The Haute Couture Spring 2012 collections by (from left to right): Christian Dior, Chanel, Versace and Givenchy
People always ask me why Haute Couture week is such a big deal when only one per cent of the population can afford the clothes. To me, it’s where the real magic happens. Of course we look to ready-to-wear fashion weeks for the latest trends and must-have items but Couture Week is where designers can let their imaginations run wild, with no restraints. At a time where luxury is so ubiquitous and designers are constantly pressured to churn out commercial and sellable pieces, couture is where the fantasy in fashion truly lies.
Which brings me to the Spring shows, which ended last week in Paris. While couture has always been a somewhat exclusive realm, the French Fashion Federation has started to invite young, edgy designers to bring a modern spirit to the proceedings. While many of these designers don’t have the budget to create complete couture collections (guidelines are very strict and the majority of the pieces need to be made by hand at listed ateliers) their work is equally beautiful. Bouchra Jarrar is one to definitely watch, while young couturiers include Chinese YiQing Yin and Giambattista Valli who whips up sculptural shapes that are sexy and light (Dior should just snap him up already!)
As for the big guns, the offerings were varied as usual. Mr. Armani is relatively new to the couture scene compared to the others (he launched his Prive line in 2007) but has taken to it like a fish to water. His spring collection was like his ready-to-wear but on more expensive steroids – the fabrics had more lustre, the colours richer, the fit even sharper. Inspired by snakes, the jackets, in shades of grey and green and worn on top of mesh reptilian blouses, were left unbuttoned yet created a perfect hourglass silhouette. Evening gowns coiled around the body and were printed with snake patterns.
Karl Lagerfeld always puts on big show – whether it’s transporting an iceberg to Paris, or recreating the inside of a plane like he did this time round. Inspired by the friendly skies, his Chanel collection feature 150 different shades of blue on drop-waist dresses and jacket/maxi skirt combos that were chic, young and playful at the same time. Models walked down the runways with their hands in their pockets, with not a care in the world.
Over at Christian Dior, Bill Gaytten showed a much better collection than his circus nightmare last season. The 1950s style silhouettes were lightened by sheer, transparent fabrics such as organza which was embroidered with roses for a light airy feel. That being said it still missed the magic and vibrance of a Galliano show.
More Couture by (from left to right): Armani, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giambattista Valli and Valentino
I’ve always been a fan of Riccardo Tisci’s dark and gothic sensibility. At the Givenchy presentation he kept to his usual 10 looks, with impressive pieces including a long black dresses with crocodile scales that were cut out and reassembled like pieces of a puzzle. It was a little bit punk, a little bit Art Deco which I found confusing.
Jean Paul Gaultier paid tribute to Amy Winehouse which I thought was rather fitting since his collections always honour individuality. The singer’s off-beat style came out in the beehives and beauty spots, while her polo shirts were given feminine puffy shoulders and worn with a black embellished pencil skirt. Beautiful tailored suits had the jackets slipping off or sliced open to reveal some cleavage. It was sexy and fun.
Versace returned to the Paris schedule after a long absence to show the brand’s Atelier collection. It was about 1980s power silhouettes with razor sharp shoulders and elaborately beaded body hugging dresses. It was all a bit too Kim Kardashian and red carpet for me.
Finally at Valentino, Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri injected an old world Parisian charm into their long modest gowns with sweet floral prints (some reminded me of curtains – the less said about those, the better). The overall effect though was more light and airy, although a bit too sweet at times. It was interesting but not my favourite collection.