Paris Haute Couture Fall 2021 | Freedom, the Earth and Upcycling



Haute Couture, the crowning jewel of fashion and culture agenda setting, returned on July 5th. The shows were teeming with nods to the fragility of our earth, our fragility as inhabitants of it and of our inescapable subservience to the un-restrainable ebb and flow of nature.

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We saw Schiaparelli harness a sophisticated but non-the-less exuberant collection that celebrated the body and “a new kind of prettiness”; all the while Iris Van Herpen presented spectacular and ethereal scenes of the earth from above; and Burberry returned from their half-a-century long hiatus from Couture with Demna Gvasalia's sleek, bold and confident collection.

Key players took to up-cycling old materials in a statement against the grain of traditional Haute Couture in all its precision and pristine-ness: Schiaparelli and Ronald Van Der Kemp painted similar stripes when they both used re-worked denim in their collections and Viktor and Rolf – in line with their classic waste-reducing fashion – made use of patchwork.


We also noticed storytelling through exuberant sculpture and embellishments: from Pyer Moss’s politically driven sculptures of everyday items; to Viktor and Rolf’s regal jewel encrusted golden crowns; to Schiaparelli’s metal-work body parts (see ear-shaped earrings; gold-plated bronchi; and eyes).


Another trope can be defined by one word, one that feels otherworldly and aspirational under our current global circumstances “free”. Pastels in their many hues are gently suffused by billowing tulle gowns presented by Giambattista Valli; Iris Van Herpen’s super-human model is suspended by thin air in the middle of the sky, seemingly looking down from her position on top of the world; and Pyer Moss’s extravagant and striking comment on Black erasure was of course, very deeply rooted in the ongoing need for freedom.


We unpack how five different sustainable brands have approached such themes and what their presentations looked like in more detail:



Kerby Jean-Raymond: the first Black designer to present on the Couture calendar created a visually striking comment on black erasure by constructing 25 Black inventions into life-sized garments. The pieces were immaculately constructed, as bold equally in their colours and their structural form and their message. The installation was presented at CJ Walker’s manor house and introduced by the activist and Chairwoman for the Black Panther Party Elaine Brown, proclaiming about the historical struggle for the liberation of oppressed groups, including black people. Her question to the audience, quoting Martin Luther King and laying the foundations for the couture that was to follow, was this: “where do we go from here?”.  



After paying homage to Gaultier’s iconic 1984 conical bra with her own take on such a look, Sacai’s Chitose Abe suffused Gaultier’s signature rebellious and subversive air with her own vision in her Couture debut as Gaultier’s guest designer. Looks took the shape of voluminous, rippling arrangements of tactile suiting fabrics, aran wool and re-constructed iterations of the bomber and the trench – punk yellow tartan was remixed and layered with leather and nautical stripes and powerful silhouettes were softened with wisps of organza that melted the edges. The resulting presentation was captivating.



The sustainably conscious designer, who pioneered re-cycling old garments as an act against the harsh reality of overconsumption and the damage that has been, and that persists to be done by the fashion industry, kept to his word in this new haute couture collection. All at once, his presentation featured ‘fur’ jackets made from tufts of up-cycled denim, colourful patchwork dresses, and elegant all-black long gowns. 


“I already see the more, more, more feeling coming back in the amount of clothes that are coming out again,” – Van Der Kemp to Vogue



Galliano’s theatrical moving image collection for Maison Margiela asks us to delve into the story that he created about a pared-back group who live by the sea, seemingly centuries ago – they work with the earth and the ocean for survival. Living up to its name "A Folk Horror Tale", the film demonstrates the harsh perils that can be bestowed upon humanity by nature. 


“It’s about the fast-wash of anxiety, the power of nature—and when faced with that, how helpless we are.”- Galliano, in ‘A Folk Horror Tale’


Galliano has channelled this closeness with nature into his collection: the pieces are not only evocative and reminiscent of the reality depicted in the film but have been made using techniques such as enzyme washes and stone-washing to remove colour.




Iris Van Herpen’s mesmerising presentation depicted the earth’s natural and magnificent landscapes, in which models appeared like ethereal creatures who were at one with the elements. It talks to both the very fragility of humanity within nature, of which most of us are hyper-aware at the current time; and the powerful, altered-state that we can embody when we work together with nature.

She has worked once again on this collection with Parley for the Oceans to develop materials made from recycled plastics – the ocean’s ecosystem being something she is inspired by and dedicated to in the fish-scale-like designs that we see in this collection. 

Skydiver Kiger’s dress posed a particular challenge for Van Herpen. A statement about powerful femininity was achieved through her choice to use Kiger, a minority as a woman in her field, to present such an intricately crafted and apparently delicate garment, in a way that simultaneously harnesses the durability that is required in a skydive. 


The positivity, combined with calls for action regarding our planet and those who live on it, that is exuded throughout the presentations epitomised in unison Rolf Snoeren’s catchphrase of the season: “The show must go, always go on”. 


+  Words: Niamh Heron, Luxiders Magazine 

BA Journalism and Media Graduate, based in Leeds, UK

Connect with her through Instagram @niamh.heron or LinkedIn