Can’t Couture Just Be Fun?

Courtesy of the designers; Getty Images

style points

Style Points is a weekly column about how fashion intersects with the broader world.

Couture is planting its feet firmly prior to now. For just a few years, the medium has been advancing an argument for why it still is sensible within the 2020s; see: last season’s futuristic, sci-fi take and the prior season’s newcomer-filled schedule and playful offerings. But that mood has ceded to a fall 2022 season that riffs on the medium’s midcentury Funny Face heyday. Fashion is all the time going to reflect the times, and may’t exist outside them, as much as it’d wish to. But these collections looked as if it would contain nostalgia for a time before political statement-making was de rigueur on the runway. It was not escapism a lot as the concept that, sometimes, creating something beautiful can itself be political, a small act of resistance in an unpleasant world.

At Balenciaga, Demna (the designer is now going by his first name only) has nodded to the home’s past silhouettes and mores, like models carrying numbers denoting each look. Kim Kardashian pulled a Dovima in a fitted black gown and Nicole Kidman, Dua Lipa, and Hunter Schafer joined her in their very own retro runway stylings, ensuring headlines could be made. Nevertheless it wasn’t just big-name couture newcomers who made an appearance: Danielle Slavik, who was a house model for founder Cristóbal Balenciaga within the Sixties, returned to the catwalk, closing the loop between past and present. Still, this being Demna, there was an abundance of contemporary touches, too—most notably a Bluetooth sound-system bag made in collaboration with Bang & Olufsen and a couture face shield that gave the wearer the look of an eerie replicant.

a black feather gown from balenciaga fall 2022 couture

A glance from Balenciaga’s fall 2022 couture collection.

Courtesy of the designer.

Elsa Schiaparelli was a girl who considered the lobster—after which didn’t hesitate to place it on a gown. Her still-influential Surrealist vision—currently on display on the Musée des Arts Decoratifs’ show “Shocking!”—is alive and well in Daniel Roseberry’s clever reincarnation, which remixes her motifs along with his own. In truth, he titled this season’s collection “Born Again,” with Elsa-worthy riffs that included doves-as-epaulets, flowers erupting from a bodice, and “drawers,” complete with gilded pulls as a substitute of pockets. Even the looks that didn’t channel Surrealism felt like they were nods to a bygone time, like his Christian Lacroix-influenced ’80s ensembles or Mariacarla Boscono’s swirling, celadon-skirted gown and black choker worthy of a Sargent heroine.

black and celadon gown from schiaparelli fall 2022 couture

A fall 2022 Schiaparelli couture gown.

Giovanni Giannoni

In his show notes, Roseberry made an explicit argument in favor of fantasy in a world where fashion is now expected to have interaction with every current event. The directive that shows reflect the times is a mindset that has, he acknowledges, resulted in some “extraordinary work…. Nevertheless it’s also led to a sometimes dreary self-seriousness, one which foregrounds fashion with sloganeering,” he wrote. “The tougher path is remaining an engaged member of society while also, in a single’s work, daring to return to a form of creative innocence, to the state of wonder and awe all of us felt once we saw our first transcendent show.”

a white gown with pink feather embellishments

A glance from Giambattista Valli fall 2022 couture.


Giambattista Valli has all the time been drawn to perfecting the past. In his first show since 2019, the designer looked to English gardens and Latest York nightclubs (specifically Studio 54) to create looks where spangles met foliage, his beloved ruffles worked into various botanical shapes. There have been lashings of feathers and society swan-worthy updos, a callback to the intricate, decorative touches of a long-lost world.

Beauty gets a foul rap, in that it’s often seen as incompatible with seriousness. And retreating into fantasy may be an apolitical alternative. But other times, the medium is the message. As Roseberry put it, “I believe we sometimes get defensive when our critics accuse us of just wanting to make beautiful things. But what’s mistaken with wanting to make beautiful things?”

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