The world of haute couture is a strangely beautiful place. Clothes are spun from wisps of eye-wateringly expensive material into forms that are at times otherworldly or else entirely pragmatic, existing in a universe that is forever out of reach for the average fashion fan.
Yet despite the seeming contradiction, couture echoes human emotion like nothing else. With designers free from the constraints of production schedules and cost-per-metre, imaginations are allowed to soar. In searching for inspiration, those minds inevitably turn to the state of the world and the people in it.
Couture speaks to a clientele unconcerned by the rising cost of filling the car with petrol. Yet its themes tap into deeper sensitivities and somehow manage to hold an exquisite mirror up to our fears, joys and aspirations.
The pieces themselves are entirely handmade by ateliers who safeguard generations of expert knowledge and techniques. Haute couture is, in short, the absolute highest level of garment craftsmanship achievable and, as such, becomes a celebration, manifested by hands able to metamorphose a bead, sequin or piece of silk into an astonishing work of art.
As Paris Haute Couture Week draws to a close, we round up some of the key trends spotted on the runways.
With the blooming of flowers usually linked to spring and summer, it is not difficult to see why so many designers chose such uplifting optimism for their autumn/winter collections. At Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri opted for Ukrainian folklore florals, which also served as a show of support. Tightly packed, dense flowers were stitched in vivid greens, whites and cornflower blues into horizontal bands.
At Schiaparelli, meanwhile, creative director Daniel Roseberry fused entire bunches of flowers to dresses, with long stems rising from necklines to frame models' faces.
At Chanel, verdant leaves stitched in sequins were scattered across a simple full-white dress, while at Rahul Mishra, several looks of nude tulle arrived covered in oversized, exuberant poppies, beautifully rendered in thousands of stitches.
Over at Valentino creative director Pier Paolo Piccioli scattered flowers with a generous hand, including a puffed dress made entirely of red fabric flowers, and as a corsage on men's loose coats.
Notions of protective armour were rife at Schiaparelli. A sleek fitted dress seemingly made entirely of chains, with metallic flowers around the neck, raising high on one shoulder, was presented on the runway, while at Olivier Rousteing’s couture show as guest designer for Jean Paul Gaultier, he fashioned a look from the famous tin can perfume packaging Gaultier launched in 1993.
At Balenciaga, designer Demna Gvasalia kept it brief but impactful by sending actress Nicole Kidman down the runway swathed in metallic silver cloth. At Valentino, molten silver was cut into a long, side split dress, off-set with pops of teal as a train and feather headdress.
Giambattista Valli crafted a fitted slinky dress from sequins so densely packed, they gleamed like a mirror, while at Maison Rabih Kayrouz, a blissfully understated top and shorts co-ord seemed to be knitted from strands of real gold.
International Klein Blue
While couture and colour are close stablemates, one colour in particular was prominent this time around – the punchy tone of International Klein Blue, invented by French artist Yves Klein. Rami Al Ali offered it as a sassy mini dress hemmed with 3D flowers, and as an overskirt covering lilac sequins. Armani Prive used discreet pops of the hue as a ruffled corset belt, while Zuhair Murad embraced its richness with several gossamer organza dresses in the tone.
After the heaviness of the past two years, it is little wonder so many houses opted for white this season, with its connotations of lightness and purity. At Chanel, the shade appeared as an ethereal full-skirted look. With a form-giving crinoline, it was topped with sequins stitched into a tweed pattern, and held between layers of organza. Giambattista Valli opened his show with five entirely crisp-white looks, while over at Dior, the first nine were white, or shades thereof.
With the world now almost reopen, the notion of freedom and escape arrived on the couture runways as fabric shifting away from the body. At Iris van Herpen — the queen of strange, hybrid forms — there was a shift towards something softer and less spikey, realised as folds of organza that flowed organically up and away from the body to beautiful effect.
At Maison Margiela, creative director John Galliano presented a themed dance piece that included a look brimming with the theatricality he is famous for, while at Rahul Mishra, exaggerated gilded caged forms enclosed the models.
Balenciaga opened and closed the show with strange new silhouettes, starting with models encased in neoprene and with faces obscured, to a finale of gowns of almost cartoonish proportions.
At Jean Paul Gaultier meanwhile, guest designer Rousteing referenced Tanzanian pregnant body sculptures - now moulded from leather, while Valentino offered a new shape entirely, with a lime skirt given feather "wings" at the waist, as an updated, landbound Icarus.
For all of its rarity, couture is perhaps the most reactive of the fashion disciplines, since designers, free to set their own rules, can plug into the zeitgeist.
Notably, after the difficulties of recent years, two Lebanese designers chose to face resolutely forward. Case in point: Georges Hobeika welcomed his son, Jad, into the maison. His arrival brought a lighter, breezier touch that will appeal to a younger client.
Elie Saab, meanwhile, welcomed in a new era with the addition of men's couture, showcased as eight decadent, bohemian looks of gilt-edged capes, razor-sharp tuxedos and fluid silk shirts.
Over at the Spanish house of Balenciaga, designer Gvasalia dragged couture into the here and now by putting Kim Kardashian and Nicole Kidman on his runway.