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The cancellation of Autumn/Winter 2020 shows makes these Spring/Summer 2020 collections something to savour.

GIVENCHY

Clare Waight Keller calls what would be her last haute couture collection for the maison Une Lettre d’Amour (“a love letter” in French), but it wasn’t just dedicated to the late Hubert de Givenchy.

The artistic director is obsessed with the Sissinghurst Castle Garden, which she felt was one of the most romantic places in her native England. Renowned for its symmetry, the estate’s two hectares of garden “rooms” (each has a special colour) influenced the hues and shapes in this collection. She also delved into owner Vita Sackville-West’s romantic correspondences with fellow author Virginia Woolf, whose novel Orlando was inspired by Sackville-West.

Keller named two looks after the star-crossed lovers. Look 33’s coat dress in double wool silk gazar and duchess satin, paired with a matching tulip column skirt with train, is christened Vita, while Look 10’s wool silk pantsuit, embroidered with white gypsophila hand-embellished with stripped cock feathers, is dubbed Virginia.

Haute couture Spring/Summer 2020
(Image: Givenchy)

Called Coeur (“heart” in French), the guipure finale dress (above) is covered with three-dimensional flowers, embroidered by hand. Topped with an Ombrelle hat so enormous it forms a canopy under which Kaia Gerber can take her vows, the bridal gown is unusual, as Keller prefers to conclude with colour or black. On the choice of white, Keller confides: “No fault can be hidden. It is so unforgiving in that way. A special area of the atelier is devoted just to work on the white pieces so that they do not get contaminated with fluff or specks of dirt from other areas. Everyone in the atelier team in that area wears white gloves when handling the dresses. And if a garment is reworked too much, it has to be remade from scratch because white silk becomes too exhausted, dirty… The beauty comes in the ethereal freshness.”

Haute couture Spring/Summer 2020
(Image: Givenchy)

Keller explored the archives where she found the flower-lace gowns Monsieur Givenchy designed
for Audrey Hepburn. Together with the sculptural millinery shapes from the ’50s that she discovered, she extracted ideas for the phenomenal Ombrelle cloche hat crafted by Noel Stewart Millinery and the voluptuous silhouettes. “I really wanted to amplify the volumes I have been working these past few seasons to the biggest possible scale. In the end, it’s meant to be like the beautiful poetic love statement, just like the garden was,” Keller elaborates.

DIOR

La Mamma, a book by Swiss artist Harald Szeemann, led Maria Grazia Chiuri to question the idea that women can reproduce (as mothers), but not produce. She raises the contradiction that in ancient times, women were celebrated as goddesses with their own strengths.

In her continuing exploration of the complex relationship between feminism and femininity, she collaborates with one of the leading figures in American feminist art, Judy Chicago, whose question “What if women ruled the world?” is the driving force behind the show set and the spirit of the collection. The guest artist built the mother goddess sculpture she designed in 1977 and located the show inside the body, “a warm, enveloping, safe environment like the world should be”.

Likewise, Chiuri’s collection is a modern interpretation of the peplos, an ancient Greek garment. Accentuated with clean, flowing lines, its divine drapery follows the curves of the body to lend structure to the silhouettes. “Each piece has its own declination, in this one, I added a cape of golden feathers worthy of the Greek goddess Athena,” the artistic director points out.

“I chose to strengthen the concept of a goddess by using elements of nature and inserting gold as a symbol of veneration,” Chiuri explains her choice of featuring golden ears of wheat, whose fertility associations fit the collection’s symbolism, as the key motif. The design that adorns this number (second look in gallery) comes from a 19th-century archival work from the embroidery house of Vermont and comprises two shapes. Using crochet embroidery, one is created with small straight stitches, while the other has small knots that produce a messy effect evocative of wind-blown leaves and straw.

RALPH & RUSSO

The British luxury house caps off a successful decade of design with the re-imagination of 10 treasured looks for this haute couture collection brimming with kaleidoscopic hues and enriched with splendid embellishments. Modern interpretations of the 10 signature pieces include this fully beaded suit with pearlescent sequins and structured rosettes.

GIAMBATTISTA VALLI

Haute couture Spring/Summer 2020
(Image: Giambattista Valli)

For the second season, the Roman designer breaks away from the traditional runway format to stage a still-life exhibition at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris. He opens the usually elite- exclusive world of haute couture to the public, who can admire the mastery of his creations based on a mood board filled with pictures of Italy and stylish legends the likes of Marella Agnelli, Lee Radziwill, and Jackie Onassis. The gorgeous confections are given an avant-garde twist in this photographic presentation with surreal fish-eye lens — Valli’s “homage to Richard Avedon and [Irving] Penn”.

CHANEL

Spring/Summer 2020’s haute couture offerings take off from Virginie Viard’s visit to Aubazine, where founder Gabrielle Chanel lived in the orphanage of the ancient Cistercian Abbey after her mother’s passing in 1895. Chanel was still a child then. “What I immediately liked was that the cloister garden was uncultivated. It was really sunny. The place made me think of the summer, a breeze fragranced with flowers. I wanted floral embroideries like a herbarium, delicate flowers. What interested me in this decor was the paradox between the sophistication of haute couture and the simplicity of this place,” observes Viard.

“I also liked the idea of the boarder, of the schoolgirl, the outfits worn by children long ago,” says Viard on the inspiration behind the looks.

Amid strict suits and structured dresses decked in embellishments evocative of the stained glass windows or paving stones at the abbey, she schools us in the variety of collars, such as the Chelsea collar, the Bertha collar, and the Peter Pan and pelerine collar.

VALENTINO

Pierpaolo Piccioli says he’s not a storyteller. So it makes a statement when he veers off-course, shifting the silhouette away from the operatic volumes he made so modern and too popular. This collection is an invigorating expression of restraint in fitted columns, as well as the creative director’s newfound liberation to break the mould he cast.

ARMANI PRIVÉ

Haute couture Spring/Summer 2020
(Image: Armani Privé)

Capturing the imagination of Giorgio Armani, the traditional ikat dyeing technique gets a luxe update in the legendary 85-year-old designer’s search for liberation. His free-spirited expression of the print harnesses meticulous artisanal touches ranging from ornate embroideries to swingy fringes and painterly, almost pixelated, surfaces for another red carpet-ready collection.

The story originally appears on Prestige Online Singapore.

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Jacquie Ang