Something old, something new. The tug and pull between what haute couture has been and what it could/should be. Those have been the themes that have riddled a lot of the shows that I've seen at this Paris haute couture fashion week, my first time attending the whole thing from beginning to end. I've always loved Maison Martin Margiela's Artisinal line for its unique position on the schedule. By taking vintage pieces and recasting them in a new way, they pay respect to the origins of those garments but also demonstrate enough of a transformation hand-crafted process that gives new meaning to the word "upcycled". I'd liken the Artisinal atelier to the sort of geeky hobbyists who like to obsessively take pieces of electronic equipment apart and build it all back together again to really get to the bottom of the steps that goes into their making. The end result is that to me, what is essentially "old" looks exceptionally "new" again.
On this occasion though, Maison Martin Margiela did in fact debut something completely new. They worked with Swarovski and their new Crystalactite technology to create pieces of jewellery that glinted at you on the catwalk as cuffs clasped around shiny riding boots or on the arms, holding swathes of silk in place. The new lies in the fact that it's the first time Swarovski have fused crystal and white resin together without the use of glue creating a hybrid material that looks like it might have naturally grown that way over time. Maison Martin Margiela are the first house, invited to use this technology and took inspiration from stalactites formations (hence the hybrid name) grown in caves for the clusters on these cuffs. I did try to ask the Swarovski people how two different materials could attach without the use of glue but they kept tight lipped about their innovation. I'm thinking it's something heat or laser related but I'm not expert on the subject.
Up close, they're incredibly mesmerising pieces to look at with the stark white of the chalky looking resin contrasting beautifully with the glint of Swarovski's famous cut crystals. The debut of the specially made Crystalactite cuffs at the Artisinal show is a preamble to a more commercial but still very limited collection for Swarovski Atelier, which will go on sale near Christmas this year. It comprises a wrist cuff, rings, brooches and a pendant, all made out of different formations of shards of matte white and reflective prisms that looked especially sublime in the Tron-esque press day setting seen below. .
The Swarovski Crystalactite pieces weren't the only thing new about the Artisinal show as they began their show with an unsurprisingly subversive take on daywear with "jeans" and a "white t-shirt" made out of latex together with London fetishwear specialist House of Harlot. And so the contrast between the "normal" and the unexpected or ornate became the ongoing theme of the collection. The house once again plays on obscuring identity with a whole new set of head masks, covered in cabochons beading or pailette flowers (more performance attire for Kanye West?). That's another contrast point. Handmade jeans counterbalance the lavish robes and vests, which salvage rare embroideries and cut-out flora and fauna motifs. In particular they seem to have sourced from embroidery maisons in Lyon, which sheds light on an element of haute couture that predated even Charles Frederick Worth. 1950s prom dresses of the highest order are appliqued with 1920s fabric flowers in a melting pot of decades. Being a fan of re-contextualising Chinoiserie garments (Must.Stop.Buying.Novelty.Kimonos), it was naturally the last passage of outfits which I loved the most as the atelier took pieces such a 1930s Beijing opera costume and made it relevant again by fusing it with a utilitarian wool coat. Looking at all this beautiful bygone preciousness kind of just makes me want to go on a proper vintage hunt, something I don't get to do as much as I used to. Wonder if Margiela takes on freelance Artisinal sources/researchers? Sign me up please!