Couture being couture. Models being haute. And an audience, completely transfixed.
The show that Haider Ackermann sent out, along an ice-blue carpet under the roof of Jean Paul Gaultier’s house, was mesmerizing. Everything came together. The sense of the high values of design being the point of it. The models who used their collective intelligence to interpret It. Gaultier’s haute couture house ateliers who expressed it in body-sharp tailoring, and crisply-scissored drape.
Ackermann is the fourth of the designers to have been tapped on the shoulder for a one-season collaboration, since Gaultier retired. He follows Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, Glenn Martens of Y/Project, and Chitose Abe of Sacai. Ackermann, the most grown-up guest thus far, was perhaps aesthetically the least likely yet to have been invited to respond to Gaultier’s storied metier. As he admitted just before the show, “I don’t have a sense of humor at all! I have my gravity, and he has his generosity and joy—we are two worlds apart. But at the same time, we have many things in common. Because we both love women, we adore women, respect women.”
The convergence he found began with Gaultier’s tailoring. “To go back to the essence of his work, which was perfect. People forget how immaculate his tailoring was. His work was magical. So I tried to go back to the pure lines, to find a calmness and moment of grace. Because I believe his work was magical.”
When the women began to walk out, they slowly and with a deliberate collectivity embodied the spirit of old-world couture stances, pausing to strike poses in front of photographers as if they were in an Irving Penn shoot. The pace and the intimacy of the staging meant that every single lingering silhouette and detail could be taken in close-up. The whiteness of the cuffs on immaculate black trouser suits, cut sometimes with tailcoats and conceptual plackets of frogging, sometimes reduced to pure minimal outline. One skinny-trousered two-piece came with a diagonal slash across the jacket and a hip-level obi-cummerbund—a stunning aesthetic fusion of Ackermann and Gaultier in one look.
On top of that, Ackermann proved himself as a colorist and a dressmaker, draping extraordinary serpentine gowns and varieties of chic coat dresses with contrasting linings. It made it sink in how rare it is these days that outstanding drama and chic minimalism go together. Somehow, high fashion now has gotten hitched up with pantomime. This, without turning backwards or being in the least camp, made a progressive case for the sensational powers of haute couture in the modern world.
That was Ackermann’s intention: to bring the subject of haute couture back to the clothes. He did that superbly. “I knew Jean Paul liked my work, but I never thought this would come my way. I’m already a long time in business. It’s usually like, okay, give it to the younger ones,” he said. “And so, to design is one of the most wonderful feelings. I really love my job, and this made me love it even more. It’s been like a love affair between me, and the ladies in the atelier.”
The arrangement with the house is for one season only. “It makes me sad to leave all this behind. But if I’ve created 10 minutes of grace when everyone can forget about their problems, and I’ve honored Monsieur, and something that’s also necessary for fashion in 2023, then I’ll be happy.”
He did, all of that. It was spellbinding.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com