#SuzyCouture: Nature Knows Best

Fashion never falls far from the tree of life. And with climate change not just an abstract concept, but present in Paris as a diluvian downpour of non-stop rain, is it surprising that nature should be the focus for the opening haute couture shows?

At Schiaparelli, the “Pagan” collection that the original designer presented in 1937 was the seedbed for the current Design Director, Bertrand Guyon, who cited as references, “a pagan goddess, summer, nights, dream mythology – and nature”.

Iris van Herpen, however, had just two words – “Ludi Naturae” or “Games of Nature” – to sum up her collection, fusing “the artificial and the organic”.

SCHIAPARELLI

Bertrand was more specific about where his inspiration had come from: “Schiaparelli, Out of Africa…” It takes a subtle designer to take on what in Schiap’s day was defined as “the dark country”. But the discreet and modern version worked fine.

“Africa is very present – back to the roots and earth – but this is not an African collection; they are goddesses with no reference to a particular culture,” Bertrand said, referring to the butterfly embroideries, the raw linens, slithering silk, straw raffia, and even driftwood.

Some were included in bags worked on by Lucie de la Falaise, whose fashion dynasty included her daughter modelling on the runway, while Lucie was sitting front row along with pop stars Kylie Minogue and Pixie Lott.

The show opened with an all-embracing cashmere coat that had abstract patterns of stylised African figures. Its grandiose sweep was followed by a white shirt crawling with black bugs, paired with mannish brown pants.

This balance of raw and refined held well through the show, with textiles forming an ever-changing effect. The daywear was as good as anything the designer has created so far and was a fine balance with the evening creations. The bridge between the two was tufts of feathers from the seashore and shreds of plastic dredged from the seabed.

Bertrand spoke about “the first civilisation of Africa, the Queen of Namibia, covered in gold”. “At that time, it was culture – rich, religious and ritual,” he said. “Very, very rich. I wanted to tell an encyclopaedic story – the voyage of an aristocratic lady from Scotland or England to Africa during the Elizabethan era.”

The overall effect was charming and whimsical, with its strength on the exceptional craftsmanship and fashion intelligence. The coats and jackets were strong, but clients’ money will probably go for dresses to be worn on the red carpet, where Schiap is a success for its originality and luck of vulgarity.

IRIS VAN HERPEN

Melding nature to her futuristic creations has been a fashion story from Iris van Herpen ever since 2015, when she sent out shoes made with grass that grew as the models walked the runway.

For her new collection there was nothing quite so outlandish – just geisha-style sandals. But above the models’ heads was the key to the show: large, but apparently lightweight, cellulose sculptures by Dutch artist Peter Gentenaar.

“I really love his work as an inspiration for the collection. The show is about craftsmanship, but also the inspiration from nature,” Iris explained. “I looked at aerial photography and at the planet from a distance – the way organic patterns grow into more urban patterns. There was a bit of contradiction in the collection. You will see a lot of organic movement, but also you will see glitches and more graphic patterns at the same time.”

In fact, with their bounce of movement and leaf-like patterns, the clothes seemed similar to a familiar Iris message, although what looked like a field of mud brown or teal was in fact rich in detail, such as the optical illusion of two layers of lacy patterns; or similar futuristic materials suggesting lizard scales. That effect blew up into a large shape or, by contrast, a dress followed the thin line of a skinny body.

Iris had a name for what appeared to be natural foliage: “Data Dust”. The complex description was quite beyond me, but the more that the “computer distorted, foam lifted, laser-cut silk tulle with radiant glitches” appeared as material for dresses, the more organic they looked.