As had been the case in Milan, the start to Paris Fashion Week was foreboding. Some still reminisce about the days when you could tell fashion folk apart from the crowd because they'd be exclusively decked out in black. Times have changed.
Even so, it was fitting that exquisite men's tailoring, tweeds, sombre blacks offset with white, and luxurious leathers and furs emerged as early trends. As the week progressed, though, Paris revealed that designers had not entirely forgotten the importance of playfulness or sensuality even for the winter months.
Luxurious fabrics, sensual to the touch, such as those from Loewe, Givenchy, Rue du Mail and Louis Vuitton brought outfits alive. Lively embroidery and unexpected gemstone embellishments from the likes of Dries Van Noten, Chanel, Lanvin and Chloé, added a sense of dynamic detailing and confidence. At times the use of colour was tongue in cheek, with ironic, off-key pastels such as powder blue and soft pink proudly emblazoned by Carven, Miu Miu, Céline and Valentino.
Slinky, inviting dresses and skirts, such as those at Givenchy and Louis Vuitton, contrasted with the voluminous cocoon-shaped tops that got plenty of play on other catwalks. It's a silhouette much influenced by Balenciaga, and in some instances it was perhaps used in homage to the label, as Alexander Wang takes its reigns from the talented Nicolas Ghesquiere.
Wang's Balenciaga debut was a stern collection, showing off a side to the 29-year-old rarely seen before. The brand's rich archive offers more than enough inspiration, but Wang also applied his own oh-so-urban, contemporary take, with plenty of avant-garde fabrics, notably fur treated to create a marble effect and knits with patterns that resembled cracked paint. Shirts slashed open at the back brought a sensual element to his strict black and white collection. It seems that Wang is winning over sceptics and fans alike.
Kenzo, under Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, is enjoying a renaissance, in full colour. Inspired by ancient Indian temples, catwalk pieces also gave a nod to Kenzo's archival fabrics. Lim and Leon say they "wanted to reference old Asian warriors" and "the ubiquitous eye iconography" that features in many Asian religious motifs and myths. The results were intense, colourful prints; golden brocade, jacquard and lamé separates; and cocoon tops in shiny textured patent.
Similarly unafraid of colour was Miuccia Prada at Miu Miu. True, there were lots of vintage black hour-glass coats and zip-ups, but the stripy skirts, tights and bright polka-dot neck-ties and coats were very playful. Elsewhere, "Godmother of punk" Vivienne Westwood boldly mixed eras: from 1980s power suits with peaked shoulders to medieval-inspired dresses and dramatic highwayman capes. Issey Miyake's colourful interpretation of traditional Scottish dress was one of the most positive statements of the season.
A dark, urbane toughness was a running theme throughout many of the collections. Rick Owens saddled this to an impressive black and white aesthetic. His high-brow look featured incredible Japanese-inspired jackets onto which oversized strips of fabrics had been stitched.
Haider Ackermann presented his winter muse through a thick blanket of fog. His masterful layering had well-draped jackets, coats and slinky shirts vying for attention. The silhouette effect was one of the best this season, with a huge white shearling coat and a shiny monochrome kimono jacket being our absolute favourites - here was a lesson in evoking the tough girl without forgoing sensuality.
From left: Céline, Rick Owens, Miu Miu, Kenzo
Elsewhere, the leather jacket and biker jacket expressed similar sentiments. Junya Watanabe offered up interesting deconstructions, but the dodgy styling and awful leggings were a distraction. Givenchy spiced up its biker jackets with intensely feminine floral prints, sometimes hand-painted onto tweed. Jean Paul Gaultier's tough, moulded leather tops formed a classic corset silhouette, while furs and leathers dominated the collection.
Leather jackets at Saint Laurent were more grungy and vintage than straightforward rock 'n' roll. Hedi Slimane's second collection for the French fashion house featured baby doll dresses and tough, studded flat ankle boots. It was a divisive collection - it channelled Courtney Love and Nirvana, but was not so appealing for those used to more classic sophistication. Still, sources say his collections have been selling well. The Japanese fashion paper The Senken proclaimed Saint Laurent one of the most influential brands in Japan, as rated by a bevy of industry insiders. Sometimes it pays to go against the grain, Slimane might argue.
The masculine muse was manifest not only in the rocker biker references, but in tailoring, suiting and oversized coats - just look at Maison Martin Margiela, Comme des Garçons, Stella McCartney, Céline, Carven, Loewe and Dries Van Noten.
