With all the animal and art references, tropical florals and natural textures, spring is likely to feel sensual. Fashion - at least that on show in Paris - is making a welcome return to nature, the organic and even the primal.
Avant-garde American designer Rick Owens gives his audience raw emotion - not for him pretty little things gliding down a catwalk. Instead of the usual thin white models, Owens dresses the curvier, stronger bodies of a predominantly black dance troupe from the United States, who stomp around the stage. Employing the group is a brave move, a powerful statement that rocks the Paris fashion elite. At the Jean Paul Gaultier show, set in the Paradis Latin cabaret theatre, supermodel Coco Rocha dances to the Grease soundtrack and Karlie Kloss to Madonna's Vogue, to appreciative whoops from the audience. The clothes are punky but feminine.
The spring-summer 2014 shows have caught the end of France's Indian summer. The heat and sunlight glistening off the glass-dome roof of the Palais Royal show space make late September seem an appropriate time to host post-winter catwalks for once.
Not only do we bid a fond farewell this season to Marc Jacobs' 16-year Louis Vuitton tenure and to the Marco Zanini-Rochas collaboration, which lasted five years, we also say goodbye to the clean, austere minimalism of the recent past. Post recession, an air of hope and positivity fills the air, playful abundance returning to the runways.
Shine, glitter and shimmer combine to offer one of the big trends. For some it's in-keeping - as with Balmain's pastel-hued concoctions (a huge improvement from last season) - but mostly it comes as a surprisingly dominant feature; step forward Dries Van Noten, Sonia Rykiel, Christian Dior, Givenchy and Rochas, whose stunningly fresh collection has uber-light fabrics bouncing along the runway.
"It was like my love letter to Rochas," says Zanini, as we meet to talk about his new gig: creative director at the revived couture house of Schiaparelli. His parting missive is a dreamy collection, soft pastels echoing the hues at Balenciaga.
Shimmer and shine play out with a harder edge in Dries Van Noten's wonderful collection and also at Lanvin, which has the runway glittering with sweet-wrapper metallics and lamé in a 1980s and early 90s-inspired collection. Sonia Rykiel also echoes the playful sentiment of sparkles and glitter in relaxed, low-slung shapes, but Haider Ackermann has some of the best outfits, with a dark, glimmering array of masculine jackets, barely there slips and pleated skirts. Even Maison Martin Margiela has gone for gem-encrusted detailing, in an unexpected turn.
Jacobs' last collection for Louis Vuitton is predominantly black, although you can't help but be cheered up by the stunning gemstone beading, embellishments and shine. The theme is a metaphor for ornately beautiful Paris, with Jacobs bowing out in an epic way; he offers showgirl sparkle, huge, swaying feather headdresses; and casual blue jeans, worn tongue-in-cheek under a sheer black showgirl gown with strategically placed sequins.
Designers are embracing a new sensuality - sheers are popular and feminine shapes emphasise hips at Chloé, Stella McCartney, Hussein Chalayan and Sharon Wauchob, who all do sexy slip dresses. Wauchob's clothes are darkly sensual and McCartney's lace slips work well with alligator-patterned cinched dresses.
Chloé is anticipating a light, fresh start to spring, making much ado about its live-streamed show. The little peaked shoulder and long-line silhouette on languid skirts are feminine and fluid but, at the end of the day, not very exciting. Golden, earthy hues and floaty, flattering embroidered dresses should ensure that this will be another popular commercial collection, however.
Fresh is also the message Chalayan is trying to get out, his stunning collection a highlight of fashion week. The purity of the gowns, the sudden bursts of texture on white in multicoloured panels and amazing see-through umbrella hats - Chalayan barely puts a foot wrong here.
In contrast to the pretty pastels and girlish silhouettes from some designers, the muse for others is colourful, fierce and strong - a warrior woman. Alexander McQueen is a case in point. The tough McQueen woman appears ready for battle in helmets, bold stripes and checks in contrasting primary colours.
There is much talk about fashion's global scope - so perhaps it's no surprise that inspiration has come from a variety of cultures. African touches are popular, particularly at Givenchy, Alexander McQueen and Roland Mouret, Asian at Hermès and Valentino, and Japanese, specifically, at Rick Owens.
An impromptu visit to the Rome Opera workshops set the design duo at Valentino on the road to a new opulence, but in a cross-cultural context that borrows from several ethnic groups and time periods. Textured surfaces and deep colours saturate their embroidered jackets, ornate long evening dresses and even ponchos.
A truly versatile designer knows it's time to move on when many others have adopted his or her philosophy. Phoebe Philo proves to be one such designer at Céline, making a bold, brave move away from her signature conservative purism to embrace primary coloured, abstract, painterly prints. Pair those with big-shouldered shapes that recall the 80s and early 90s and you get a far feistier Céline woman than we are used to.
Beautiful belted wrap coats and pleated midi skirts shift focus to the hips, and fringed leather clutches are definitely a new move for Céline's lucrative accessories range.
Chanel follows a similar path, with raw, artistic inspirations - an art-school chic that takes the popular modern art-infused fashion to a very literal ending - hello, painters' palettes and brush strokes. The label puts forward some very pretty outfits indeed but it's a shame about the hair and make-up.
