Document’s Fashion Critic-at-Large Katharine Zarrella provides her self-proclaimed ‘couch couture’ dispatch surveying this last week in Paris

“The world would go on without haute couture,” billionaire and OTB president Renzo Rosso told me once upon a time and long, long ago, after a 2016 Viktor & Rolf Haute Couture show in Paris. “But couture is very important because through it, you can do something very artisanal. Sometimes, it’s not that wearable because it’s the most extreme inspiration of fashion [writer’s aside: see John Galliano’s Spring 2024 Artisanal collection for Margiela, a brand OTB owns.] And thanks to this experiment, after, you can do something commercial,” he said. “The commercial fashion industry exists because high fashion exists.”

Though Rosso said this nearly a decade ago, it still rings true—for the most part. I watched this season’s haute couture collections not up close from incomprehensibly uncomfortable benches in Paris (these clothes are so expensive—six figures in most cases; someone really needs to fix the seating) but from my embarrassingly comfy couch in New York’s Greenwich Village…and also from a luxuriously oversized beach chair while seaside in Massachusetts. Is that how one is supposed to review the most intricate and sacred form of fashion design? Absolutely not. Does anyone seem particularly bothered that I’m reviewing these collections, some of which include garments that took hundreds of hours to produce, through a computer screen? Not to my knowledge. Welcome to the future, friends.

On that note, what stood out on my 13-inch MacBook Air was Schiaparelli, for its lack of gimmicks, embrace of craft, and subtle reference to the brand’s rich heritage, Armani for its general chicness, Viktor & Rolf for its authentic, unapologetic sense of clownishness, and Thom Browne for its authentic, unapologetic sense of Thom Browne-ness. Here, a quasi-detailed account of Fall 2024’s most memorable haute couture shows as I saw them from my couch (and the beach).

Even through a monitor, it was plain to see that this was a pretty darn fantastic couture collection, which is funny because designer Daniel Roseberry asked members of his atelier not to look at their phones while working on this romp de triomphe. Unlike his previous couture outings, which relied on referential, meme-worthy tricks, this effort incorporated subtle nods to Elsa Schiaparelli’s work, including her shoe hat, made with Salvador Dalí (appearing here on the breasts of a gown). Another kinetic, gam-baring dress recalled the outfits worn by chorus girls in an original Schiaparelli Shocking perfume advertisement, illustrated in the 1930s or ’40s by Marcel Vertès. The collection was cleverly, cerebrally elegant while remaining playful. Elsa would have approved.

Thom Browne
“Thom Browne really phoned it in,” said no fashion critic ever. The American designer’s Fall 2024 couture collection was yet another testament to his maniacal attention to detail, dedication to craftsmanship and devotion to whimsy. Comprising 48 predominantly cream-colored looks, the collection was crafted largely from muslin, the cotton fabric designers use to make sample garments. But these were no samples. They were nipped, tucked, sculpted, and layered with stupefying skill. Like Dior’s Chiuri, Browne, too, referenced the impending Olympic Games. One particularly tailored jacket boasted gilded embroidery depicting a javelin thrower, a discus thrower, and an archer. Elsewhere, models sported angelic looks grounded by boots with metal cleats. One coat-dress was covered in red beads that depicted the muscular system, depicting an athlete’s prowess and, not unlike the muslin, exposing the raw, unadorned inner workings of someone (or something) awe-inspiring.

Presented just a few weeks after creative director Virginie Viard’s departure, Chanel’s couture collection was, according to the brand, designed by the in-house team. The show was theatrically staged at Paris’s historic Palais Garnier opera house, which explains the deliciously dramatic black opera cape that opened the show (paired with nothing but a white bodysuit and satin open-toe heels). Familiar house signatures abounded—traditional tweeds, girlish hair bows, pearls galore—and there was a Karl Lagerfeld-esque playfulness present in some of the pieces, namely tulle tutu-dress befitting Swan Lake’s Odile, and in the finale bridal gown, a voluminous specimen infused with 1980s ostentation.

