The incredible lightness of Paris' spring-summer haute couture

Bright starts, spring florals and metamorphosis lead the way in Paris haute couture collections, writes Jing Zhang

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 9:34am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 9:34am

Christian Dior's lightness and fresh-faced youth set the tone for some of the big brands producing haute couture. Layers of lightweight organza, silk gazar and fluttering, delicate details made for almost innocent collections with more than your usual helping of ephemeral style. Red carpet glamour was as fantastical as ever.

Chanel Karl Lagerfeld is masterful when it comes to giving us the unexpected. This time for Chanel Haute Couture, usually the realm of royalty and red carpets, he exploited a fun and youthful sportswear theme. Trainers covered in floral appliqués and sparkling gemstones, accompanied by tongue-in-cheek accessories such as elbow and knee pads, had editors and couture clients cooing from the start - we shall see if they actually make an appearance at a traditional Saudi wedding or Hollywood premiere any time soon. Who cares, though, because couture is about fantasy. And to the music of a live orchestra, Chanel's iridescent and pretty pastels in round shoulder cropped athletic tops contrasted with tiny slinky waists, were certainly that. It was all very innocent and pure, rather than overtly sexy, despite those gorgeous plumes of feathers, twinkling crystals and all over patent appliqués rendering outfits textural and 3-D.

Jean Paul Gaultier Always the showman, Jean Paul Gaultier put on quite a performance. The butterfly theme translated literally on many shows this week, with gigantic, angelic wings, butterfly shapes and typical showgirl drama defining the Gaultier runway. By sending huge cabaret showgirl headpieces, bright, lurid colours and feminine silhouettes down the catwalk, Gaultier was obviously building up to his headliner: a corseted Dita Von Teese sashaying down in an iridescent blue-and-black piece.

Yin Yiqing Running along this vein, albeit in a less showgirl way, was the talented young designer Yin Yiqing. Making the headlines for several seasons now for her skills of craftsmanship and unique, fluid aesthetic, Yin again showed she is a serious contender in the world of haute couture. The moth provided the starting point for a collection by the same name that explored themes of metamorphosis and change - cocoon fabrics, dusty metallics and earthy hues all lent themselves to Yin's complicated structural gowns. Carine Roitfeld and Jean-Marc Loubier of Fung Brands sat front row. Yin is one of Paris' most promising young names and was recently tapped as the new creative director of Leonard. There was a deeper metaphor of change and rebirth to be read into Yin's theme this time.

Valentino A swarm of multicoloured, feathered butterflies swarmed on the entire small bodice and volumed skirt of a dress - again hitting home what seems to be a rather common theme of the spring-summer couture collections. Natural influences, textures and a fantastical narrative abounded as hand-painted scenes of nature à la Henri Rousseau or the Garden of Eden featured on floor-length skirts to breathtaking effect. African motifs and prints were a lovely feature, whereas sublime satiny capes and dusty, earthy hues ruled the roost. Hundreds of hours were put into the craft of some particular fabrics, embroideries and painstaking embellishments, again showing off the Italian house's strong couture credentials.

Ulyana Sergeenko The romance of old school luxury train journeys seems to speak of a bygone era. An imaginary journey around Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan at Ulyana Sergeenko turned out to have deep, rich jewel-toned colours and a tangible sensuality. Satiny draped gowns and robes revealed a silky thigh or an exposed shoulder. Cossack-influenced layers and lean and languid shapes were cinched delicately at the waist for a sensual, womanly silhouette, while models wore vintage finger-waved hair. Rooted in the crossroads of East and West, the result was a stunning and sexy collection I'd happily rob a bank for. This Russian designer is becoming something of a fashion powerhouse in her native country and it's not hard to see why. She was part of the original Russian contingent that dominated street-style blogs at fashion weeks with their polished, striking style. There were those that might have eyed her move into couture design with suspicion, but if this latest show is anything to go by, Sergeenko is not going away anytime soon.

Elie Saab Beautiful, feminine, delicate ball gowns fit for a princess - we believe that Elie Saab will always be for girls' girls. He's not going to revolutionise the couture world with these dresses, but the noted Lebanese designer can certainly hold his own with a prestigious portfolio of clients ranging from celebrities to royalty. They won't be disappointed with the imperial violets, royal blues, roses, whites and blush-hued gowns that are perfect for red carpet stunners. Off the shoulder shapes, sheer laces, painstaking bouquets of floral appliqués and big full skirts spoke to the ethereal goddesses in many girls.

Ralph & Russo Since the British represent a certain street-level edge in fashion today, it's surprising to find this Brit-based label does the opposite. An ode to the 1950s heyday of haute couture, the Australian founders of Ralph & Russo put out old-school elegance of the Grace Kelly ilk. Untouchable, poised and seriously blue-blooded, the Ralph & Russo woman cares not for the new contemporary concerns of couture, instead choosing pillbox hats, first lady fashions and hourglass shapes consisting of pinched tiny waists and huge skirts for her charmed life. As the first British label in almost a century to be admitted into the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, it has been quietly garnering a loyal and high-profile clientele that includes Angelina Jolie and Sheikha Mozah of Qatar. Although the label seems to be bucking the trend in couture to more accessible, quirky daytime outifts, they must be doing something right to sustain that 400 per cent yearly growth.