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Denim Brings Haute Couture Collections Back Down to Earth

The allure of dressing comfortably has reached the French couture ateliers.

Though there’s a side of fashion that is in deep fantasy mode, a troupe of free-thinking designers strayed from the pack (and tradition) with Fall 2021 haute couture collections that toed the line of ready-to-wear. Denim, in its many forms, was an unexpected foundation to several of these looks. Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Ronald van der Kemp and Jean Paul Gaultier in collaboration with Sacai each presented their vision for denim through a crystalized couture lens.

“Although denim couture may sound like an oxymoron, designers like Schiaparelli and Ronald Van Der Kamp demonstrated how the fabric can be elevated and repurposed to fit in the realm of couture,” stated Heuritech, a data-driven fashion trend forecasting firm, in a recent report.

Celebrity-darling Schiaparelli applied its Midas touch to denim with golden embroideries and Surrealist ornamentations in a collection called “The Matador.” Intended to push past boundaries of what couture is, creative director Daniel Roseberry stated in the collection notes that he “felt the freedom to make something fiercely, undeniably, unapologetically pretty—because sometimes you have to rebel against beauty in order to return to it.”

This included a “denim matador-inspired cropped jacket embellished with embroidered barrel sleeves and black silk tassels, worn over a structured tulle skirt” and a pair of high-waisted jeans with an exaggerated yoke worn backwards with a molded bra top. Another fitted jacket, made from vintage denim jeans, was embroidered with gold thread, three-dimensional padded flowers and resin anatomical elements like eyes, mouths and nipples.

“No more cookie-cutter fashion. No more pieces that look like they could have been made by anyone. No more cynicism. No more irony. No more timidity. No more coolness,” Roseberry stated. “Give me more beauty, more earnestness, more romance, more effort. I hope this collection reminds everyone who encounters it of the sheer delight that fashion can bring us in hard times, and with it, the promise of more joy when the clouds part. Give me more fashion. Give me more hope.”

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Designer Ronald Van Der Kamp continued his tradition of experimentation with upcycling, this time with blue jeans. A cropped jacket was made with woven strips of denim and floral denim appliques. A looser weave was used to create a cage-like skirt. Accordion pleats added drama to striped wide-leg jeans, while denim scraps were used to mimic the look and feel of faux fur on a cubby jacket.

Jeans were part of Balenciaga’s 50th couture collection—the first since 1967. Under artistic director Demna Gvasalia’s guidance, the men’s and women’s made-to-measure pieces were a homage to the luxury label’s past and future. Loose fit jeans made with Japanese denim woven on antique looms, contrasted with collection’s voluminous suiting and signature cocoon-like silhouettes. A classic Trucker jacket was styled off-the-shoulders. Other jeans were paired with jackets that replicated the texture of fur with densely embroidered loose threads.

Sacai creative director Chitose Abe brought a streetwear vibe to the Jean Paul Gaultier Paris Sacai haute couture collection—the French house’s first collaborative effort since Gaultier announced his retirement last year. The collection was a marriage of both labels’ signatures, including Gaultier’s cone bra and riviera stripes and Sacai’s deconstructed denim silhouettes made with upcycled fabrics.

The casualization of couture, however, doesn’t start and end with denim. Designers also challenged the notion of couture’s roots in formal fashion with items like hoodies, cropped tops and miniskirts.

“Moreover, the designers who explored more ‘daytime’ couture looks tended to incorporate more prints and less embroidery into their collections compared to their more formal counterparts. This theme represents the diffusion of ready to wear trends in the realm of haute couture, thus blurring the divide between couture and ready-to-wear design,” Heuritech stated.