As a lover of etymology, I’m often looking for the origin of words. Most of you may think it’s a pointless intellectual exercise but I don’t: I’m convinced words and language are one of the ways to understand the world we live in. For this reason, analyzing the origin of a word allows you to learn more about the world itself. Take the term “democracy”, for example: it was coined from the Greek δῆμος (démos, meaning “people”) and κράτος (cràtos, meaning “power”), and it literally means “(governing) power from the people”. Now, I’ve been thinking a lot about this word lately, not only referred to politics, but to the world of fashion, too. The adjective “democratic” (meaning “available/accessible to everybody”) has been often applied to clothes and accessories: think of the affordable designer collections for H&M and Target or of the explosion of fashion blogging, two different examples of the same concept. I’d love to explain the reason why I think the world of fashion is not democratic by definition (and will never be), but this is not the point. One of the few fashion shelters that haven’t been touched by the long wave of (fake) democracy is haute couture, which resists – like a bastion – among hordes of oh-so-cheap-but-exclusive collections and of it-but-everybody-owns-one accessories.
I’ve never been a supporter of elitism at all costs, but this is an exception: haute couture still symbolizes the true essence of fashion, a dream-like quality that most of ready-to-wear creations has never owned, and for this reason I think it’s extremely important to protect it as a work of art. This is certainly the case of Givenchy spring 2011 collection, an amazing set of ten dresses that can’t hardly be considered examples of the best craftmanship. After a journey in Mexican folklore, this time Riccardo Tisci has symbolically travelled to Japan: his collection is full of references to the extremely complex Japanese culture, where the past and a highly stylized idea of future live one next to the other.
Fei Fei Sun wears a long dress in white tulle with hand-stitched, quilted and appliquéd motifs in shades of pale primrose and white silk chiffon, georgette, satin and lace worn under a matching sleeveless jacket with a back in silk chartreuse silk satin. The flying crane motif in front of the dress is clearly a reference to the bird which has an important symbolic value in East-Asian culture: in China, for example, it is a symbol of longevity and immortality. The decoration on the back of the sleeveless jacket, on the other hand, refers to a completely different imagery, something halfway between a robot armour and a carapace.
Liu Wen wears a long dress in white tulle with hand-cut, layered and appliquéd motifs in shades of pale primrose and white silk organza, chiffon, georgette and satin worn under a matching sleeveless jacket with a back in quilted chartreuse silk satin. In this case, the crane motif (or better, the crane’s wings and feathers) can be found – again – on the bodice; the back of the sleeveless jacket, with that short train, is heavenly.
Jiang Xiao Yi wears a long tulle dress in a degradé from white to mimosa with hand-stitched, quilted and appliquéd motifs in silk chiffon, georgette and satin, embroidered with ostrich feathers at the hem. I’m speechless because this is a masterpiece: the flying crane motif is developed from the waist down in such an interesting way. The sheer bodice beautifully contrasts with the appliquéd motifs, which gradually give way to a triumph of feathers, another reference to birds and one of Tisci’s trademarks. It’s impossible not to mention the eccentric hats by Philip Treacy, inspired to the robot manga comic books and anime television series (my mind goes to Go Nagai’s Great Mazinger, for example).
Hye Rim Park wears a long dress in pleated pale wisteria silk chiffon embroidered with pearls and crystals trapped in leather and silk organza and stitched with silk thread tone on tone in front and charteuse behind. I love the severe line of the dress, the open circular embellishments and – most of all – the super-sexy opening on the back. The chartreuse touches create a gorgeous contrast with the pale shade of wisteria .
Tao Okamoto wears a long dress in pleated pale wisteria silk chiffon embroidered with pearls and crystals trapped in leather and silk organza and stitched with silk thread tone on tone in front and charteuse behind, worn with matching wide-cut trousers and an embroidered, sleeveless jacket in knitted silk. This can be considered the twin dress of the previous model: the styles are pretty similar and the colour combination is the same. In this case, the opening on the back has been replaced by crossing shoulder straps, embellished with chartreuse beadings.
Ming Xi wears another masterpiece, a long dress in nude stretch tulle embroidered in front with matte sequins in shade of pale beige and behind with vermillion-coloured geometric hand-cut sequins and glass tubes, worn with a matching sleeveless jacket. The alternation of different textures (matte/shiny) and fabrics (trimmed tulle and silk) is sublime, and so is the contrasting touch vermillion on nude. The presence of the crane/feather motif is juxtaposed to the theme of the skeleton, recurring in Tisci’s creations: if you take a look at the back of the jacket, you can see the beaded embroidery resembling a rib cage.
Cranes and feathers are the primary source of inspiration for this beautiful number, worn by Shu Pei: it’s a long dress in nude stretch tulle embroidered in front with matte sequins in shade of pale beige and behind with vermillion-coloured geometric hand-cut sequins and glass tubes. Two crane heads stand out on the bodice, while feather motifs can be found on the sheer skirt (see the beautiful pair of half-closed wings) and on the back of the dress.
Du Juan wears a long dress in pale dove grey silk tulle embroidered with ostrich feathers and fine strips of hand-cut leather, worn under a cropped cage jacket in matching leather with a back embroidered with geometric three-dimensional fluo pink leather elements. This dress introduces another colour combination (white or pale dove grey and fluo pink) and new themes, as well. The cage motif on the cap sleeves of the jacket reminds me of the men, the stylized helmet used by kendōkas; the complex bow reminds the tsuke obi and the chōchō musubi, different ways in which an obi, the sash traditionally worn on a kimono, can be tied. Furthermore, the romantic feathers on the skirt contrast with the futuristic carapace decoration on the back of the jacket.
So Young Kang wears a long dress in pale willow coloured silk tulle embroidered with ostrich feathers and fine strips of hand-cut leather, worn with a sleeveless bow jacket embroidered with matching leather strips and a back embroidered with geometric three-dimensional fluo pink leather elements. This dress is very similar to the previous one, but there are some differences which make it simpler, especially at the waistline, where’s the multiple bows have been replaced by a stylized ruffled peplum.
Ai Tominaga wears a long bustier dress in powder white silk tulle embroidered with ostrich feathers and hand-cut geometric floral leather motifs, worn with a matching sleeveless jacket embroidered on the back with geometric three-dimensional fluo pink leather elements. Again, there are many points in common with the previous dresses, but here Tisci decided to mix things a little bit: the front of the dress is extremely simple, because the emphasis has been put on the back of the jacket and of the dress itself, with a bow, overlapping pleats and silk strips.
In this beautiful backstage shot, the Italian designer is contemplating the back of the last dress, worn by Ai Tominaga.
I don’t know how you feel about this collection, but I’m totally in awe. The references to Japanese culture are a thread connecting all the dresses and this would be enough to make me love it, since I love that culture and I appreciate consistency very much. Furthermore, the extremely refined colour palette, the incredible craftmanship behind each dress, the complex decorations contrasting with the simple lines, turns it into a memory to treasure forever.
 It’s not coincidental that wisteria – the flowering plant – is extremely popular in China and Japan.