The Sumptuous Return of Couture: Fall 2021 Haute Couture Fashion Week

The Sumptuous Return of Couture: Fall 2021 Haute Couture Fashion Week

Fashion is roaring back to life as lockdowns have eased globally, warm weather returns, and Parisians – residents of one of the world’s fashion capitals – are ready for it. Haute Couture 2021 shows dazzled this week in Paris, and they proved as much.

Here are a few of our favorite shows from Paris’s Fall 2021 Haute Couture week.


What’s a fashion week in Paris sans Chanel? The iconic fashion house’s creative director, designer Virginie Viard, was inspired by some old photos of Coco Chanel attending a costume party, et voila – the looks for the Haute Couture 2021 show were born. The whimsical, romantic-looking dresses featured at Chanel were perfect for both a throwback, bygone era of costumery and also a future-forward vision of the fun that is to come post-pandemic.


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In early previews at the Chanel Studio on Rue Cambon, Viard also spoke of other sources of inspiration, artists Berthe Morisot (the sister-in-law of Manet) and Marie Laurencin, Vogue reports. They were impressionist and cubist artists, respectively, and Viard drew from their color palette for hers this season. The arts always seem to bleed into each other a bit; music and film equally inspire and accompany each other seamlessly, dance would be little without music, and fashion without art’s influence is hard to imagine.

Chanel’s latest show proves that with its arty, airy, flowing dresses with delicate embroidery, the house’s trademark patterned jackets, and an overall clothing mix of classic-meets-modern. (And this is a pairing that can be found on the walls of most art museums in Paris, too.) In short, Chanel’s show was a roaring success.


Balenciaga’s haute couture show, held at 10 Avenue Georges V, was helmed by Demna Gvasalia, the Georgian designer and creative director of Balenciaga whose show enlivened a theme everyone went through during the pandemic: Taking stock of priorities. During a time of such loss and sorrow, many found themselves asking: Who and what are most important to me?


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For Gvasalia, one of those priorities was, unsurprisingly, clothes. He tells Vogue, “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 [Balenciaga, the house’s founder] used to call it. And I realized it’s not about fashion — actually, I love clothes. I’ve been talking about clothes, clothes, clothes rather than fashion.”

This was Gvasalia’s first couture show for Balenciaga and he pulled it off with great success, with clothes that highlighted the house’s strengths: excellent craftsmanship paired with innovative designs. Taffeta, black tailoring, and stunning embroidery were the major takeaways from the show. Of note, the age diversity reflected in the models for Balenciaga’s show was so refreshing. Fashion, gorgeous costly clothes, and eye-catching styles are for everyone – not just young models in their teens and 20s, seen most often on runaways. Gvasalia’s looks reflected that truth, which sometimes goes overlooked.


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Elie Saab

Elie Saab’s couture show wasn’t physically in Paris but still made an appearance during Haute Couture week in a gorgeous virtual collection that reminded everyone of the fun to be found in haute couture. This show was awash of bright colors, massive dresses, sequins, and blooming flower designs. It was a breath of fresh air.

Saab, a Lebanese designer, was intentional about the fun and joy he wanted his clothes to reflect for this season. He tells Vogue, “We try to be very positive for the coming days.” The dresses on the runway reflected that positivity, with oversized bows, delicate white flowers, heavenly sparkling blues, frilly pink headdresses, and more. Lightness and brightness are (hopefully) ahead, and Saab brought that sentiment to life.

Alexis Mabille

Not to be outdone by houses like Saab, Alexis Mabille got in on the flower game, too. Over Zoom, he says to Vogue, “I was actually thinking about the beauty of blooming again after the hardships we’ve been through.” It seems many people, especially designers, are seeing this era as a time of rebirth, and renewal – a blossoming, of sorts.

At Mabille’s show, some models wore literal blooming flowers atop their head, hammering this point home. Sleeves made of blooming roses, along with flowers on the top of the dress (à la a Patricia Field-styled Carrie Bradshaw look, circa the early 2000s) delivered a delightful sense of fun and whimsy.

Capes made of pink tulle and a stunning yellow satin gown that looked like it was plucked right from the wardrobe of Disney’s Belle from Beauty and the Beast brought a childlike, fairytale sense to the show. Mabille delivered the dash of magic that we all need right now.

Lead photo credit : Fall fashion (C) freestocks, Unsplash

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Anne McCarthy is a contributing writer to BBC News, Teen Vogue, The Telegraph, Dance Magazine, and more. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Westminster and is the Editor in Chief of Fat Tire Tours’ travel blog. She lives in New York City.