Haute Couture’s Heyday Gets A Contemporary Revival By Hannah Norman

Ralph & Russo

Sumptuous flowing silks and volumes of organza with incredible embellishment, encompassing hundreds of hours of careful artisanship. Sounds like a typical offering for Couture Fashion Week in Paris, but in fact, this was Ralph & Russo, the first British brand to have been invited by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture to show their collections in over a hundred years.

Ralph & Russo

This is a true testament to the work of a talented team of couturiers, led by Creative Director Tamara Ralph, particularly given the strict criteria set by the Chambre Syndicale. “It’s the ultimate distinction for a designer to achieve in fashion, and we are truly humbled to be the first British designers in a hundred years to be accepted,” Ralph revealed.

Ralph & Russo

She and co-founder Michael Russo have found their niche within the haute couture market. “When we set up the brand for the first time, we really wanted to do something very different,” Russo told us. “We thought, at the time, especially in London, there’s a lot of competition in the ready-to-wear market. For a new designer, it’s quite difficult to get discovered and you really need to make an impact. So what we did, we found a niche where haute couture was just non-existent, or at least very small.” He added that, “obviously, haute couture has been associated with Paris and the big fashion houses for a few hundred years, so we decided to go with that angle, to really focus on not so much the broader market, but a very niche market, [with] quality, high-end products that are fashion-forward, but at the same time, still glamourous and elegant and wearable.”

Ralph & Russo - Tian Yi

The pair have certainly achieved this with their SS14 collection. Hailing back to haute couture’s heyday, a world in which glamour was rife and reality was forfeited for fantasy, the end result is a sweeping array of beautiful ballgowns, epitomising the ideal of feminity, glory and glamour. In many ways, this is a modern-day revival of 1950s Hollywood style. Ornate patterns intricately embroidered by hand on Chantilly lace give a delicate, but striking, finish. “The hand craft is so important,” Russo emphasised. “Hand-stitching is a dying art, in a way. There are a lot of graduates coming out of London who want to be designers, but there are very few people who want to be craftsmen. But to be a good designer, you have to understand the craft, and you have to understand the construction of a gown. It¹s a beautiful skill.” This skill is evident in the SS14 collection, with a single garment boasting as many as 1,600 hours of hand embroidery, 800,000 beads and crystals, and 120 handmade fabric buttons -­ attention to detail at its very beautiful best.

Didit Hediprasetyo

The spirit of “Old Hollywood” was also seen at Didit Hediprasetyo’s show. Tailored cardigans, ultra-feminine mermaid dresses and chic jumpsuits were showcased in warm, earthy colours, perhaps reminiscent of the Californian sun. Leather bomber jackets and straight-cut trousers toughened up the look, while delicate cloth embellished with sublime broderie anglaise and ornamental vine leaves gave a classic feel, more subtly sensual than overtly sexual. The location may have been Paris, but this was a modern take on Hollywood glam. Clearly, when it comes to couture, there is no mistaking the impact of classic 1950s to create a contemporary collection for the catwalk.