Van Noten's brogue-footed girls wore luxurious suits and manly coats on the catwalk, a look that contrasted with the Indian-inspired salwar kameez ensembles and colourful sewn-on ostrich feathers sprinkled through the collection. Margiela's suiting had large colourful paint strokes on the sleeves; but it was again Comme des Garçons that stood out when it came to avant-garde tailoring. Laborious and mind-boggling pattern cutting gave us puffed up sleeves, flower shapes on the back of jackets and oversized bows. No easy accomplishment.
With her famous father and Bono in the audience, Stella McCartney's models wore oversized manly coats and British tailoring with felt baseball caps. Large charcoal pinstripes worthy of a 80s Wall Street banker hammered home the message. It was a somewhat minimal take on women's attire, one McCartney shares with former colleague Phoebe Philo, at Céline, who played up her ice-cool autumn collection with oversized coats, beautifully done in the faintest of pastels, but also a blue, red and white print version inspired by woven plastic courier bags. Carven's big coats had dropped shoulders and huge lapels, coming in a decidedly un-wintry, girlish palette of creams, pastel pinks and baby blues.
Plenty of designers embraced a ladylike elegance for autumn-winter. Women, not girls, were celebrated. Miu Miu, Rochas, Nina Ricci and even Chloé were proponents of a womanly, care-free sophistication. The look was feminine and independent at Nina Ricci, while we loved the crystal netted tops and wintry capes at Chloé. Rochas went vintage 50s, emphasising the hour-glass shape with tiny belted waists and volume skirts; Miu Miu's references were to 40s attire.
Going much further back in time was Alexander McQueen's Elizabethan turn. Busy with her newborn twins, Sarah Burton decided to show only 10 outfits in a small presentation that was couture masquerading as ready-to-wear. Fantastical white ruffles on Elizabethan-esque gowns, headpieces reminiscent of Fabergé eggs, gilt embellishments and black leather - it was over-the-top regal and bucking every trend.
A midnight rendezvous was the theme on a cold Wednesday morning, as Louis Vuitton's show opened the final day of fashion week. After countless oversized jackets, bulky layers and masculine suiting, this was a welcome change of direction. The lustful range had silk nightdresses lined with lace, printed pyjama two-pieces and gorgeous belted robe coats with colours fading into each other. Designer Marc Jacobs even emerged to take his bow in red silk printed pyjamas.
With its spotlit hotel corridor setting, sparkly sequins, vampy make-up and unabashed feminine sensuality, Louis Vuitton bade us all a saucy goodnight.
From left: Hermès, Dior, Karl Lagerfeld
Chanel Doing justice to Chanel's classic tweed while pushing the brand forward every season can't be easy. But somehow Karl Lagerfeld manages to pull it off. This collection had something for Chanel fans everywhere, as alluded to by the spinning globe in the middle of the venue. We loved the drama of the thigh-high, chain-mail boots. The silhouette was slim but flaring out at the thighs. Amazing 3D floral appliqué jackets and textured fabrics were paired with punky jewellery and accessories.
Lanvin Beautiful silk dresses with raw-edge hems were offset by loud costume-y gem-encrusted accessories, some of which were emblazoned with words such as "help", "hot" and "cool". Flighty white fabric flowers adorned black dresses. Chunky two-tone fur jackets, sensual silks and satins, tailored black jackets and long fur scarves made for a diverse wardrobe: sophisticated with just the right amount of quirky intrigue.
Christian Dior Surreal and light, Raf Simons' show for Dior was a nod to founder Christian Dior's stint as a gallerist. Floors were covered in a blue sky print and the venue filled with mirrored balls. Exquisite, ethereal 1920s dresses were embellished with quirky motifs, including a print of a hand-drawn work by Andy Warhol. Plenty of black and white, as well as liberal use of herringbone and classic houndstooth, gave the collection structure and gravitas. Described by the house as a "visual scrap book, a collage of clothing", the textures of leather, tweed, crotchet, knits and silk were wonderfully complementary.
Valentino The best collections are not always the most radical. Against the street-fashion circuses you get each year, classic serene femininity is sometimes appreciated. Valentino is one label making huge headway through ladylike elegance with an edge. This collection took inspiration from magical realism and nature, as well as portrait paintings by old Flemish masters, notably in the square necklines framing the face. Alpaca coats and little black dresses with scalloped edging and white leather collars evoked pilgrim girls, albeit with attitude. Pale blues, black and white made it a pristine collection, but, as ever, there was that seductive Valentino scarlet.
