Haute couture week in Paris sees the rich and famous make an appearance
The rich and famous turned out in force in Paris to worship at fashion's high altar, writes Jing Zhang
The first half of couture week in Paris got off to a positive start, showing that these hallowed high fashion ateliers can still be relevant today. It was a line-up where couture powerhouses flexed their muscles in a serious way, showing off a modern approach to a traditional industry. And elegant, rather glamorous muscles they were. Giambattista Valli, Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, Raf Simons at Christian Dior, Donatella Versace for Atelier Versace and Marco Zanini for Schiaparelli showed impressive designs in gilded venues dotted around Paris.
More conceptual and playful designs and runways emerged in the second half of the week, as if to raise spirits dampened by the dreary, unpredictable weather that invaded the city.
Couture clients and celebrities clad in big-ticket outfits stepped through the rain and made their way over slippery cobblestones into show venues. The likes of Valentino, Elie Saab, Jean Paul Gaultier and Viktor & Rolf do their best to impress the fashion world's wealthiest clients, with no-expense-spared showmanship.
Amsterdam-based duo Viktor & Rolf seem to be getting their mojo back for autumn-winter 2015 with a strong collection in crimson; oversized bows adorning shoulders and hips, producing bold shapes using a simple, yet strong concept - taking red carpet dressing quite literally.
A morning show by Maison Martin Margiela's Artisanal Couture line was one of our early favourites. Always offering up the unexpected, the Margiela studios, now owned by Italian fashion mogul Renzo Rosso, lit up the runway with a spectacular collection that focused on collecting and recasting used and new objects and clothing in fresh ways. The ultimate exercise in upcycling occurred here with eccentric pieces collected into archives, sewn in their atelier for unique and entirely handmade works of art.
There was a surrealist thread here, with a huge red and orange embroidered lobster dress, then a cool blue version, that would have left Lady Gaga quivering at the knees (the show notes reveal that the tops took about 90 hours each to make).
The oversized 3-D embroideries encrusted with glass beads, crystals and stones were superb features on sleek bustiers and wispy chiffon skirts. An "I Love You" heart-shaped crystal encrusted bustier and embroidery patchwork skirt instantly became a fashion editor favourite.
Silky bomber jackets in bold saturated hues, and a recurring Japonaise theme featuring Oriental florals in long coats and sharply cut asymmetrical dresses made a real statement. The patchworked mash-up of all those detailed, patterned embroideries was mesmerising.
From this wild beauty and conceptual verve, we move on to the showmanship of grandmaster Jean Paul Gaultier. While some designers like to maintain an air of artistic snobbery and ivory tower restraint, Gaultier does not take this route, and as a result he might be the one we'd most like to sip cocktails with.
The smiling master took his finale bow this time with the bearded Conchita Wurst, this year's controversial Eurovision Song Contest winner, on his arm. The show might have been a gothic procession, but the mood was certainly more fun than macabre. The theme was very vampiric, but true to Gaultier form, it was also camp. Models were dolled up as if they were vying to be Dracula's mistresses as Marilyn Manson pumped out of the speakers.
The shoulders took priority again at Gaultier (as in the '80s) for autumn-winter 2015. Draped jersey dresses sparkled with beading, Swarovski crystals and sequins. Organza layers evoked classic couture, as in the dress is made from shaded hues of red, white and black organza which were all hand-cut before being stitched onto the form-fitting shape, or the white floor-length ribbed dress with fluttering organza angel wings - but in these cases, over-the-top styling distracted from meticulous workmanship. While there were a few unflattering separates, like the baggy drawstring pieces, the tailored outfits, especially a black-and-white houndstooth set and mask, were well formed.
In contrast to Gaultier's showgirl camp, Valentino, Elie Saab and British-Australian newcomers Ralph and Russo took an austere approach. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli of Valentino continue to win fans with their meticulous, impassioned take on the house, this time using complicated couture techniques to express a Grecian vibe, with statement graphics, ethereal sheers and clever draping.
Lebanese couture legend Elie Saab treads a classic and rather conventional route. And his signature styles of dégradé draped chiffons, pretty laces and uber feminine red carpet drama again stole the hearts of his devout, mostly Middle Eastern, clientele. Luminous, pearlescent colours were the order of the day, glacial blues, deep peony, shimmering white and crimson gowns were inspired by sumptuous interiors of grandiose Parisian palaces. Shapes were flattering, feminine and elegant, as is Saab's way. As an establishment figure in couture, he deals in traditional red-carpet elegance, making himself a favourite of the Hollywood set.
A brand hot on the heels of the big houses is Ralph & Russo, in only their second proper runway show this season - despite this, a sense of confidence was evident. A more relaxed, carefree and modern romance took hold this time, with imposing gowns in duchess satin contrasting with fluid, sleek chiffon dresses and even a modern embroidered pantsuit worn with a dramatic billowing cape.
The catwalk was lit up by lavenders and pretty pinks as well as peaches, off-white, black and a beautiful shade of dove grey, evoking the grand interior photography of Massimo Listri, explain the show notes - a fittingly regal end to this season of couture.