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Digital Dior. Remote Chanel. What’s Couture With No Runway?

Vanessa Friedman

In any case, only Viktor & Rolf managed to capture the absurdity of the whole exercise: us, sitting in our rooms around the world, staring into small screens by ourselves, mesmerized (or not) by well-intentioned efforts to elicit asynchronous rapture.

They did it with a five-minute play in three acts titled “change” (small c, all in gold balloons) that spliced the classic department store show with today’s working-from-home ethos, with a stentorian voice-over by the singer Mika, and a heavy dose of levity.

See, for example, an empire-waist sapphire satin negligee spotted with lace storm clouds to reflect “a feeling of sadness and anger familiar to many these days.” Or the pale pink chemises adorned with “contradictory emoji,” the “frantically entangled” sashes swirling around enormous bathrobe coats, and the enveloping A-line silhouettes to guarantee “you will remain in your own safe zone while venturing out into the world.”

There was a lot more like that. “If only we could change ourselves as easily as we do our outfits,” said Mika. That is, of course, the promise of all this; the beauty is that we all keep hoping.

It feels inauthentic: a copy of an idea from another creative discipline. And the problems of couture are not so much financial (most of the brands that can afford couture have enough of a cash cushion to survive the current situation, and someone, somewhere, is still buying it) as existential. With the dire state of the world, what’s the point?

There’s an electricity to a live event, with its sense of shared experience and risk, that answers that question and cannot be replicated in the vacuum of the internet. There’s a specificity to a fashion show, a rhythm in the entrances and exits and struts, a duet between body and cloth, that has its own cadence and offers its own implicit thesis about the costumes IRL, which loses its force when it gets moved to a URL. It’s too easy to look away. To roll your eyes. And giggle.

Well, now we know. And it’s not actually a judgment on the clothes themselves, anyway. It’s a judgment on the context.

It just seems so much more convincing from the ballroom chairs.