Jean Paul Gaultier
Big. Corset. Energy. That’s the best way to sum up Courrèges designer Nicolas Di Felice’s turn as Jean Paul Gaultier’s guest couturier. The sleek, sexy, bodycon gowns will please his fans like Emily Ratajkowski and Dua Lipa, but they still nod back to the history of JPG with undercover built-in structure that makes these pieces all the more seductive.

Armani Privé
This 90-look-strong lineup is what traditional haute couture is all about—impeccably crafted, almost-unattainable elegance. Tailored jackets paired with louche, liquid-silk trousers; an abundance of decadent black velvet; and a profusion of pearl embellishments will delight Privé devotees (however exclusive that club might be) and force their companions’ hearts to skip a beat—or two. It’s a veritable siren song of a couture collection. Proceed with caution, and keep those defibrillator paddles at the ready.

Christian Dior
Fun fact that you hopefully already know: Paris is hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics, which kick off July 26. Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri mined this occasion for inspiration. Her Fall 2024 couture collection nodded to the history of the Olympics via regal Grecian-goddess gowns and also aimed to celebrate female athletes throughout history. This was represented, in part, via the use of jersey—a decidedly un-couture fabric—which was elevated by micro-sequins and various embellishments. The winningest sporty take? A onesie covered in gilded feathers.

Robert Wun
London-based designer Robert Wun celebrated 10 years of making exquisitely odd haute couture this season and I am here for it. His aesthetic? Elegant and off-the-walls. His construction? Immaculate. His themes? Utterly out-there and, in this case, existential. According to the show notes, his anniversary collection, titled Time, explored why Wun has been “doing this for so long,” why he wants to keep designing, and for how long he’ll keep going. “I found the answer,” he wrote, “through creating this collection, and it is to accept that one day everything ends—and that’s okay.” Correct. We’re all going to die. Eventually.

Wun’s latest collection translated our fleeting lifecycles into the four seasons. Ghostly, black-and-white ensembles, dappled with beaded “snow,” opened the show. Gowns and overcoats embellished with butterflies followed. Next came a model in a black velvet skirt and baby-pink mesh top embellished with cherry blossoms (she carried a matching umbrella, so I assume this was a spring situation). A sumptuously draped fuchsia gown, wrapped with an abstract corset and topped with a matching hat, all of which bore burn marks as if they’d been singed by cigarettes, had a scorched summer feel. And I’m willing to bet that the bodycon gown styled with a leaf headdress, signified fall. Wun closed the show with a quartet of magnificently macabre looks meant to represent the skin (a plissé silk caftan), flesh (a sculpted blood-red gown with beaded musculature), bones (some skeletor suiting), and soul (a shimmering finale number). If his crystal-soaked, cosmic gown and matching veil remotely resemble my spirit’s post-mortem aesthetic, I’ll be a happy specter indeed.

Viktor & Rolf
Dutch masters Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren have been turning fashion upside down, inside out, and then some since 1998. This season, they referenced their Fall 1998 collection, Atomic Bomb, and gave us a parade of distorted, outsize proportions and shapes befitting Klaus Nomi. Unlike Herr Nomi’s haute clown costume, however, V&R’s angular couture outing featured decadent fabrics in exuberant hues—Barbie pink, baby blue houndstooth, shimmering brocade, and beyond. One model strutted in a multicolor, striped, ruff-neck blouse and broad-waist triangle pants Bozo could only dream of. The show was a sartorial circus—absurdity at its best, shown at a time when much of reality has devolved into absurdity at its worst.

In the year of our Demna 2024, Balenciaga presented a Fall couture collection that was simultaneously everything and absolutely nothing. Nada. Niente. Rien.

The collection, creative director Demna’s fourth couture outing, included column dresses crafted from sweatshirts, ball gowns assembled from puffer coats, and hand-painted heavy-metal t-shirts featuring members of his atelier as band members. It was impressive, if not absurd. There were elegant-ish-leaning pieces too, like a sensually cinched parachute gown and another gown made from melted metallic plastic bags.

Some called it provocative. Some said it was an exciting, modern approach to the stale art of haute couture. Others thought it a cheeky jab at the fashion system. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And, ultimately, the buyer.