Paris Couture Week Fall 2021 highlights: The stand-out shows

From painterly inspirations at Chanel, to sculptural 3D printing at Iris van Herpen, these are the highlights from the Couture Fall 2021 shows

The major luxury fashion houses celebrated the first in-person presentations since the pandemic at this week’s Paris Couture Week. The Haute Couture Fall 2021 shows undeniably championed women throughout: from female artists at Chanel, Indian embroidery workers at Christian Dior, and Mother Earth at Iris van Herpen. Here is our edit of the stand-out Fall 2021 shows at Paris Couture Week.

The Glossary Edit

Paris Couture Week: Fall 2021


Daniel Roseberry’s third Schiaparelli couture collection demonstrated a “new kind of prettiness,” stated the American designer, who managed to peak interest during these pandemic times by dressing the likes of Lady Gaga at Joe Biden’s Inauguration and Beyoncé at the Grammys, to name but a few. Roseberry decided to forgo the expected finale, and presented ‘the bride’ as his opening look — a dress constructed from 70 meters of gleaming white cartridge pleated taffeta. 

Shimmering gold-dipped bronchi breast plates gave way to little black dresses outlined by 1980s-inspired oversized gold-lame puff sleeves. Heavily embroidered denim — patch-worked from 11 pairs of used Levi’s sourced at a local vintage store — complimented the lustrous black power-dressing jackets with their razor-sharp shoulders. Conventionally pretty: perhaps not. Surrealist glamour: definitely. Certainly a new kind of fabulous in time for a post-pandemic world. 


Virginie Viard opted for the undeniably grand Palais Galliera fashion museum yesterday to present Chanel’s Couture Fall 2021 collection, which she sites inspiration took shape through a series of 1930 images of Coco herself, along with cubist and impressionist artists, Marie Laurencin and Berthe Morisot, respectively. Note the delicately pastel hues that pay homage to the artists’ palettes, as well as Monet’s nympheas. 

The ‘tweed’ creations, a woven marriage of multi-colored tulle and ribbon, took form in bouffant skirts or suits, complimented by delicate bustiers of pale pink broderie anglaise or chalky lace. Viard called upon the great embroidery houses of Paris Lesage, Cécile Henri, Atelier Emmanuelle Vernoux, and Atelier Montex, and the feather and flower designers Lemarié to bring her ethereal inspirations to life, all of which were accompanied by Maison Michel felt hats.


In his couture debut, creative director, Demna Gvasalia, elegantly honoured possibly one of the greatest couturers of the 20th Century, Cristóbal Balenciaga — it’s been 53 years since he closed his hallowed couture house however, Gvasalia still managed to lend his irreverent and unquestionably street sensibility. The same one that caught the attention of millennials when he first appeared with his own line, Vetements in 2014. 

The presentation took place in Balenciaga’s haute couture salons at 10 Avenue Georges V, and it was a silent affair: “It was my minute of silence to the heritage of Cristóbal Balenciaga but also … the pandemic made me take that minute of silence — or few months of silence — and really understand what I like in this ‘metier,’ as Cristóbal used to call it,” he said. “And I realised it’s not about fashion — actually, I love clothes.” And the clothes that walked the runway, we love them too. 

Oversized silhouettes, languid hemlines, exaggerated shoulders and black — lots of black in a plethora of textures — are everything we’ve come to expect from the Georgian designer. And so his first couture offering did not disappoint: it was filled with austere tailoring, lavishly designed overcoats and gowns, colour-blocked to keep that contemporary edge. There also featured giant shirts and bathrobes, T-shirts, utility jackets, and hand-crafted couture-level denim. Gvasalia challenged himself to give equal value to a black turtleneck and pair of jeans as to a grand ball gown or skirt suit. The result? Breathtaking.

Christian Dior

Playfully pretty peplums meet knitted mesh fabrications, and structured sleeves compliment lavishly languid skirts in this season’s Christian Dior couture show that streamed yesterday. Creative director, Maria Grazia Chuiri, sent out her models on the equally luxurious runway, with its backdrop, a autumnal-hued hand-embroidered wall, said to call out and stand up for the garment workers who have valiantly kept haute couture alive. It was made by the Indian embroidery school that Chiuri encouraged her house to support with training for young women for the last few years.

Chuiri also wished to reconnect with her audience, and “be present” this was the first in-person show for the house for three seasons. The pandemic has left us aching to touch and feel, which is why the looks centred around the tactility of hand-made textiles. These hand-loomed tweeds and stitch-work silhouettes collided with moody silk printwork. Although Chuiri wished to focus on daywear for her Couture Fall 2021 collection, she deftly offered us romantic flou dresses filtered through the oversized coats, skirts and shirts.

Iris Van Herpen

3D printing, skydiving and recycled plastic come together in Iris van Herpen Earthwise collection. The Dutch designer artfully engineered technical fabrications that play with both form and function in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, upcycling synthetic creations for a sustainable stance on couture.

Van Herpen collaborated with the French female world-champion skydiver,  Domitille Kiger, who now, according to the designer, is the first athlete to wear couture during an aerial performance — the final look for the show. Other looks saw van Herpen work with the likes of Casey Curran, a sculpture artist. Together they designed a sphere-inspired kinetic dress that appears to be floating against the body. Architectural silhouettes took shape with pieces meticulously created with other artists also: James Merry for the face jewellery, and Rogan Brown, who creates hand-cut layered sculptures that look to natural science as inspiration.

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