Couture is for the very few, which means the fervor around the shows and the “trends” they might inspire can feel like a headscratcher. (How can a dress that will exist in just one or two copies become a trend?! Well, I’m sure the fast fashion villains are cooking up plushy lion heads mounted on polyester tube dresses as we speak…) In the Spring 2023 season, though, when the shows bring the glow of international wealth to chilly Paris, there is another possibility in mind: Oscar dresses.
Chanel, Armani, and Valentino are all major players in the celebrity dressing game, each of them having revolutionized the red carpet in their own way. Chanel conveys feminine French pleasures, and Valentino has made dressing up feel youthful, vivacious. As for Armani, he practically invented the system of red carpet dressing in the 1990s, and last year, I got a PR pitch stating that something like 30% of Oscar winners took hope their statues in Armani. Does the dress confer good luck, or does the brand simply have great taste? (Perhaps both: Michelle Yeoh, nominated for her role in Everything Everywhere All At Once, sat front row at this week’s show.)
These shows, for the season that wrapped up Thursday evening, can turn us all into armchair personal stylists. You see the dress and start dreaming of the talent. (I’ll admit that when I saw that wild chainmail two piece set at Dior, I thought immediately of Anya Taylor-Joy, who was perched in the front row.) So let’s play fantasy red carpet league, Oscars edition!
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Chanel’s Spring couture collection was cheery and young, with lots of A-line shapes and minidresses and -skirts, shown amid enormous animals made of wood, cardboard, and paper by artist (and regular Chanel collaborator) Xavier Vielhan. The show text noted that “the Chanel suit borrows its codes from the female uniforms of parades and spectacles”—and what are the Oscars, if not a spectacle and a parade?!
As topsy-turvy as the red carpet has become, actresses still tend to go long for the Academy Awards. Still, Kirsten Stewart at last year’s ceremony in Chanel hot pants, and the cool soigné of the minidresses in this couture collection, made me wonder if mini could be the thing for an attendee in Chanel. The gold sequin A-line coat, or a white lean sequin tank dress with a glitzy tweed frontispiece that puffs at the hip into a cackle of tulle, would look incredible on Margot Robbie, say, who starred in multiple nominee Babylon. (Chanel regular Robbie was not in attendance at the show, though her stylist Kate Young was.) Even the finale bride’s dress was a mini, emphasizing that it’s texture and construction, not merely length, that gives a dress its sense of occasion.
Meanwhile, in the gown department, things were opulently effortless: a nude tank dress covered with bursts of ivory sequins and topped with a white tweed coat, and a strapless metallic truffle of a dress, essentially a gold brocade minidress with a long, sheer, and swingy polka-dotted metallic drop waist over it. (Imagine Angela Bassett in that tank dress and coat. Imagine!!!) The lightness of the fabrics—so much sheer silk, layered over gold and silver underpinnings—and the simplicity of the tank dress or pullover silhouettes made it all look so appealingly casual. And chic—the kind of chic where you pull your hair back and apply the perfect red lip, but the way you wear the gown oozes ease. One dress in particular embodied this elegance: a slip dress underneath embroidered with little leaves, topped with a sheer drop waist gown with a ruffled, sequin hem. The model smized, and had her hands in her pockets. Ahhh. A gown with pockets! That’s confidence!
Over at Armani Privé, the designer was feeling playful. Giorgio Armani is thought of as the beige, tasteful gown designer, and indeed he is that (and thank God for it!). But his Privé collections also show his subtle sense of whimsy; I still think about a black velvet cape dress from his Fall 2018 collection embellished with tiny gold beads in the shape of crossed arms. Imagine talking to her at a party—the urge to impress would be almost overwhelming!
The entirety of the Spring 2023 show was inspired by harlequins, who loom large in commedia dell’arte, Renaissance Italy’s answer to Tinseltown. The focus on beautiful jackets with great pants, which is always an Armani swoon point, here in a palette of pale sand pinks, jewel blues, and harlequin prints, remind us that this master of elegance knows how to make ’em laugh. But he does so with a mischievous smile rather than anything remotely meme-like, which is rare.
To that end, it would be refreshing to see women show up on the red carpet in a sequin-bow bustier under an organza clown collar and perfect swishy harlequin trousers sprayed with midnight blue beads. Or even the pale pink, turquoise, and black silk satin evening jacket and matching wrapped trousers.
But again! We must be realistic. Those are risky looks for the red carpet. And a long sleeve, milky pink column dress covered in slinky beads, with gorgeous beaded pink blooms at the neck and wrist, has “Oscar winner” written all over it. Same goes for a gown that begins, at the neck, with a tense crosshatch pattern that expands slowly down the body into full-scale harlequin diamonds. With little sequin bows on the shoulders! Wow. What a dress!
Now let us plunder the spoils of Valentino. Pierpaolo Piccioli’s couture remains so popular, among celebrities and armchair fashion observers, because it is expressive and intensely emotional while remaining classic. He, too, offered lots of excellent short looks (and even some clown collars!) but his gowns are so pure and wondrous that an actress would be foolish to forgo them.
I loved a taffeta eggplant dress with a ruched bodice and trumpet skirt and a big tomato bow on the shoulder, styled with cotton candy pink opera gloves. (Any actress who wears this must do the gloves! DO THE GLOVES!) Then there was a spangly gold T-shirt dress with a slit up to there (you must admit that it’s so fun when attendees dress like Oscars), and a ruffly pink polka dot strapless dress that said, “I’m just here to have fun,” which I wish were uttered more often on the red carpet.
I can’t end this piece without talking about Haider Ackermann’s extraordinary couture show for Jean Paul Gaultier, which was just as “pure” as he promised in our interview this past week. Tilda Swinton and Timothée Chalamet were in attendance, and I imagine almost everyone who tweets obsessively about high fashion is crossing all their fingers in hopes that the stars will show up at the Academy Awards in Ackermann’s Gaultier looks.
Ackermann told me that he enjoys being quiet—“it suits me better.” His show was a testament to purity, quality, technical finesse, and connoisseurship, and the fact that it was so widely lauded makes me wonder if the connoisseur, someone hungry for information and joyfully snobbish about their vast grasp of culture and fashion, is the new influencer.
I wrote earlier this week about how wonderful it is that Paris Couture Week has space both for designers who whisper with their work and those who roar. Ackermann’s masterful show—made all the better by sauntering models who stopped at the end of the runway and gave major face—was a testament that those who insist on whispering may, in fact, roar the loudest. This collection was pure poetry.
Rachel Tashjian is the Fashion News Director at Harper’s Bazaar, working across print and digital platforms. Previously, she was GQ’s first fashion critic, and worked as deputy editor of GARAGE and as a writer at Vanity Fair. She has written for publications including Bookforum and Artforum, and is the creator of the invitation-only newsletter Opulent Tips.