Spring Haute Couture Fall & Winter 2023 Review

Nathaniel Olsen, Columnist

Translating directly to high sewing, Haute Couture is the crème de la crème of the world’s fashion offerings. 27 brands showed collections for its clientele and esteemed guests in its Fall and Winter 2022/2023 iteration. Each prestigious house, often called a Maison, evokes all the grandeur, imagination and technical innovation possible by human hand in the service of the world’s most wealthy connoisseurs. The Creative Directors in charge of their collection’s construction and presentation must intimately consider that their team of illustrators, patternmakers, fabric cutters, seamstresses, embroiderers known as the atelier, are making literal princess dresses, likely to be sold for tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. 


This season’s edition certainly brought the entertainment and glamor that codifies Haute Couture and then some. But do not worry. There were plenty of laughs and gaffs along the way as well. I watched all 27 shows, so you don’t have to! Here are my overarching thoughts:


To be honest, it can feel pointless and unmotivating to find fascination in clothing given the mess of a world we live in. Fashion is an extractive industry after all. But I think that is what was special about Haute Couture, and this was especially present in this season’s collections. Haute Couture is escapist and fantastical by nature. Combine that with the fact that these dresses, made from the world’s most precious resources and one of one art pieces more than they are everyday wearable garments. The result of Haute Couture is a celebration of the feelings and traditions we hold dear and explorations into our collective dreams and futures.


 Holding tradition close to the heart, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s collection for Parisian mainstay Dior, expanded upon the folklore traditions of Ukraine at a time when that tradition is under violent threat. Referencing Ukrainian artists from both past and present, specifically the work of Olesia Trofymenko, the Dior collection showcased the unimaginable talent of its Atelier. Folklore references are easy to see in both the silhouette and finishing details, surely making the Cottage-Core fans excited. Master embroiderers from across the globe turned tradition into innovation. Most of the embroidery work was done by craftspeople in India (before being finished in Paris), giving the finished garments a much more globally inclusive feeling


Ms. Chiuri has often used the symbol of the tree of life in her collections for Dior, illuminating the shared dignity and beauty in the story of women. Once again, she has struck a chord with women, proving that feminine beauty is universal and indestructible against any gluttonous human desire. While the dresses and coats shown by Dior this are a far cry from the New Look silhouette upon which Monsieur Dior built his eponymous Maison, they flow towards a forward-looking woman. Modest, elegant, rooted in tradition and craftsmanship, derived for the next Ms. Dior to take her femininity into a new generation without giving up the past. 


Today the House of Dior represents the old guard of women’s dressing. The undoubted leader of the newest generation of dressing, Demna Gvasalia, also showed a Couture collection for this fall. He was privileged to undertake the 51st Haute Couture collection for Balenciaga. This was his second Couture offering for the brand after reviving the brand’s famous position in the world of Couture last spring. Cristobal Balenciaga, the Maison’s founder, was known as the master of Couture. Heavy is the crown that sits upon Demna’s head, and the mere celebrity of his Haute Couture collections draw eyes from even those of whom are not fashion fanatics.


For the second time, Demna took on the impossible challenge of beautifully bringing elements of his design language into the world of Balenciaga Couture. Always subversive, often abrasive, Demna has used couture to push back against the extravagant nature of couture. Suiting in skintight leather made to look like neoprene, cotton jersey sweatpants and hoodies, and denim pants were featured amongst gowns that paid homage to the Master, Mr. Balenciaga himself. The collection came together to give an overwhelmingly retrofuture appeal.


Many of the silhouettes felt comfortable and nostalgic towards an era of elegance but finishing details and materiality pushed Balenciaga Couture into a new age. Cristobal was an innovator at heart with playfully perfect shapes that pushed modernity into the postwar era. Demna is also an innovator, but as the late Designer Virgil Abloh would say, Demna is post-post-modern. A joke of a joke so deep into meme culture that it no longer becomes a joke at all. The ironic reality in Demna’s Couture Autumn winter 2022/23 mirrors the societal sentiment of today. Covid, the rise of nationalism and climate change all point to a bleak future where meaningful beauty is hard to entertain. The internet has become a viable place to conduct our political and social discourse. However, this discourse is led not by the most well thought out, but rather the loudest voice in the room. In an era of clickbait and trolling, I would also want to hide my face in a black face shield to maintain a low profile. Mind you, these face masks cost $6,000 in collaboration with Mercedes.


Fall 2022 Couture is very resemblant of the mood of the current time, stuck between past and future. Traditional beauty or cutting-edge modernity. And while the Couturiers fight this never-ending battle, we get to happily observe. Dior and Balenciaga have been friendly combatants in this way since the very beginning, Monsieur Dior and Monsieur Balenciaga creating revolutionary Couture collections since the late 1940s. The same level of grandeur present in their eponymous collections in 2022, but the tone has starkly shifted. Beauty is amid a crisis it seems, where beauty is the light against a dark reality. 


The internet has skewed our perceptions of everything, and we don’t know how deeply to believe the perception about it. The soulless and solemn beauty found in this year’s Balenciaga Collection is much more Instagram-able, smooth and structured yet striking in silhouette. While the Dior Collection is way too nuanced of a beauty with its audacious embroidery work yet not overwhelming with its shapes. Dior’s dresses simply take longer than 5 seconds to truly appreciate and so they will be swiped passed before the masses will give them a proper view. Our gaze points piercingly towards the future, where the meta-verse and other virtual realities begin to intersect more directly with daily lives. Why be one satisfactory person, when you can use the internet to anonymously be whoever you want a million times over?

[1] Dior Couture Fall 2022 Collection


[2] Balenciaga Couture Fall 2022 Collection


[3] High Snobiety Instagram


 [4] The Golden Age of Couture, V&A Publications, 2007

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