Fashion's garden of delights
From freshly cut flowers to the tree of life, designers at Paris's couture shows were inspired by bucolic romanticism, says Susannah Frankel.
Riccardo Tisci was inspired by Gypsies and the 1960s, he said. His static presentation of 10 intricately worked looks is by now one of the high points of the schedule, not least because it is possible to view the workmanship of the ateliers up close and at leisure.
Intricately tooled leather, languid skirts weighed down by tiny chains hand-sewn into their edges, opulent crystal embroideries and more made for darkly romantic and spectacular viewing. And should madame be interested in one-step dressing, she need look no further than long, lean, all-in-ones with their own haute couture boots attached.
A Chanel garden party at the Grand Palais was peopled by quite the most beautifully dressed models in the world. Nobody knows how to showcase the skills of the haute couture ateliers better than Karl Lagerfeld and there was a romance and even emotional power to these hand-worked garments that took the breath away. Far from uptight, the silhouette was, for the most part, relaxed, or dégagé. Mlle Chanel herself would have approved. To sum up: these were throw-on pieces, if only for the world's wealthiest and most sartorially discerning women to wear and then pass down to their daughters and granddaughters.
Three hundred thousand freshly cut flowers is excessive even by haute couture standards but that was what met guests to spectacularly beautiful effect at the hôtel particulier in the chic 16th arrondissement of Paris for Raf Simons' debut for Christian Dior. The clothes were like blooms themselves – skirts resembled upturned lilies and tulips; New Look-line dresses were embellished with petals of silk; and colour ran the spectrum from Victorian garden roses to vivid blue delphiniums. More masculine – and a gauntlet thrown down to Hedi Slimane, perhaps – was a perfectly cut tuxedo and black cigarette-legged trousers, best worn with jewelled bell tops.
Jean Paul Gaultier
This was a vintage couture season for Jean Paul Gaultier. By the close of the show the audience were cheering at the audacity of the vision and indeed the clothes sent out by the couturier. If an intimate salon environment and the importance of seeing the workmanship of the petites mains up close was the overriding story, this was a grand gesture, old-school style. Models wore long, lean, deconstructed tuxedos, beaded flapper dresses, laced leather and frisky sheer organza And that was just the boys.
Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri's show for Valentino balanced a respect for the traditions of haute couture with an understated elegance that was more contemporary by nature. A deceptively simple midnight blue velvet gown, a navy cape that only its wearer would ever know was double layered (chiffon and cashmere) and "tree of life" prints and embroideries featuring the plumpest and prettiest birds were all executed with the refinement that is by now the hallmark of this designer pairing. Like Valentino in his heyday, they know how to showcase exquisite workmanship, while always ensuring clothes remain light.
Maison Martin Margiela
Maison Martin Margiela's Artisanal collection is small and studiously imperfectly formed. This house loves the authenticity of age, and its flaws are left intact. An Edwardian silhouette dominated here but was given a tender twist: doorknobs from that period replaced buttons; leather baseball gloves were flattened and transformed into an S-bend jacket. Models' faces were masked – a signature of this very innovative collective – but this time, coloured crystal was applied to the surface. Imaginative, innovative and made entirely by hand, of course.
Exuberant flower prints and ruffles everywhere from neckline to hem almost threatened to engulf the slender models wearing them at Giambattista Valli's haute couture collection. Restricting his colour palette almost entirely to shades of red and green, with the odd splash of vivid iris, only added to the drama of this, a fashion fantasy inspired by the most high-impact of gardens. Models stepped out with butterflies where otherwise their lips might be, a strangely surreal and slightly macabre sight.
Strips of patent leather were studded with solid rose gold for the Atelier Versace collection as modelled by Ms Versace herself as she stepped out to take her bows. This was the designer's first haute couture catwalk show for almost a decade and it was big on the high-octane glamour the Italian label is famous for, from blazing colour – bright rose, violet and citrine – to patchworked rubber, silk and lace held together with oversized stitches threaded with glittering beads and crystal metal mesh. Prints – a Versace signature – referenced tarot cards and the work of Picasso. It was all a matter of "deconstruction and reconstruction", Ms Versace said.
Eschewing his 1980s shoulder line in favour of a softer silhouette and, often, an empire line, Giorgio Armani showed three sections in the old-school manner, moving from day to evening to night-time, signalled by a backdrop on to which was projected a sunrise, a sunset and, finally, a starry sky. Soft, black wide-legged silk velvet trousers were worn with blouson jackets and little flat pumps. Narrow evening dresses in more velvet or embroidered with crystal beads were high on shimmer and shine but always polite. Sophia Loren sat in the front row, as did many a client. They looked good dressed in the grand old man of Italian fashion's designs.