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Couture’s relevance in the year 2022 is difficult to articulate, and seemingly tenuous. The made-to-order gowns have a price point unattainable for all but the wealthiest. The collections are extremely limited, and often unprofitable – houses simply cannot sell enough to compensate for the highly skilled labour and material development needed to achieve a couture collection. Yet Olivier Rousteing has always had his finger on the pulse and recently brought a refreshed vision to the medium as Jean Paul Gaultier’s third guest couturier.

Jean Paul Gaultier retired after 50 years of industry transforming success in 2020. In his place, a different guest designer will now lead his eponymous label’s annual couture collection. Olivier Rousteing helmed the third iteration of this tradition, following the collections of Chitose Abe and Glenn Martens. The designer became Balmain’s Creative Director in 2011, at only 25 years old. The still young designer has had a high velocity career and recently celebrated a decade with the house. Rousteing's early work established Balmain's social media presence and current global reach, demonstrating his status as a visionary for the brand. Now, he has undertaken a new challenge, reinterpreting the pioneering couture codes of Jean Paul Gaultier’s label.

In true JPG form, the show featured an iconoclastic mix of pop music remixes and orchestral suits, and the looks matched. Rousteing approached the collection with an eye to its photographability. Phones were out snapping photos almost the entire time – the designer’s invocation of Gaultier’s Le Male perfume bottles, retooled as a blue glass bodice, was a particular hit. The adage that couture sells perfume was given a cheeky wink throughout the collection, with JPG’s iconic sculptural bottles even serving as heels throughout the show. The collection reviewed Gaultier’s most iconic looks throughout the years and presented them with Rousteing’s fresh style. The designer has spoken about Gaultier’s influence on his work and ideas about fashion, noting how ahead of his time Gaultier was regarding his thoughts about gender and sexuality. These points of connection were evident in the show, which celebrated a more liberated approach to what is still a quite gendered type of fashion. Another highlight was the pair of models wearing matching pregnant bodices.

As a bustling couture week has come and gone, it is clear that the medium’s relevance has shifted. Rather than primarily serving as a means to share an annual set of gowns with socialites, the occasion instead allows designers and brands a unique opportunity to share with fans something more intimate. Balenciaga’s show featured a set of beloved celebrities, providing a touchpoint for many who would otherwise not give a second glance to Paris’s couture. As JPG has experienced a revival through TikTok and Instagram in recent years, Rousteing demonstrated that the highly ritualised week is still an opportunity to share art, ideas and socially progressive politics with fans from around the world. An adoring crowd stood outside the show, and models paused on a balcony to give those who couldn’t attend the show an opportunity to share in its magic. Rousteing, as always, took to Instagram to do the same. Whether or not the world still cares about couture is now a debate to be had online, like seemingly all others.

Isaac Crown Manesis

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