Hubert Burda Media

5 exciting haute couturiers to note

The traditional arts of dressmaking and dressing up have never been more desirable than ever. 

VIKTOR&ROLF

Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren have been described in many ways: Offbeat, rebellious, sassy and so on. The two met in 1992 while studying fashion at ArtEZ Academy of Art & Design Arnhem in  the Netherlands and decided to work together upon graduation. Their first collection won the 1993 Salon Europeen des Jeunes Stylistes competition.

Launched as a couture label in 1998, Viktor&Rolf quickly garnered a following with inventive designs that blurred the boundaries between fashion and art. With distorted proportions, extravagant collars and clever draping, their pieces invariably took on a sculptural quality. While these were also undeniably fun, with ornamentation such as tinsel garlands and pleated Pierrot collars, they were often unwearable for, say, a coffee run.

By 2000, Viktor&Rolf decided to shutter their couture department to concentrate on ready-to-wear. Their first collection for Spring/Summer 2001 was led by beige pantsuits, black tuxedo jackets and white ruffled shirts — a surprisingly grounded but no less inspired outing. In subsequent seasons, their penchant for surrealism crept steadily back, culminating in pussycat bows, asymmetrical hems and a flounce or two.

Retiring its ready-to-wear last year, Viktor&Rolf has been devoting energies and efforts back to couture. Horsting admitted in an interview that the hectic ready-to-wear schedule left them “creatively restricted” and “by letting go of it, we gain more time and freedom”.

For Autumn/Winter 2016, the designers were at their most brazen best. Drawing on the notion of recycling, they mixed and merged rags and scraps from past collections to create a series christened “Vagabonds”. As Snoeren describes: “It feels good, like a new start.”

Explore Viktor&Rolf’s most memorable works in Viktor&Rolf: Fashion Artists. The exhibition happens at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, from October 21, 2016, to February 26, 2017.

FRANCESCO SCOGNAMIGLIO

His is a name well-loved by women like Beyoncé, who turned up at the recent MTV Video Music Awards in a crystal-studded see-through confection with a collar of sea foam green feathers. That happened to be Look 18 from the Pompeii-born designer’s Autumn/Winter 2016 haute couture collection.

Francesco Scognamiglio worked with Donatella Versace for several years at Versace, before setting up his eponymous label in 1998. He once described his ready-to-wear as “rock-a-porter”. They bear an unmistakable, impeccable cut from years of training as a tailor, with lots of lace, crystals, ruffles, flounces and cut-outs to play up that uber-feminine aesthetic for which he has garnered acclaim. His famous-fans club also includes Madonna and Lady Gaga. 

With new funding from Malaysian entrepreneur Johann Young, Francesco Scognamiglio is a label poised for global fame — and its haute couture debut for Autumn/Winter 2016 is only the first step. Indeed, so highly anticipated was the presentation that it was a full-house attendance.  

Right from the opener, which comprised a transparent PVC coat with mink collar and sleeves, over tights embroidered with sequins, Scognamiglio impressed with his vision of the “strong, romantic and erotic woman”.

While his ready-to-wear demonstrated an inclination for baroque, his haute couture leaned towards rococo for a softer, dreamier quality. Sheer fabrics such as lace kept the pieces sexy, but incredible embroidery (beads, crystals, florals and golden threads) made every one spectacular.  

“Couture is what I was always supposed to do,” Scognamiglio gushes, “to be an artisan, to work with my hands.”

AOUADI

Having grown up in the sunny coastal city of Marseille means Yacine Aouadi adopts a more conscious — or conscientious, depending on how you see it — approach to sexy.

“Women here show more skin, make an effort and want that to be visible. They are never proudly effortless like the Parisiennes,” he says. “[Sexiness] needn’t be austere; you can subtly add sheer layers and show skin where you wouldn’t expect.”

If his form-fitting silhouettes and embellishments of beading and lace are a little familiar, well, Aouadi used to work at the house of Balmain, alongside Christophe Decarnin and Olivier Rousteing. The experience gave him useful insights into craftsmanship and embroidery, eventually leading him down the less beaten path of haute couture when he launched his eponymous label in 2015. 

