Three days into Paris Fashion Week and already there is a key trend that will divide opinion among fashion-watchers: fur sleeves. Those of us who remember the days of Peta demonstrations and supermodels declaring their disdain for animal skin may flinch with guilt as pelt after glossy pelt shivers down the catwalks, but the number of furs blithely worn in the audience confirms that, in Paris at least, such scruples are very last decade.
Somehow, a number of designers have hit upon the very same wheeze of fur sleeves on an otherwise normal jacket: Nina Ricci, Lanvin, Gaspard Yurkievich - it went on and on. Get beyond the half-gorilla, half-woman look, though, and the season feels fresh, while still commercial enough to be saleable. At several shows, the heavy wool tailoring, inevitably cinched at the waist, anchored the beautifully floaty, decorative pieces beneath - the pieces that will still work in the UAE's weather.
Dries Van Noten's utilitarian coats and trousers, at the start of his show, gave way to the lovely prints and softly stormy colours that we know and love from his label. Over at Nina Ricci, Peter Copping's second prêt-à-porter collection was filled with appliquéd silk blooms, covering dresses and tops, in richly romantic colours: aubergine, blackened red, purple, all colours of the belle époque era that he seemed to be channelling.
His raglan sleeves and curved shoulders, high necks, structured skirts and crisp peplums in wool felt neat and prim, but the deconstructed seams, inside-out jacquards and wild-flower-covered pieces belied the formality. The must-have item? Long organza gloves. Another century, another sort of decadence at Gaspard Yurkievich, whose spotted silky jumpsuits and leg-o'mutton sleeves evoked the last days of Studio 54, with a mix of Gap Band's 1982 dance hit Outstanding as a soundtrack.
The Eighties came through at Lanvin, too, with huge, oversized shoulders draping over the natural shoulder-line in coats and dresses, not to mention more of those extravagant furs, and plenty of lamé and chunky tribal jewellery for evening, with feathers everywhere (also seen at Yurkievich's show, where soft ostrich feathers hung from the models' ears). John Galliano at Dior stepped back much farther, sending striding Regency bucks and fluttering Napoleonic ladies down the catwalk with low-crowned equestrian top hats, long coats and billowing sheer Empire-line dresses.
Most interesting show of the day, though, goes to Vionnet, whose designer Rodolfo Paglialunga showed his second collection for the season at a small presentation in the beautifully preserved apartment of Jean Cocteau. In the spirit of Madeleine Vionnet, he cut his coats from deceptively simple squares of wool lined with crêpe de Chine. But draped on the mannequins, appliquéd with laser-cut leather, deconstructed into strips of silk and even overlaid with hand-painted lace, this is a level of detail that pret-a-porter rarely sees.
The former Prada designer told The National that he used fur, wool and patent leather to weight the pieces, and inspiration had come from the Bolshoi ballet. "I focused a lot on volume and proportion. I wanted to work on draping and elegance," he said. Elegance he achieved in bucketfuls, but he may also be responsible for the next fad to hit the high street: the jape. "I created something between a jacket and a cape," he said. Well, it certainly makes a change from jeggings.