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Everything you need to know about the AW20 Haute Couture shows

From Balmain’s sailing trip on the Seine to the moment Chanel went punk

Fashion waits for no coronavirus, which is why this season’s Haute Couture shows – which would usually take place IRL in Paris at the end of June – have landed in the digital realm. 

While the most creative many of us got in quarantine involved banana bread and some-more-successful-than-others sourdough loaves, some of the biggest designers in the industry used lockdown to imagine and casually conceptualise full Couture collections and new ways of presenting them to the fashion masses (namely through short films). 

Not confined to just one week this time around, given no one’s dashing off to catch flights to their next destination right now, presentations are set to run throughout July – with Chanel, Balmain, and Dior all having shown off what they have to offer, and the likes of Valentino still yet to come, we’ve put together an ongoing list of everything you need to know about the first ever digital Couture season. 


Last week, Olivier Rousteing gathered together a bunch of models and performers and took to the River Seine on a barge – more glam than it sounds, we promise – dressed head-to-toe in Balmain’s latest Couture collection (think 90s tailoring, gold chain belts, OTT gowns, satin opera gloves, and more). Streaming live on TikTok until technical issues meant the show was cut short (tbh hard relate), Rousteing called the show his “gift to Paris, the City of Light”. Around 20,000 spectators lined the riverbanks to take in the spectacle as the uber-chic boat sailed by. 


Cast your mind back to the SS19 Couture season and it’s highly likely you’ll recall the moment Victor & Rolf turned out a collection of the most meme-worthy dresses to ever bless the timeline, with a bunch of tulle dresses emblazoned bearing mottos like “Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want To Come”, “I’m Not Shy, I Just Don’t Like You”, and absolute mood “No” making their way down the catwalk.

Breaking down their offering into three sections this season, the Dutch duo presented a trio of quarantine-inspired leisure and loungewear for AW20, with satin dressing gowns and nighties that put our ratty t-shirt and ancient sweatpants to shame all on the line-up. By way of embellishment, the designers looked once again at social media, splashing heart emojis and smileys across a series of looks – as presented through a short film comically narrated by 00s musician Mika.


After channelling Coco Chanel’s school uniform into her AW20 mainline collection, Virginie Viard went off the rails with her latest punk rawk-esque Couture offering. Telling Vogue she had ‘eccentric girls’ on her mind this season, the designer looked to Karl Lagerfeld’s longtime muse Princess Diane de Beauvau-Craon for inspiration, recalling the time the debutante gave herself a crew cut in objection to the frou-frou pink dress her mother forced her to wear at her coming-out ball. What did this mean for the clothes? Contemporary takes on house classics in bold-hued tweeds, 80s-inspired retro minidresses, and OTT jewelled embellishments reminiscent of punky pins and patches, as debuted as part of (you guess it!) a short film


Maria Grazia Chiuri looked back at another moment of crisis in fashion in the form of WWII, paying homage to the 1945 travelling fashion exhibition Théâtre de la Mode in a short film directed by Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone. Beginning in the revered maison’s Paris atelier, couturiers were seen skillfully bringing to life teeny tiny tulle and organza dresses and tweed tailored suits in Grazia’s signature muted tones, before they were packed up into a trunk and transported into a beautiful #cottagecore-esque fairytale forest by two snappily dressed bell boys.

It’s at this point things took a surreal turn, as woodland nymphs, mermaids, and a faun emerged from the trees to take a look at the new collection. Even more surreal than that, however, was the distinct lack of diversity when it came to the film’s all-white casting. Inspired by the work of Italian painter Sandro Botticelli, Garrone (who was given complete control by Dior) commented it would have felt ‘forced’ to include any models of colour – which is a pretty wild claim when you’re depicting imaginary creatures and bringing fairytales to life.


The message of Maison Margiela’s AW20 Artisanal show echoed WWII motto “make do and mend” – which is apt given that was another moment when the world found itself deep in crisis. Cranking his Recicla concept up to 11 (a portmanteau of ‘recycle’ and archive Margiela line ‘Replica’, FYI), John Galliano and his talented young team presented a collection put together using garments salvaged from second hand stores and flea markets, as well as repurposed fabric offcuts. On the line-up were draped, gender-neutral evening gowns given a Margiela twist through unfinished seams, oversized wool coats and tailored dinner jackets dotted with big disc-like sequins and military-inspired flourishes, all captured in a short film as they came together on the cutting tables of the Maison’s atelier, as well as a trippy, twisting short all by Nick Knight. In the show’s accompanying podcast, Galliano talked about his days hanging out at legendary London club Blitz alongside the likes of Princess Julia, Stephen Jones, and Steve Strange, explaining that, after months in quarantine, he was craving glamour: “I’m hungry for beauty! Let’s have a Zoom party!” he declared.


Drawing the AW20 Couture season to a close was Pierpaolo Piccioli, who followed in John Galliano’s footsteps and joined forces with Nick Knight for a short film, Of Grace and Light. Soundtracked by FKA twigs, who previously performed at Valentino’s AW20 show back in January, models appeared standing on ladders, as if suspended in space in a series of ethereal, otherworldly white gowns paired with glittering fringed headpieces, petal-embellished bonnets, and Pierrot-esque tulle collars. With the show taking place in Rome’s Cinecitta cinema space (otherwise known as the city’s ‘factory of dreams’), Piccioli explained he was tapping into “the magic of early cinema” – and lord knows we could all use a touch of magic right now.