On day two of Paris’ haute couture week, Giorgio Armani took fashion on a midnight romance, Stephane Rolland channelled Supergirl-style capes and Chanel got nostalgic for past vintage styles.
It was certainly a diverse collection of creations from A-lines to dropped waists, palettes that were muted or bright, and styles spanning decades.
But Tuesday’s shows had one key thing in common: imagination.
“Haute couture will exist as long as people want to dream,” Didier Grumbach said.The French fashion president, one of the most discreet yet powerful figures in the world of fashion thus answers detractors who predict the demise of the age-old tradition.
Haute couture exists against all the odds: creations which range in price from $19,000 (Dh69,768) to $125,000 being bought by women thought to number no more than 100 in the world.
After a spell in which Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel was the undisputed king of haute couture, the title race is back on to establish dominance of fashion’s most prestigious league. The ambition of Dior’s first show under designer Raf Simons — a million flowers on the walls, Princess Charlene of Monaco in the front row, a focus on Dior’s classic New Look — was a sign Chanel cannot rest on its laurels.
But after nearly three decades at Chanel, Lagerfeld is too wise to be goaded into an unseemly rivalry with a young pretender. The Chanel couture show, held the day after Dior, was a light-hearted affair. In contrast to the bombastic glamour of Dior, where the audience waited in silence on formal chairs for the show to begin, there was a garden party mood in the Grand Palais, decorated as a bourgeois conservatory. Wicker armchairs were grouped around coffee tables laid with macarons and miniature scones for guests to nibble. The collection’s new look handbag was named Choupette, after Lagerfeld’s pet kitten, which has followers on Twitter.
Entitled New Vintage, the show’s nostalgic aesthetic lacked the impact of January’s Chanel couture show, which was staged inside a reconstruction of a jumbo jet. The silhouette was relaxed and body-skimming, with no punchline which can be easily referenced by the high street. A striking daywear section of suits and coats was followed by sedate evening dresses.
A powerful message came in the colours, restricted to soft pink and dove grey, with touches of black and cream.
In this collection, he took the glitter woven through Chanel’s tweed suits, and made it the star of the show. There were glitter tights, glitter edging on evening dresses and wide trousers of glittering wool.
Two trends spanned both Chanel and Dior couture. First was the focus on trousers. Dior opened with two trouser suits; Chanel featured silk embroidered trousers in eveningwear. Both shows also featured metal belts, possibly hinting at Fifty Shades of Grey’s influence on popular culture in 2012.
“It’s hard for the seamstresses,” said Lagerfeld. “They toil over the clothes. The tulle with pearl took 3,000 hours. Couture is for a world of privilege.”
“New Vintage” was a typical contradiction in a constantly moving fashion world. But is there ever time for looking back? Not really, according to Lagerfeld.
“In fashion now, vintage means six months,” he said.
If Chanel is relaxed about the threat posed by Dior, it has reason to be confident: Bruno Pavlovsky, its president of fashion, has confirmed that 2011 was Chanel’s best year ever in haute couture.
GIORGIO ARMANI PRIVE
Giorgio Armani found romance in the midnight sky in a sumptuous haute couture collection that followed the changing hues of the sun.
His accomplished autumn-winter collection 2012 on Tuesday began with a daybreak of sorts, in lighter shades of mauve and lavender in organzas and double crepe.
Shoulders were emphasised, some with upward scooped tailoring. Others had upper bodices in graduated shades of pink — dawn’s first rays of sunshine.
Then as the sun set, the couture got to work.
Embroidered veils appeared, signalling the dimness of dusk. Geometric embroidery accompanied black tulle tops with Swarovski crystals.
Spectators gasped as the show climaxed at midnight (in blue, naturally) with some of the most sumptuous dresses seen this season.
A blue silk bustier dress — the program notes say, made of triple organza — rippled with its generous overlaid skirt and a gentle tulle shoulder shrug.
The subtlety proves one thing: Armani lives up to his reputation for versatility.
Only last month, in Beijing he staged a show with bright va-va-voom, mermaid silhouettes.
Here, things were more restrained and the looks, mirroring the cycle of time, oozed elegant sensuality.
And what better advertisement for elegance across time is Sophia Loren? The beautiful 77-year old film star sat in the front row.
“It was magnificent,” she said.
Haute couture shows are often celebrity circuses.
But rarely does the front row presence upstage a show, as reality TV star Kim Kardashian and her boyfriend, musician Kanye West, did during Stephane Rolland’s rather predictable autumn-winter 2012 offering.
The couple’s entrance and exit triggered a crowd that spilled out into the street.
The media scrum caused a mother and her young daughter to be shoved to the side.
But the celebrity presence here is no great surprise.
The French designer — responsible for singer Cheryl Cole’s red and white mermaid dress at Cannes – has been courting stars for several seasons now.
Last season, Yasmin Le Bon was Rolland’s muse.
In this show, he went East and chose Chinese actress Fan Bing-Bing.
With the celebrity hullabaloo, fashion insiders momentarily forgot the reason they came: the clothes.
The trains and long capes in many of the ensembles, like last season, floated past giving the model a Supergirl silhouette.
But the lack of new ideas, made the show feel more like a diluted superhero sequel.
Virtuoso embroidery concealed within a sleeve, beneath a cape or slit skirt: Givenchy on Tuesday unveiled an haute couture line fed by gypsy culture and brimming with a dark, secretive sensuality.
To craft his 10 floor-length silhouettes of plaited leather, bejewelled fur and beaded silk, the house’s Italian designer Riccardo Tisci took his cue from gypsy folklore, from Russia to moorish North Africa.
For the fifth season in a row, Tisci eschewed a runway show, letting press and public inspect the autumn-winter couture line up close in a hotel on the Place Vendome, the epicentre of the Paris luxury trade.
First, the leather room with a black dress of fine leather threads, moulded to the body for the bustier, and draped curtain-like to the floor from the waist and shoulders — beneath epaulettes and a belt of dense, curlicued patterns.
Opposite, a gown of tan leather, its fine threads braided in a criss-cross for the round-necked bustier and in curved, knotted patterns at the waist, above a smooth skirt of velvety calfskin.
Both gowns — 300 to 500 hours in the making — are worn with thigh-high boots, plaited from leather threads in the second case, and meant to be glimpsed through slits in the skirt.
Givenchy’s designer threw in elements from the 1960s, like the oversized mask-like gold-rimmed shades that finished off several of his gypsy queen looks.
Second came the fur room: with long capes of laser-cut mink adorned with red lacquered gold leaf or red leather-coated crystals.
Summing up the spirit of the line, a black gown embroidered head to toe with tiny red beads formed a tasselled skirt masking the treasure beneath: a pair of jewel-incrusted black boots-cum-sarouel pants.
Likewise, in the third room entitled beige/pure, a wool dress with a fur stole for a bustier had rich leather embroidery concealed under its sleeves and continuing in a wide panel down the back of the skirt.
Or a light gown whose halter neck of black twisted silk flowed down on the bust and behind the arms into a cape, embroidered inside with chocolate motifs glimpsed tantalisingly as the model moved.
Some things are just so fine, the clothes seem to suggest, they do not even need to be seen.