“When you are doing couture, you can really do what you like because the clients will order what they like,” he elaborates. “It’s very rare when they ask you: ‘I would like Look 2, Look 6, Look 10’ — they will always make changes.”

His debut collection for Autumn/Winter 2015, which was self-financed, instantly raised comparisons to Riccardo Tisci from the House of Givenchy. Against juxtapositions of masculine fabrications and feminine constructions, hand-embroidered trompe-l’oeil tattoos by esteemed embroiderer Vermont straddled ritualistic and individualistic.

Vermont is only one of the métiers d’Art houses that Aouadi clearly enjoys working with. He sought out the artisanal skills of Lesage and Atelier Dynale for his Spring/Summer 2016 confections, which were sprinkled with beads, crystals and feathers. Lesage was also responsible for the delicate beadwork from his Autumn/Winter 2016 menagerie of medieval-worthy creations, inspired by a trip to Cordoba in Spain.

“For couture, a client can order a dress from a previous collection,” Aouadi reiterates. “Maybe in two years, a woman will order a dress from the first collection. It’s, in a way, timeless.”

GUO PEI

Arguably the most anticipated name at this year’s Singapore Fashion Week in October, Guo Pei has successfully held her own in an industry that thrives on whim and fancy. China’s first lady of couture, as she is exalted in her country of birth, prefers to speak through her creations, which veer towards the whimsical and fantastical.

Trained at the Beijing School of Industrial Fashion Design, Guo spent a decade designing clothing for children and office ladies, before setting up her own workshop Rose Studio in 1997. Her excellence with the needle and thread — as a child, she helped her mother sew the family’s winter clothes — meant she was naturally drawn to couture.

Guo’s fascinating take on Chinese heritage, imaginative silhouettes, exquisite craftsmanship and lavish embroidery made her evening and wedding gowns a hit with customers. Among her biggest fans was Rihanna, who asked to wear one of her pieces from the 2010 collection. In the 25kg golden cape, which took nearly two years to complete and featured magnificent needlework in gold thread, the singer-songwriter and style icon certainly looked like more than a million dollars at the 2015 Met Gala. Within hours, Guo became fashion’s fastest-rising star.  

“Changing my look every season to please a fickle customer isn’t how I work. I aim to create heirlooms that a woman can pass down,” says Guo, who, in 2015, became the first Asian-born designer to be invited as a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.

And her Autumn/Winter 2016 line-up epitomises this indeed. Cut to perfection for every drama queen, Guo redefined opulence further with layers of fringes, scales of sequins, swathes of space-agey fabric and generous splashes of gold. All hail!

IRIS VAN HERPEN

“I use technology as a creative tool, not as a functional end-product,” says the Dutch designer. “It’s super-exciting to use technology to push my skills and dreams forward; to create a shape, silhouette or structure that I cannot make by hand; to create a fabric that has a completely new behaviour; to create a dress that is built from hundreds of thousands of microscopic layers, like a fingerprint.”

An alumnus of Artez Institute of the Arts, van Herpen’s couture collection for Autumn/Winter 2016 was her first since getting added to the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. She has a studio in Amsterdam, where she also designs and produces two ready-to-wear collections annually.

Whether you describe her works as unconventional, unsettling or unwearable, van Herpen’s clothes conjure up an otherworldly realm where futuristic meets fabulous. Her Seijaku (it means “to find serenity amid chaos” in Japanese) line-up is a case study on cymatics, in which sound waves are visualised as geometric patterns. As such, the higher the sound frequency, the more complex the patterns become.    

The presentation featured an army of avatars performing a choreographed routine to a Zen sound installation by Japanese musician Kazuya Nagaya. A dress covered with silicone-coated Swarovski water drop crystals made the model look as if she was wearing nothing save for dew drops. Constant experimentation has paid off for van Herpen, who crafted a lovely halter dress with wave patterns, by laser-cutting the fabric then stretching it over black wire. What about those layers of fossils and florals? They turned out to be pearl-coated rubber fabric stitched onto black tulle.

We are so ready for the future.