Paris haute couture week - the highlights
From Versace's risqué cut-outs, via Giambattista Valli's dreamy gowns and Chanel's tropical themes, to Valentino's regal, flowing gowns, there was much to appreciate in the French capital
Fashion editor Jing Zhang, in Paris for the spring-summer haute couture shows, shares her thoughts on the best collections.
Day 5 - Painting by numbers
Ralph & Russo
The last major show of the spring-summer haute couture season came from Ralph & Russo, a brand of Australian origins but based in London. The initial point of departure was the regeneration of spring - Botticelli’s Primavera and Poussin’s Realm of Flora to be precise. This season they played around with several different silhouettes that could have been more tightly edited. That said, each style had its own impact on the runway. They ranged from the light sculptural soufflé layers they are known for, presented like big flower petals on a classic '50s couture shape, to an elongated, floaty, demure style, finely embroidered but now also very much linked to the Valentino aesthetic. The gigantic capes, exaggerated hips and long trains towards the end were quite a vision to behold, in workmanship and for pure fairytale drama. Talk about making an entrance.
Day 4 - All about love
It really seems that the duo at Maison Valentino can do no wrong these days. Founder Valentino Garavani was in Paris to lend his approval and do a high-profile book signing during haute couture week. Both consumers and the fashion set are in love with the latest Valentino chapter. Fittingly then, designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccoli’s haute couture line for spring-summer was billed as all about “love: pure, burning, angelic, exhilarating.” Burning might have referred to the lush velvet pieces, sparely decorated but impeccably cut. For exhilaration, they brought together the life of painter Marc Chagall, through motifs embroidered on ethereal gauze and muslin, and the gilt glory of Renaissance high courts. The result - regal, empire-waisted flowing gowns with square necklines but sometimes in surprisingly natural colours and plain linen. The naive, pure charms of the Russian countryside were again a major influence with intricate folksy embroidered patterns on vests and gilets, offering an earthy accent to all that breathless angelic femininity.
Day 3 - Club Tropicana goes couture
A paper-cut origami garden slowly opened into vivid, colourful bloom at Chanel’s Grand Palais runway venue, made somehow intimate by the set. Karl Lagerfeld clearly evoked the tropics in what has perhaps been the most joyful show of couture week so far. Tanned cabana boys in linens carried tropical flowers in the wake of the finale bride outfit – a simple top, long sheer gloves and a heavy skirt, richly textured and meticulously hand sewn with thousands of sequins, gems and floral appliqués. Lagerfeld is the emperor of reinvention and keeping traditions relevant to a contemporary aesthetic; so it was square-toed, flat black boots and long, dangling patent belts that gave a hard edge to the fruity vibrancy of outfits inspired by tropical gardens and beach holidays. There were the classic, round-shouldered Chanel skirt suits in powder-pop colours, this time slung low on hips and styled with floral beanies for a little grunge reference within all this finery. Tweeds frayed loose and raw at the edges, flowing pleated chiffon brought thoughts of balmy evenings spent on sandy beaches. Soon this gave way to the most sculptural and imaginative pieces, 3D plastic and sequin flower sleeves, origami-like volume with stiffer fabrics, then corals, magentas and pale pinks in swirls of pleated tulle or feather flowers all over skirts and dresses. With all this talk about global warming, we’re not sure if Lagerfeld meant to comment on the environment or the beauty of nature, but as another Hong Kong editor sat next to me said, it certainly seemed that way.
Giorgio Armani took a journey to the East for this season’s couture collection – witness the obi-style belts looped casually around the waist. Bamboo forests might have been the obvious starting point and exotic central reference, but it was the textures rather than the literal prints that stood out. The long coats and jackets made from bamboo motif patchworks were striking – and pale greens, natural colours and blues set the tone. Then it was sculptural gauze, sheer and inviting, on skirts with ink-painting bamboo motifs that impressed, as did the wide-leg folded pants, definitely of Asian persuasion. The whole affair channelled a delicate Zen-like serenity through light fabrics and clever construction. The new shape was defined by a small fitted smart jacket, worn over a slimline tank top or structured tee in gorgeous shimmering and almost sheer fabrics and paired with daring floaty skirts and wide trousers. With a front row of Robin Wright, Kristin Scott Thomas and Livia Firth, it was fitting that these looks were classic yet at once felt quite fresh for Armani. Dramatic lightweight ostrich feather elements were a favourite feature and alluded to a sense of freedom and levity not usually associated with the brand.
