Catwalk confessions: Arabian influence at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week

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Words and selected images by Laura Wrede

Summer in the city. Paris is in ‘Macron Mania’ as the newly-elected French President brought fresh wind to the Élysée Palace. Hopes are high for Macron to also give a fresh re-start to the struggling French economy. Early July, the fashion capital celebrates Haute Couture Fashion Week and, once again, becomes the world’s center of attention as everyone awaits the bespoke offerings from the most prestigious designers.

Fashion is the latest style of clothing, but Haute Couture is much more than that. It’s a passion for the art of creating a unique masterpiece. The made-to-measure breed of French fashion supposes a high level of creativity and savoir faire in combination with an absolute individualization. It’s an intimate experience between the couturier and his client. It can take a seamstress hundreds and even thousands of hours to make by hand into reality the designer’s exclusive vision for his client.

The art of Haute Couture is still very French, and the label is protected by France worldwide, however there’s little French clientele nowadays. Worldwide, there are only as little as 2,000 Haute Couture clients. Most of them are from the USA, Russia, China, and the Middle East. The ‘fashionistas’ know it’s also an investment and not just retail therapy, as the fine clothing items can increase in value over the years.

Having the ‘Haute Couture’ label is not only a privilege, but requires you to follow a certain set of rules as it’s a legally protected term by the French Ministry of Industry. Such as maintaining a Parisian Atelier with a minimum of 20 employees and design at least 25 outfits per season to be presented twice a year, in January and July. There are only 14 full members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, however there 5 correspondent members and 17 guest members that also present their collections in the same week.

Lebanese designers have had the biggest Arabic influence so far on Haute Couture, leaving an Arabic signature around the world through Parisian runways. Worldwide, fashionistas eagerly await Correspondent Member Elie Saab’s show. The Lebanese designer has his workshops in Beirut, Milan, and Paris. He presented his collection ‘A Tale of Fallen Kings’ with heavy, detailed embroidery, velvet, and fur.

Three Lebanese Guest Members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture have also presented their collections during the Paris Fashion Week. Zuhair Murad, Georges Hobeika, and Rabih Kayrouz. Especially with Murad and Hobeika embroideries were likewise a strong theme, but Kayrouz focused more on large volumes.

Rami Kadi, yet another Lebanese designer exhibited his couture pieces of his ‘Sweet Chaos’ collection in the Hotel Le Meurice. The collection was beautifully displayed with impressive mirrors that allowed the visitor to admire his creations from several perspectives. Kadi played with lines as well as volume that would trick the eye into not knowing where they began, nor where they end. It also reminded me of 3D printing – especially the PVC skirt conveyed that feeling

Saudi-born Sakina Shbib launched her own fashion label in 2015, ‘Sakina Paris’. Sakina grew up in France and visited the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, which paved her way to Givenchy. Her new collection is a tale of the modern jungle. A dreamy silk organza dress was at the center of her showcase, together with marvelously detailed embroidery on red leather bags of lizards, flowers, and spiders. At the showroom, embroiderers were stitching leather with beads in front of our eyes to experience the detail of this art. Sakina commented to Arab News that she will soon design abayas, and said: “It’s all about expanding my vision across the Arab world where my heart is and will always be.”

More Arabian influence to the Haute Couture week was brought by Tunisian-born Azzedine Alaïa. He has presented his first couture collection since 2011. His spectacular comeback was celebrated by a rare appearance of his protégé Naomi Campbell. Alaïa once more impressed with his hit-and-flare silhouettes, knitted gowns, and pleated skirts. Alaïa is especially praised for his unique authenticity, which gives all his collections a timeless stamp, making it a good investment for his clients.

Although French couturier Stephane Rolland is born in Paris, he is appreciated as the most ‘Khaleeji’ of all French designers. Rolland is not only inspired by the Arabic region and their culture, but has many loyal clients across the Arab world. Namely Qatar’s HH Sheikha Moza, and Jordan’s Queen Rania. Rolland celebrated the 10th anniversary of his maison with a spectacular show accompanied by a pianist and a mezzo-soprano singer.

A source for his inspiration is the Winged Victory of Samothrace. A Hellenistic sculpture of Nike that features the goddess with wings. Several dresses by Rolland are based on the inspiration of this sculpture. The volumes of his dresses, the sculpted sleeves, are like wings and flow in synchronicity with every movement she makes. Sometimes reminding us of robes like the abaya, which Rolland says: “is the sensuality of the movement,” he admires the royal silhouette an abaya creates.

There was another significant anniversary to be celebrated at this year’s Haute Couture Fashion Week. Maison Dior turns 70. Maria Grazia Chiuri designed the collection, featuring Dior’s archival silhouette – small bodies paired with a voluminous skirt – in homage to Christian Dior himself. Dior celebrates this historic moment with an exhibition across the seven decades in the Musée des Arts Decoratifs titled ‘Designer of Dreams.’ I loved how it took me as a visitor through the different decades of fashion history and its iconic moments through the eyes of legendary Dior. The exhibition is open to visitors until January 7, 2018.

While I leave Paris and its Haute Couture glamour behind me, I dream about Rolland’s Zebra Kaftan and how great it would look in the depth of the desert dunes of Messaeid.

Watch Stephane Rollande’s 2017 Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week show here.

Want to scroll through the line-up of exclusive runways shows at the 2017 Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week? Click here.

Are you a fashionista with your eye on the latest collections out of the Paris fashion capital? Drop us a line in the comments below and tell us which looks from which collections were your favorites. Also, don’t forget to give us a like and a share – it keeps us going!