All the things I learnt and loved at Paris Haute Couture Week 2023

From Gaultier’s breath-taking designs, Indian couturiers, and show-stopper looks served by Doja Cat, here are all the highlights you need from the week gone by.

Harper's Bazaar India

What is the anti-dote for the unbearable heaviness of being, especially at a time when you feel the weight of the world in the form of checklists you still haven’t ticked off? For me, it is artistic stimulus of any form—visual, written, musical, and especially sartorial. The G.O.A.T pick-me-up though—a combination of all of this that helps to emphatically open up a world of adaptable experiences—you can hope to wear one day. And this is where fashion’s fierce outing in the form of Paris Haute Couture Week sews a parallel universe, so intrinsically dexterous that everyone remains affected even if they choose not to, and everyone must opine. Far removed from anything remotely democratic owing to how extravagantly priced each garment is, the Paris Haute Couture Week (PHCW) gives designers who make the cut a playground unlike any other—they can be as opulent, bizarre, ethereal, surreal, fantastical, or wearable, as their imagination desires. Leads me to the common thread of questions that almost always emerges out of it: what’s the point if you can’t comfortably wear what’s being showcased on the runway? 


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Well, that’s the point—the showcase of collections must be viewed as art that might seem wholesome to few and ridiculous to others, and must become a conversation starter, or best of all, leave you spellbound. The distinguishing factor lies in the labour of love that goes into making the wearable piece of art—the designer assumes the role of the director, as the team of talented artisans in his/her/their atelier bring the designers vision to life. Take for instance, Viktor & Rolf’s unconventional collection this week. Called strange, avant-garde, fun and bizarre with its topsy-turvy gowns and an exaggerated narrative, it beget the question: are you wearing the dress? Or is the dress wearing you? While on one hand it was a parade of dreamy, romantic tulle ballgowns, on the other hand, the collection called ‘Late Stage Capitalism Waltz’ intended to transform familiar into absurd with the dress beginning to alienate itself from the body.

Indian couture in all its meticulous handcrafted glory

Although AI and technology makes replication as easy as switching between apps or swiping right/left to determine whether it’s a match, couture honours history, slow-fashion, and artisanship, managing a certain je ne sais quoi at a time of burgeoning homogeneity. This novelty, unique to Paris Haute Couture Week gives designers who make the cut the key to the highest echelon of fashion. How? A legally protected term in France, Haute Couture (high-sewing or high-fashion) is regulated by the French government on a global scale. Nothing short of remarkable then that three Indian designers showcased their collections this year, spread across four days. A first for Gaurav Gupta (marking his debut with his collection, ‘Shunya’ lauded for his engineered sculpting and command over structural draping), the third time for couturier Rahul Mishra (as a guest member of Fédération de la Haute Couture after being the very first Indian to showcase way back in 2020, bringing ‘Cosmos’ to the couture week this time round), and the third consecutive showcase for Vaishali Shadangule (the first and only Indian woman to have been invited to PHCW who presented her collection ‘Abyss’). 


Legacy design houses switch guards for fresh perspective


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When Schiaparelli opened the couture week, the jaw-dropping surrealist hyperrealistic animal heads at the showcase left the internet divided. Provocative, the designs elicited a reaction from everyone in the know. Following a different tone and theme, the ready-to-wear show was brought to life by Mugler’s creative director Casey Cadwallader who chose to step away from Thierry Mugler’s world of technicolour flair, and instead, opted for black, lace veils mourning the couturier through the showcase with 90s supermodels headlining the show. 
Haider Ackermann’s (the go to designer for actors like Timothee Chamalet to Tilda Swinton) guest stint designing the Jean Paul Gaultier 2023 haute couture collection played to the magical innocence that fashion exemplifies, becoming one of the most revered shows of the week and touted as one that brought the forbidden fruit of wearability back to the couture week. Dior’s artistic director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, wound the clock back to Josephine Baker (American-born French singer, dancer, and actress) who challenged status quo and became the first black woman to star in a major motion picture. Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccoli opened up his couture show to the public by staging it in a nightclub (with Anne Hathaway and BTS’s Suga in the front row)


History maker and newcomers at PHCW 2023


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Robert Wun made history as the first Hong Kong born designer to show at PHCW 2023. His unique point of view and stellar designs had earned him a 2016 Woolmark nomination, followed by 2022 ANDAM Prix Special, plus a year’s mentoring from Bruno Pavolvsky, president of Chanel. During the vetting process for the Couture Week, Wun got unanimous support from the committee that comprised of nine members from the most storied maisons in Paris. Based out of London and know for futuristic sculptural silhouettes, celebrities like Lady Gaga, Cardi B, Bretman Rock and Blackpink’s Lisa amongst others have been seen wearing his designs. The other newcomers included Maison Sara Chraini and homegrown talent Gaurav Gupta. 


Doja Cat steals the show and wins the front row game


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Celebrities were in full attendance at the couture week with Kylie Jenner, Michelle Yeoh, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Juliette Binoche to Timothee Chamalet attending the spring/summer 2023 haute couture shows. However, the one to repeatedly steal the show was Doja Cat who gave enough meme-worthy content with her appearance at Schiaparelli, covered from head-to-toe in 30,000 red Swarovski crystals. Her second appearance at Viktor & Rolf in a moustache and beard made of fake eyelashes established the American rapper as the one to watch for future fashion outings.