Hermès instead takes on the work of artist Henri Rousseau, with saturated colours, ethnic-inspired prints and long, relaxed lines.
Others, such as Masha Ma, take the art preoccupation to a more conceptual level, the Chinese designer exploring "Dadaism and luxury" with a sporty, modern collection in futuristic silhouettes. Ma is one of a few new Asian designers - including young London-based Yang Li - who we see coming into their own at Paris Fashion Week.
The garden settings at Christian Dior, Moncler and Hermès are fitting contexts for what are floral, organic runway shows. At Christian Dior, colourful, feminine clothes reflect the hanging tropical garden at the Musee Rodin, walls of flowers having become a signature of the French house since Raf Simons took over.
Elie Saab interprets a rose garden flushed with colour, along with spiderwebs of Chantilly lace. Pleated skirts, gemstones and intricate beading show off fine workmanship, but some of those short dresses come off as being a little young.
The young girl is who Hedi Slimane identifies with - he is back again with his super-short skirts and dresses, this time paired with big 80s shoulders and a fair amount of sparkle. To be fair, this collection is more mature and less grungy than his last, with sharp skinny suits showing androgyny is definitely Slimane's forte.
Christian Dior There's an explosion of colours this time at Christian Dior. Despite the banded strips of writing attached to some dresses - which seem out of place - the collection is a cohesive one, Raf Simons taking his Dior modern woman that little bit further with plenty of easy-to-wear separates and metallic brocade gowns. Feminine prints, lightweight silks, satins and gorgeous pleated skirts revealing slivers of hip make this a romantic collection on all counts. Among our favourite touches are exaggerated, rounded hips on skirts that are fresh and modern in execution.
Alexander McQueen Hammered-metal helmets; chunky cuffs all along the arm; black, white, red and blue stripes - designer Sarah Burton has been softening up the Alexander McQueen look with her feminine touch but this season she gets tough. The Alexander McQueen warrior woman theme plays out to pumping music and marching models in moulded breast-plates and thick-banded dresses that are striped and checked (a contemporary take on geometric African prints), but for all the aggressive presentation, the womanly shape of the wide skirts and small peplum at the hem creates lovely movement. Dramatic tribal feather plumes create a softer, feminine shape on column dresses. The outfits, if you strip them down, are cool, contemporary and wearable - a far cry from last season's ornate Elizabethan gowns.
Hussein Chalayan Breathtaking from beginning to end; I would be happy to wear only Chalayan's collection come spring. Healthy, glowing, rosy-cheeked models float one after another down the catwalk in well-cut classic gowns with beautifully draped fabrics that accentuate the womanly parts of the body: bust, hips and waist. His theme seems to be fresh-faced screen siren meets beach-bound nymph. Multicoloured, textured strips of fabric; out-of-focus prints; gentle, manipulated silky dresses; and surreal transparent umbrella hats are all ingenious.
Givenchy What did we expect after last season, when Riccardo Tisci rummaged through his own eight-year archive at Givenchy? The wonderful thing about this designer is that he always keeps you guessing, and with an ominous pile of crashed cars smoking on the centre of his circular runway, we remain none the wiser. For spring, Tisci has gone for earthy tones, draping stretchy jersey fabric in innovative ways to make edgy, flowing dresses. There is African tribal inspiration in the structure of certain outfits and striped prints but Japanese style also features heavily in beautiful kimono jackets worn loosely with a sense of dishabille. A sensual, glittering, mature collection.
Dries Van Noten We didn't expect canary yellow feathers last season nor the lashings of gold this year. The Antwerp-based designer gives us metallic brocade and golden frills but he still manages to instil his peculiar sense of casual, easy charm into the equation by striking a fascinating contrast between the gilded and the pure. Silky floral prints, ethnic-inspired embellishments on tops and even a barbed-wire motif are perfectly styled together with strappy sandals. Wide-leg trousers, cut just above the ankle, lend an androgynous cool. Van Noten manages to turn a creamy beige, hardly the most exciting of colours, into a statement in cool cotton poplin or pure linen by layering with feminine frills, jewels and shine.
Balenciaga "Shadows and Light" is the title of Alexander Wang's Balenciaga show, inspired by a single snapshot of the seaside. And although many want to see more of the shadowy side to the label - something that Nicolas Ghesquiere is so apt at doing - others revel in the lightness and youth that Wang has brought to it. The classic shapes from Balenciaga's archives are "unravelled, deconstructed" in an incredibly easy, fresh spring line, with the outcome sporty and contemporary. Pastels and florals are given a fresh spin with sculpted shapes and sheer white panels. Leather and bonded knitwear show the continued technical ingenuity associated with the house. The cute shorts sets and sheer dresses are stand-outs.
Rochas Parting ways is not usually this sweet: with Marco Zanini leaving Rochas for Schiaparelli, he puts on a hell of a goodbye show. It is all sugary pastels and silver floral brocade on feather-light layers, worn by models with slightly unhinged looks and windswept hair. Dresses and skirts practically bounce down the runway. Gorgeous vintage 1940s and 50s influences make for a fairy-tale look in which prim coats and shirts offset organza, tulle and chiffon skirts and the odd flash of lightweight lamé here and there. All very dreamy.