Givenchy An intensely emotive collection by Riccardo Tisci evoked gypsies, with long, flouncy skirts and ruffles referencing an almost Victorian sense of romance. Looking into his own Givenchy archives from the past eight years, Tisci was one of just a few designers to celebrate tight, feminine silhouettes. Biker and bomber jackets gave a masculine touch; but flower-printed flannel, and paisley jacquard paired with checked shirts, offered an uber-feminine contrast. The collection was typically dark and sexy, with tulip-shaped skirts and sheers. Boots made from strips of multicoloured python added to the effect.
Hermès This was Christophe Lemaire's best collection for Hermès to date, and was hosted in the intimate setting of an old library at the Lycée Henri-IV. Long luxurious coats in furs, leather and ponyskin made a great argument for slow, timeless fashion. Slim, over-the-knee skirts were belted high, gorgeous dresses were of the type you'd want to pass on to your daughters and occasional injections of vibrant prints kept things lively. This is a collection that will be on our minds for a long time to come.
Tod's " Sella" is the Italian word for "saddle", and Tod's elegant bag of the season, rendered in a mix of leather, exotic skins and on-trend zebra-print ponyskin, was loosely based on that shape. Mainland actress Dong Jie turned up to inspect the brand's first-ever spiky high-heeled bootie, in white ponyskin with a pebble effect migrating to the top of the heel; elsewhere the label's loafers were freshened up in metallic leather.
Gianvito Rossi After the shimmery metallics of summer, it was all about 1960s op art and monochrome looks with clever cutouts and see-through styles for winter.
Bulgari The Isabella Rossellini line was so successful that the Roman jewellery and accessory house added beautiful new colours in semi-precious stones such as lapis, malachite and purple jade.
Jimmy Choo There were some kinky ideas to be found in the accessories collections, no more so than in Jimmy Choo's handcuff bag and shoes. Sandra Choi's inspiration was photographer Helmut Newton. Need we say more?
Armani Giorgio Armani teamed up with Luxottica to launch a collection of sunglasses featuring square 50s styles and tinted aviators that came with sequined leather and silk binders on the sides. The Emporio line, meanwhile, was all about colour.
Rupert Sanderson Rupert Sanderson toughened up for autumn with a barbed-wire detail covering leather court shoes, sandals and suede booties, while other styles were finished with a bow for that feminine touch. Must-have boots included the 70s-style Junco, with its David Bowie-inspired rock look. Block Lucite heels added a modern touch, while standout fabrics included chenille embroidery, which lent a couture feel.
Roger Vivier This season's must-have shape was the architectural comma heel, first created by Vivier in 1965 and re-envisaged in luxe fabrics ranging from metallic leather to calf hair. Creative director Bruno Frisoni took the brand's signature Prismick style to new heights with either 3D effects or cool fabric combinations, such as felt with mirrored silver leather. Fashion-forward details included camouflage print (in gold embroidery for the evening), fur and patent leather that changes colour when exposed to light.
Christian Louboutin Louboutin's quintessential shape this season, called So Kate, is a single sole, pointy-toe silhouette. His best-selling spike styles were updated with a matte effect or new colour combination. Transparency was also a dominant theme, with a sexy fishnet pattern or sheer mesh panel appearing on shoes and bags. For the guys, Louboutin is launching the Tattoo project, which allows clients to customise shoes with their own designs or pre-designed "tattoos", many with an Asian influence (think dragons and koi carp).
Charlotte Olympia Autumn was all about magical fairy tales at Charlotte Olympia. A blue-suede pump was embroidered with a sleeping princess on the front, while a bear decorated the toe of a court shoe covered in a vivid forest print. The Kitty flat made an appearance and proved as lovable as ever, but we were positively lusting after the Darcy ballet flat, embroidered with eyes, and the Fashionably Late slipper decorated with - you guessed it - a clock. You should never be late again! Francesca Fearon and Divia Harilela
It was another season of catwalk debuts: Alexander Wang for Balenciaga, Geraldo da Conceicao for Sonia Rykiel and the young Fausto Puglisi for Emanuel Ungaro.
Diego Della Valle may not have hired anyone for Schiaparelli but he has just tapped Alessandra Facchinetti, formerly of Gucci, Valentino and Pinko, to be Tod's creative director from next season.
Maxime Simoens, the rising young French couturier, could be destined for greatness now that LVMH has announced it is backing him. Simoens has worked at Dior, Elie Saab and Balenciaga and is noted for his fluid silhouettes and modern elegance.
Gaia Trussardi, great-granddaughter of founder Dante Trussardi, has just been named creative director of the luxury family business. She was already creative director of Tru Trussardi and Trussardi Jeans. Francesca Fearon