Couture strikes back

At the haute couture shows last week, the fashion illustrator David Downton created a sketchbook of the best designs exclusively for The National.

David Downton
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For the first time in a couple of years, a sense of optimism has returned to the haute couture shows of Paris. It's in the short skirts - traditionally a sure sign of economic recovery - the youthful looks, the celebrity-packed front rows, the confident colour palettes and the blossoming floral accents at many shows. The inconceivably grand setting of Chanel's show at the Grand Palais, where the models circumambulated a 40-foot golden lion with its paw resting on a giant pearl, said it all, Ozymandias-style: my name is Karl, king of kings; look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

The pall cast last season by the loss of Lacroix's couture house seems to have only spurred on the likes of Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy and Alexis Mabille to create even more splendid pieces - splendid in both their restraint of lines and in the richly worked surface textures, which are, after all, what couture is all about. And the tighter guest lists and smaller venues - Givenchy, for instance, presented its collection in a salon rather than on a catwalk - were all the better for close-up viewing of the fine workmanship.

There were, of course, plenty of dramatic statements too, from Dior's vivid hot-house-flower-inspired collection to Stéphane Rolland's extreme-hourglass sculpted dresses. But the one word that would describe each of these collections? Wearable. From the tip of a Gaultier turban-topped French femme fatale to the toe of a glowing, amber-clad Armani Privé model, these were pieces designed as much to be worn, day and night, as to create the headlines that will sell scents and prêt-à-porter. That the designers have confidence in the existence of a paying customer for their clothes is the most positive sign couture could hope for.