Haute couture: verdict on the spring-summer 2015 shows in Paris
Designers revelled in the beauty of nature at haute couture week in Paris
Haute couture is the ivory tower of fashion that most of us can only dream about. The world's wealthiest descend on Paris twice a year to view the best fashion money can buy, with prices starting at tens of thousands of euros for a simple dress or jacket.
This year, global celebrities, Middle Eastern royalty and increasingly affluent Asian clientele braved the cold (albeit in their furs and chauffeur-driven cars) to view options for spring-summer 2015. Overall, this season is vibrant, fresh and positive. Nature and tropical exotic lent much inspiration, but while some revelled in over-the-top red-carpet glamour, others chose a more interesting route via rustic country fields.
Whether it was the agenda at Davos' World Economic Forum, or China and America's game-changing climate agreement, our natural environment has been a huge topic this past year. This is evident even in the hallowed halls of haute couture serving that wealthy 1 per cent, although probably not enough to discourage those private jets.
Forests, trees, flowers and birds - designers took note from nature's beauty to dress the female form for fashion's most exclusive clientele.
Armani took inspiration from China and Japan with the iconic bamboo forming his central theme in a light and fluid collection: light hues of green, sheers, ink painting prints on gauze and organza, wide Japanese-style pants tied with obi-like belts and light ostrich feathers for lovely movement. Elie Saab was similarly ethereal, although with a much more feminine touch, using barely there silks and laces, hand-painted florals and a forest setting. Plumes of ostrich feathers were popular with designers this time around, so effective for their lightweight sculptural quality and capacity for drama. Giambattista Valli used them on entire capes, while it felt sensual and new for Saab.
Chanel's tropical garden show was a wonder - a spectacular island setting with mechanical palm trees and other exotic flora and fauna. Tanned, straw-hatted cabana boys holding tropical bouquets provided great eye candy, while Karl Lagerfeld showed a stunning collection of vibrant 3D floral appliqués in beds of crystal beading, feathers, tulle and sequins. He kept things fresh and modern with his shapes and silhouettes, beanie hats and low boots. Even classic Chanel tweed was given the island treatment.
With increasingly sophisticated technologies for mass production developed in ready-to-wear, the discourse of luxury has been interesting, to say the least. Couture is really about craft, using the finest material.
For designers, this means a backlash against mass industry and identikit looks or fabrics, and the result is a romantic take on handicraft cultures and rural lifestyles. We all fantasise about a return to a more natural, less technologically driven existence; a time before emails, Facebook and Instagram consumed 80 per cent of our waking hours. Even Chanel's tropical island provided some rural escapism. Organic, natural elements are big news and fabrications on many a high fashion catwalk have come to reflect this.
Ulyana Sergeenko, who has come to reinvent ex-Soviet bloc rural chic, did it again with folksy inspirations and cultural nods to Georgia and Armenia. The stunning workmanship, lush fabrics and Jessica Rabbit silhouette meant however that this was much more glamorous than straightforward rustic.
Floating on cloud nine with countryside vibes were those at Valentino. Wildflowers in messy braided hair, vintage shirts, high collars and folkloric gowns harked to eras of yesteryear - Russian peasantry, but also Renaissance courts. Poetic and pure, filmy blouses and intricately embroidered Russian folk dresses and gilets were a sublime expression of Valentino's modern-day elegance.
Viktor & Rolf, back with a vengeance, went much further, with an avant-grade interpretative talent that shows the design duo at their best. Inspired by rural scenes painted by Vincent Van Gogh, models in graphic, baby doll dresses, ruffled underneath for volume, emerged from a misty floor to a stunned audience - this was one of their best collections of late. Straw-hat sculptures, meticulously dishevelled with sheaves of wheat topped off dramatic and beautiful blooms. What did they wear on their feet? Flip-flops, of course. Somehow, it worked - not so much for wearability, but this was a joyous, creative tour de force and a major highlight of the week.
From Studio 54-worthy flared jumpsuits at Atelier Versace to pure, naive bohemian vibes at Valentino and Christian Dior's psychedelic knitted prints - '70s styles made a huge impact on the catwalks.
A romantic hippie might have reared her pretty, braided little head at Valentino wearing folksy embroidered tunic gowns of astonishing beauty, but it was the more hard-edged aesthetics of the '70s that really gained traction in couture.
For example, Raf Simons at Dior wanted to explore "an alien journey through the past's ideas of the future". Characteristically cerebral in concept, Simons mined the almost hallucinogenic period where fascination with space travel and the future spawned colourful and technical fashions. Printed plastic coats, voluminous striped, pleated skirts and knitted bodysuits in swirling psychedelic patterns made this one of the most fun-filled runways of the season, with Dior's usual classic serenity disrupted.
The sleek and sexy flared jumpsuit or flared, wide-leg pants have been creeping onto couture runways slowly but surely in past seasons. But the world's most wealthy women certainly have a lot to choose from for spring-summer 2015. They might look towards Giambattista Valli's tunic and boot-cut trouser ensembles (although we'd leave out the tulle skirts and bow headpieces), or more likely towards Versace, Schiaparelli, Ulyana Sergeenko and Jean Paul Gaultier.
Gaultier's elegant tuxedo-inspired outfits were mashed up with white gowns - typical Gaultier gender play while Billy Idol's White Wedding blasted from speakers. Sergeenko's jumpsuits were feminine - with ultra-narrow corset tops, tiny waists and wide trousers embroidered with motifs from her husband's native Georgia. Schiaparelli's louche white trouser suit and vivid blue jumpsuit were very covetable.
Meanwhile, Natasha Poly and models such as Karlie Kloss and Eva Herzigova used their famous assets to convince audiences of the wonders of a slinky jumpsuit and plunging neckline at Atelier Versace.