Day one of Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week was as dazzling as anticipated.
A mixture of digital and physical presentations, the houses marked the slow return to normality by offering clothes that spoke of dressing-up today. Gone, largely, were flamboyant gowns, as red carpet events have all but vanished, replaced instead with pieces that were quieter and more daytime, but no less beautiful.
By shifting the focus away from headline-grabbing gowns, shows highlighted instead the handiwork, craftsmanship and astonishing skills that create couture.
At Dior, creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri focused mainly on daywear, made from hand-woven fabrics. Soft grey tweeds arrived as coats and simple separates, and dresses were worn under cashmere coats.
The gowns came with molten metallic origami folds, or gossamer layers of chiffon in shades of taupe. Best of all was a delicate gown with lattice work, made by weaving threads into a loose mesh, to complete a collection that was as elegant as it was discreet.
At Giambattista Valli, meanwhile, it was all about joy, with great frothy gowns in shades of pink and white. Pieces came in Valli's trademark densely-layered frills, and finished with bouncing feathers and satin bows.
There were men's looks too – a first for the label – with sharp suits for both genders, worn with great capes. Interestingly, in a firm nod to this region, he also offered a loose cut kandura with a collar.
Schiaparelli offered beautifully strange looks, as fitting a house founded in surrealism. Jackets with puffed sleeves were patch-worked from different fabrics and over-embroidered with golden roses, figure-hugging dresses were topped with puffs of pink and orange taffeta, or scrunched silver plastic.
There was an almost round cut dress, completely edged in pink roses, and a startlingly beautiful, fitted column dress, with a golden breastplate of bronchi, the internal structure of lungs.
Georges Hobeika looked back to the mod movement of the 1960s for inspiration behind his collection, which delivered short mini-dresses and beaded tunics over trousers. In tones of pale blue, raspberry and lilac, it felt upbeat and optimistic.
That a Beirut house would prefer to look back to the halcyon days of the past, rather than the immense difficulties of the present , is hardly surprising , and Hobeika manages to retain a sense of happiness throughout.
Iris van Herpen
Iris van Herpen, always obsessed with movement, took couture to dizzying new heights, by creating a look for the female world champion skydiver, Domitille Kiger, to wear as she leapt from a plane. Created after months of testing in a wind tunnel, the result is a gossamer mix of strength (able to withstand speeds of 200 kilometres per hour) and fragility.
The rest of the collection is about capturing fabric mid-movement, with arcs of chiffon suspended in space thanks to skilful boning. Even the second skin looks felt like they were moving, with cut-out panels and shifting surfaces. In an important shift for couture, van Herpen also teamed up with Parley for the Oceans to create looks from recycled ocean plastic.
Maison Rabih Kayrouz
Maison Rabih Karouz showed a succinct collection of just six pieces, that while brief, still managed to convey a notion of concise beauty, almost as a visual diary of "buy less, but buy better".
He offered a boxy tuxedo a flared pant-suit with lavish fringing, and a floor-grazing trench coat scattered with gold-dipped shells. A transparent dress, with matching trousers, came in powder-blue chiffon, with real flowers caught between the layers.
Pieter Muller showed his debut ready-to-wear collection for Alaia, and as a sign of the high regard in which the house is held, he was invited to show it during couture week.
With clear references to the founder, Muller continued the house codes of second-skin dresses, cowled hoods and wicker weave details that were a delight. Sheer dresses came with integrated modesty panels, as waists were cinched with wide, triple-buckled belts.
Rami Al Ali
While not part of the official calendar, designer Rami Al Ali, who lives in Dubai, showed his couture collection in the French capital.
Filled with scrolling, gold rococo patterning, picked out in rich gold on white, the collection had a light, dreamy quality, somehow mixed with urgency, with edges left raw and unfinished and lace panels not fully attached.