A return to elegance for autumn. Beautifully cut shapes, the finest detail and stand-out decoration made this a Paris haute couture season to remember. The last show, Valentino, summed up the best of this showcase, but other clear-sighted displays, especially Givenchy, Dior, Chanel and Maison Margiela, featured ideas that will resonate far outside this rarefied enclave.
At Givenchy, British designer Clare Waight Keller was inspired by the house founder’s workroom and archives; Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri showed surrounded by the white toiles of clients’ dresses; at Maison Margiela, the brand that pioneered deconstruction, John Galliano daringly showed the inner structure of dresses and coats in recycled and unwanted materials under transparent over-layers including an X-ray of the outfit, while Jean-Paul Gaultier referenced his famous trouser suits for tuxedos that rock. At Valentino, grandly cut evening wear had regal appeal.
Leopards and tigers are couture favourites; now they roar back with 1980s glamour, in super-short mode at Dundas, with little, lace-trimmed shorts for practicality; slinky, longline and sequinned at Alexandre Vauthier; and surreally suited and masked or sweetly full-skirted at Schiaparelli.
The art of fine draping is as exacting as more spectacular couture crafts, resulting in clothes of unparalleled lightness; in barely there nude tulle and chiffon at Dior; in warrior goddess, metal breastplate style at Givenchy; on glorious cowl backs at Valentino, in gentle spring greens at Alexis Mabille; and, at Maison Rabih Kayrouz, even for daywear, on knotted-over tops and jackets.
Volume has been big news (and still is) but couture’s precision work is creating a fresher, slim, longline silhouette. It’s even in tweed at Chanel with zips on skirts and sleeves to make movement easier; beautifully tailored and sinuous in wool or black velvet at Armani Privé; in slender dresses to contrast with wide capes at Valentino; in modest belted dresses at Dior; and in almost hobble form at Maison Margiela.
Couture embellishment encompasses many crafts – Valentino even listed how many hours of beading, embroidery or appliqué each outfit took (nearly 2,000 hours was the most). Delicate beading and embroidery, often on lace or velvet, was seen at Lebanese designers Elie Saab, Rami Kadi and Zuhair Murad, and from London-based Ralph & Russo, while it led to tweed and mosaic effects at Chanel.
Feathers adorned capes at Armani Privé and Gaultier, and ballgowns at Valentino, while finely pleated ruffles decorated Viktor&Rolf’s all-white retrospective in celebration of its new bridal collection.