It was blossoms in a blizzard. The snow was falling, but it was all sunshine, bright colours and glamorous clothes inside the grand Parisian couture salons for the spring collections. Chanel went so far as to conjure up the lazy days of summer with a Cote d'Azur villa and garden backdrop for its summer haute couture collection. Never mind that the snow was at least two centimetres deep and still falling outside.
Down Chanel’s villa steps came an 18th-century-inspired collection of delicious lightness, with flower embroideries echoing French porcelain mixed with feathery frou-frou and a long slender 1930s-style silhouette, broken by a flurry of ruffles and followed by satin dresses with 18th-century pannier skirts.
Chic tailoring turned out to be one of the big takeaways of the couture week collections. Chanel and Armani / Prive both focused on a flattering elongated 1930s style. The cut was especially body-conscious at Givenchy and Jean-Paul Gaultier, whose pagoda-shaped shoulders soared sky-high and were matched with fitted peplum waists creating an extreme hourglass shape. Gaultier and Armani both played on Oriental themes, with the former using kimono silk motifs, criss-crossing obis and Chinese lantern-constructed corsetry, while the latter recalled the Art Deco glamour of old Shanghai.
Armani / Prive’s sculpted suits and ankle-length dresses came in combinations of blue and red, sometimes feathered, sometimes lacquered, or swishy with flapper fringing and topped with tiny Oriental hats or sparkling cloches. Every detail could be admired, such was the stately progress of the models. In the early days, couture shows would last two hours. Thankfully no longer.
At Givenchy, Clare Waight Keller heightened the particularly refined look that she has been subtly putting to work on Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s wardrobe. The cut of her jackets has been beautifully finessed, but whether the slick latex leggings will appear on a royal any time soon is unlikely. However, the effect was polished and modern.
The return of ladylike elegance
The tailoring houses Givenchy, Gaultier, Armani and Chanel demonstrate that haute couture is as much about the craft of cut as it is about fluttering evening gowns and lavish embellishment. The auction this week of Catherine Deneuve’s collection of Yves Saint Laurent couture at Christie’s and the displays of impeccable tailoring at the new Azzedine Alaia Collector exhibition of Alaia and Adrian suits (Gilbert Adrian was a Hollywood costume designer-turned-couturier in the 1940s) are timely reminders that haute couture is also about the impeccable use of cut to problem-solve and flatter a client’s figure.
The client will surely be happy, then, with this return to ladylike elegance and the absence of the athleisure trend, which has recently crept into a few collections. There wasn’t even a jewelled blouson in sight. There were, however, in many shows, beautiful beaded helmets and flapper-style skull caps, and embellished gloves that are going to be a big trend this season.
Swimsuits and shorts designed for parties with long expanses of train were about as sporty as it got, and these were clearly not designed to get wet. It was a key trend among eveningwear specialists such as Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad, while Giambattista Valli and Alexandre Vauthier either opted for puffball or super-short flounced dresses that reveal a lot of leg. Valli was hedging his bets – his dresses were super-short at the front and ended in a long train at the back. Either way, floor-sweeping trains will be a must-have for party girls this season.
So will iridescent sequins, as seen in catwalk newcomer Rami Kadi’s show, which clearly caught the eye of his young front row. Zuhair Murad’s sensuous silvery white pleated gowns shot with ultraviolet shine similarly will shimmer beautifully on the dance floor. His 1980s-inspired mermaid dresses appeared in all shades of blue, sparkling and shining with sequins and beading. Elie Saab, likewise, was inspired by the watery world, with corals and underwater vegetation recreated in sequin embroideries on long gowns, along with some spectacular embroidered nude organdie-swathed dresses and vast taffeta gowns in Mediterranean blue that look Oscar-bound next month.
Also Oscar-bound, surely, will be PierPaolo Piccioli’s marvellous Valentino collection, with its dramatic shapes and statement colours, such as a strapless yellow faille dress with a train (yes, more of them) knotted in a bow at the back, or the multi-tiered lilac taffeta cape with tiered terracotta taffeta dress, which could not fail to make an impact on the red carpet.
Piccioli has been unfailing in turning out the most desirable collections, whether bold in colour or of a delicate translucent beauty. Also positive was the wide range of ethnic backgrounds he cast for his show, to illustrate how colour works on different skin tones. Adut Akech, for instance, was cocooned in coral ruffles, while Kaia Gerber wore olive sequins and Naomi Campbell looked imperious in black ruffles.
Valentino wasn’t alone in making use of statement colour: Maison Rabih Kayrouz did it with tones of bright pink for understated shirt and pant combos, or plum and purple for a relaxed ankle-length coat and satin gown ensemble. Alexis Mabille went bold with red, sunshine yellow (especially the billowing yellow silk cape over a sculpted black gown) and azure blue for his eveningwear collection.
However, if there is one colour that almost every single couture house used it was bright pink, that shocking shade that Elsa Schiaparelli made her own. Naturally it featured in Bertrand Guyon's collection for the house, in a white dress embroidered with neon shocking pink petals and the vast coatdress in voluminous tiers of tulle modelled by the heavily pregnant Erin O'Connor, who looked utterly magnificent.