Contrasting fashion moments at Couture: Iris van Herpen and Romance Was Born

The Paris haute couture season witnessed two radically different fashion moments in one day, the remarkable organic high-tech of Dutchwoman Iris van Herpen, and the off-beat maximalist vision of Australia’s Romance Was Born, during Monday. What unified them was their unflinching determination to bring their wildly contrasting visions to life, and show them in Paris to the toughest fashion audience in the world.


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Iris van Herpen - Fall-Winter2018 - Haute Couture - Paris - © PixelFormula

 
Chronologically, van Herpen went first with her high-tech birds of paradise, beguiling insect shapes; or beautifully transparent ruffle dresses that looked spun by a lady Penelope, not sewn by hand. Marvelous meshes of membrane and techy plumages that climaxed with a beautiful peacock pride look that provoked a huge exclamation of surprise form the audience in an old theatre in Clichy. 
 
Van Herpen named her collection Syntopia, or a meeting of biology and technology, which most of the looks in this really remarkable show suggested. All staged under a 15-meter glass wing that flew above the audience.
 
The Dutch designer teamed up with artists Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, morphing their immersive sculptures into wearable, attention-demanding, fashion. The results were high-tech clothes layered like birds' feathers. Dresses woven of transparent organza layers or painted wools – developing a whole new fashion vocabulary. This show was really that fresh.
 
Four hours later, the most inventive Australian fashion house of this century, Romance Was Born, made their Paris debut in an obscure basketball hall in the French equivalent of a YMCA. The collection, entitled Step Into Paradise, was termed “kinda’ couture” by the Sydney-based house.


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Romance was born - Fall-Winter2018 - Haute Couture - Paris - © PixelFormula

Hand-worked garments that referenced Australian history, beach clubs, showgirls and Aborigine culture all containing images of fauna and flora.
 
Jenny Kee, the Italo-Chinese artists and designer born in Bondi Beach, a maxi-maximalist if ever there was one, influenced much of the collection. High graphic slogans; Bondi references; beaded fringe tassels; embroidered cockatoos. Each model’s head finished with multicolored plumage, like bejeweled eagles that never come home to roost.
 
“A glamorous parade of powerful nymphets and sprites,” the program predicted, which is exactly what we witnessed on the catwalk.
 
That favorite Oz emblem, the Waratah spiky red plant, appeared on warp coats, gigantic, tropical-flower-hued mohair sweaters and capes worthy of an Aztec empress – or make that Australian princess. Throughout their career Romance Was Born have invented a fantasy vision of Australia, an epic past born in their imagination and this show was a brilliant statement of the power of the human mind to conjure up a whole mythical iconography of their young country.

“Everyone told us that when you come to Paris, don’t try to go all French. Just be true to yourselves,” said Luke Sales, founder and partner with Anna Plunkett of Romance Was Born.
 
They succeeded, and how.

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