Slow and steady wins the race - so goes the fable, the moral of the tortoise and the hare story, as well as the takeaway message from this season’s Fall couture shows.
We’ve come to know fashion as being impossibly fast. This isn’t a platitude: it’s a genuine concern at an industry which, since the millennium(ish), accelerated so extremely that its continuation in such a speedy manner is genuinely untenable both for the designers, the consumers and, most crucially, the environment.
This could be the reason why at Couture there was a new attitude in the air - one which had tired of feeding the trend monster, of pounding our feeds and wish lists with must-haves. So many of the shows were about the ever nebulous idea of slowness; both in the process (it’s couture after all) but also in the design.
Take Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior for instance. Her aim was to highlight the unseen elements the process of making clothes for women, asking for a more subtle, considered, slower kind of glamour. ‘I am a woman, and I work for women,’ she said backstage - and, after what feels like decades of bombardment for buy this, wear this, you’re a failure if you don’t look good in this, Chuiri has a point. It’s not a radical sentiment and the clothes, too, weren’t radical (‘a symphony of beige’ as I heard a friend describe it) but there was something powerful and beautiful in the unembellished, the un-boastful, the slow. ‘Now that everything goes so fast, and we are so fascinated about the immediate, sometimes we forget about couture. It’s a hidden luxury,’ was her war cry.
An important new move but also slightly difficult to grapple with considering this hidden luxury Chiuri speaks of, will cost you the best part of a mortgage on that London flat you’ll never be able to get. Still - slowness.
But this slowness doesn’t always have to mean subtlety. For proof of that, look no further than Ronald Van Der Kemp’s demi-couture collection: a full fantasy of references with a commitment to actual sustainability - everything he does is made from waste fabric, unwanted bits of curtains or the plastic tubes twanged off one of those 90s static lights. ‘This is what everyone in fashion should be doing,’ was his closer after the show, and while we definitely don’t need another RVDK in terms of design, his commitment to a more responsible, more creative process using our used things is a no brainer.
It would be remiss not to talk about Armani Privé when it comes to slowness, too. This isn’t a reference to design, because the dresses looked like they’d been dragged through a tacky hat shop backwards at 100mph, but to the actual show which seemed to last about six years. There’s slowness for you.
Even Demna Gvasalia at Vetements (not couture, but it showed on the schedule) opted for something more subtle, more considered. ‘Concepts are in the detail,’ he affirmed backstage, as he showed off a target on the front of his hoodie and bullet hole through the back of it. For someone who made IKEA bags a fashion thing for a hot minute at Balenciaga, it was refreshing to get a look at the smart details- it felt new for them, after the behemoth of a brand was pronounced ‘dead’ by various fashion sources before this season kicked off. Dead it is certainly not.
Iris Van Herpen slowed down the flight of a bird and created dresses from the sound of a beating wing; Viktor and Rolf, for their quarter centenary, pored over their archive and brought it to you in an all white fantasy: nothing new, instead relishing in the old. Galliano at Margiela opted not for slowness, but instead a critique of our fastness and this irrevocable tether we all have to technology,so much so that smartphones became limbs which jutted uncomfortably off clothing. Pause for thought felt like the message there, get off your phone and look around. That old chestnut but finally pulled off with some incredibly moving artistry.
But the real pinnacle of the season was Valentino, which started with several headpieces per model and ended with an audience in floods of tears. Creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli created something of such inexplicable beauty it became simply a distillation of that, not a statement which fashion has a responsibility to be making. No, it was something I’ve never seen, or felt, before: a moment where everybody was literally stopped in their tracks and reminded why we all wanted to do this silly fashion thing in the first place; it was beauty in motion, it was as close to art as manys had ever seen in fashion, it was a moment that could have lasted forever and nobody would have even noticed. Backstage his atelier - a throng of older weeping ladies who had devoted their lives to this craft (what’s slower than that?) - basked in something even they looked surprised they had created.
While it’s exciting to be of the now, to be armoured in that thing everyone’s Instagramming about, this season paid homage to the fact that there’s nothing quite like a pause for thought. And it was a welcome pause indeed.