Day 2 – From wild and wonderful to quiet and sublime
It was a bit of a shock when the talented Marco Zanini left the revived house of Schiaparelli so quickly, after only two seasons. This spring-summer 2015 couture collection was a collective effort by the studio and an impressive start to the second day of haute couture week in Paris. Sculptural hair and wire baseball-cap headpieces by Philip Treacy contributed to the sense of wild yet wonderful we’ve come to expect at a house with roots in surrealism. The meticulous draping bordered on genius – with graphic long dresses and a liquid silk, emerald green gown encrusted with gemstones at the neck becoming instant favourites. The pin and needle motif, used as a print, embroidered on jackets or sculpted as jewellery, was perhaps a nod to the fact that this modern Schiaparelli revival is in fact a work in progress. Watching this unfold has been a fascinating pleasure, with the house already offering some of the most irreverent and joyful designs of each couture season.
Actress Natalie Portman, model Eva Herzigova and Chinese star AngelaBaby were all front row for Christian Dior’s couture show at the Musée Rodin. Although designer Raf Simons leans towards quiet daywear rather than evening gowns, this particular couture collection offered fantastic variety. A vibrant, positive play on texture and shape gave us bizarre, '60s-inspired swirling psychedelic knitted bodysuits, candy-striped pleats, plastic rain macs and vinyl thigh-high boots with gemstone heels. The big balloon dresses in swathes of lace and floral appliqués provided feminine volume and a sense of red-carpet drama. A curious, crafted and beautiful collection that had some edge - and another gilded feather in the Belgian designer’s rather full cap. A powerhouse collection for a powerhouse couture label.
One of Paris’ most promising rising stars, Yiqing Yin made a name with her swirling millefeuille pleats in silk. The result: sensual gowns that curved around the body, a fresh approach to organic shapes and femininity in couture. Since then, she's played with cut-out leathers, sculptural forms, furs and feathers as well as sticking to her strengths in ever more sophisticated draping. This collection, almost entirely in different shades of grey, white or black, put shiny vinyl fabrics with soft felts or flowing silks. The hard-soft textural contrast proved a rich place for Yin to mine - and languid, silky draping and tailoring, as well as slivers of fabric tied around from a plunging neckline, made for stunning outfits with an ethereal, timeless appeal.
As a master of modern princess dressing, this Italian designer has a knack of working that fine balance between sweet and saccharine. But the start of this show seemed confused, with flimsy tulle skirts thrown over unflattering trouser suit ensembles – the resulting silhouette, especially with thick, heavy waistbands, turned out boxy and awkward at times. Once Valli returned to more familiar territory with long dreamy gowns, floral gemstone appliqués on more form-fitting pieces and frothy skirts, things seemed much more in order. A deconstructed houndstooth print on organza and well-placed featherlight frills made for strikingly dreamy looks. And for evoking our inner princesses, there was a bodacious finale of baby-pink empire waist dresses with huge Cinderella skirts and floor-length ruffled capes.
Day 1 - Blonde ambition
The evening show that kicked off couture week was by Atelier Versace. Goldie Hawn, British singer Ellie Goulding and a collective who's who of the world’s biggest couture clients watched front row as Donatella Versace sent out skin-tight gowns with slivers of skin showing through curving cut-outs. Risqué it may seem, but Atelier Versace makes for red-carpet gold, as stars like Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie know all too well. As soon as the show began, it was clear that Donatella had bought back a bevy of blonde bombshell supermodels to walk her runway. From Eva Herzigova and Amber Valletta to the likes of Natasha Poly and young Karlie Kloss and Lindsey Wixson, the casting was clearly fabulous (and expensive). Lines were organic, gently following a woman’s curves, some in sheer stretch tulle embroidered with crystals. Silhouettes were strictly sexy, with plenty of side boob showing, nipped waists, slim bodies and flared long hems or bell bottom trousers. There was a little louche '70s appeal, especially in bright red, blue or white outfits, but little bomber jackets and knee-high boots encrusted with gem motifs prevented the looks from being too repetitive. These svelte shapes and strategically placed curved sheer panels mean underwear is not an option. But for the confident Versace woman swimming in sex appeal, that is clearly no problem. Red lips, no knickers? What’s wrong with that?