want things that are original and different more than at any other time—articles of clothing that have a distinct fingerprint of the designer. And particularly in the face of fast fashion, it seems especially special.

DB Is it a dying art?

AB I’ll answer that with a question of my own: have you been to the Valentino atelier in Rome? They actually have a school of couture, where young kids come and learn about couture. They have that personal connection with it—the dialogue, the day-to-day access. It’s not a new art form, but what they’re doing is modern. It’s like what Karl Lagerfeld does in his leatherwork and embroidery: he makes it look entirely contemporary.

DB I saw you at the couture shows. Did anything strike you this season?

AB What I think is most interesting is how the gap between the couture and the ready-to-wear is diminishing. It really struck me when I saw Valentino. The craftsmanship of the ready-to-wear is almost at the level of couture. So the main distinction left in the world of couture is the fit, the idea that it’s fitted for one person and the owner is the single model.

DB What about the role of the designer at these couture houses? 

AB There’s something so magical about what Karl does. Last season it was the 3-D printing, this season it was about using wood, and going back to the environment, and the use of natural materials. For clothes to be extraordinary – and that’s what couture is all about—it has to be a mixture of technicality, originality, and a strong concept. It starts with a strong vision, and it has to filter down from there.

DB So, do you think that some of the ready-to-wear designers could one day do couture?

AB Sarah Burton [at Alexander McQueen] is extraordinary. Gareth Pugh is extraordinary. Last season, Proenza Schouler had a dress that had 3,000 hand-embroidered paillette sequins that retailed for $40,000. This is something that I think could be interesting: the emergence of the demi-couture, which is what Pierre Cardin called it. I also wonder if one day the couture designers will start showing the two collections together.

DB And then it would be the end of couture fashion week in Paris, presumably.

AB Which would be a loss, of course. There’s absolutely a magic to the haute couture, even in something as basic as embellishment. Prêt-à-porter collections are often embroidered in India, but here in Paris you can see the handicraft yourself, and to have that personal connection to embroidery is something special. It’s extraordinary to watch as the garments create a personality. You see them come alive—there is a soul and a heart there. The seamstress is still so key to the haute couture: the personal connection, the intimacy, and the lightness, which you can only find at this level.

DB Manus x Machina,” on the other hand, looks at fashion in the age of technology. 

AB We are looking at the establishment of the haute couture in the 19th century and the distinction between hand and machine at the onset of mass production.

DB When most people hear about tech and fashion, they think of futuristic costumes and space suits. But that’s not what this show is about, is it? 

AB Well, it’s not about using tech for the sake of tech. We are looking at those designers—Karl, Sarah, Miuccia Prada, and so on—who have employed tech in tandem with traditional design. The hand is never absent from the machine, and vice versa. It’s very rare to have a piece that’s exclusively one or the other, so this is really about the duality of both.

DB So it’s not an exhibition on RoboCop?

AB No! I’ll give you another example from Proenza Schouler: we have a piece on which they used ultrasonic welding—laminating fabrics together by sound—which you’d only know when you get up close. The show is about the celebration of process and about asking people to slow down and appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into fashion.

DB As opposed to fast fashion.

AB To me, the most dystopian vision of the future is fast fashion. It destroys creativity. The idea of having fashion 24/7 is the death of fashion. I find the idea that that type of consumerism will win out over creativity to be simply depressing. It’s destructive to the designer because it doesn’t allow him or her to be creative or have a moment of reflection.

DB True fashion takes time.

AB And that’s what the couture is about. That’s some of the relevance Raf [Simons] brought to Dior when he was there. Last year, I was at Lincoln Center [in New York] and someone walked by in a Dior couture coat Raf had designed and I remarked on how well it fit. It wasn’t weird; it wasn’t peculiar. It was like what it would have been to see someone walk down the street wearing Balenciaga in the 1950s or ’60s. It was couture and it was part of a real woman’s wardrobe. I loved that.

CHANEL HAUTE COUTURE OVAL-SLEEVED TUNIC EMBROIDERED WITH FLORAL GARLANDS WORN OVER TULLE PENCIL SKIRT EMBROIDERED WITH FLOWERS SHOES (THROUGHOUT) CHANEL
Credits:

MAKEUP TOM PECHEUX (CALLISTE AGENCY)  HAIR SAM MCKNIGHT (PREMIER HAIR AND MAKE-UP)  MODEL KENDALL JENNER (THE SOCIETY)    IMAGE DIRECTION ERIC PFRUNDER AND KATHERINE MARRE  MANICURE MARIAN NEWMAN (STREETERS LONDON)   SET DESIGN ANDY TOMLINSON (STREETERS LONDON)  PHOTOGRAPHY CONTACTS OCÉANE SELLIER AND ALEXANDRA HYLÉN   PHOTO ASSISTANTS OLIVIER SAILLANT, BERNALD SOLLICH, FRÉDÉRIC DAVID, XAVIER ARIAS   STYLIST ASSISTANTS CHRIS SUTTON AND PIERRE-ALEXANDRE FILLAIRE   MAKEUP ASSISTANTS ANIA GRZESCZUK AND FLORENCE DEPESTELE   SET DESIGN ASSISTANTS JAMES ROBOTHAM AND SAM OVERS  RETOUCHING LUDOVIC D’HARDIVILLÉ  CATERING ELSA & JUSTIN

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