For a field of fashion that is aimed at the elite and super-rich, haute couture has made surprisingly big waves this season. That has partly to do with the debut of the Belgian designer Raf Simons for Dior, transported from Jil Sander to replace the former creative director John Galliano. The universally positive reviews say it all: Simons fused his pared-back architectural vision with the rich, feminine heritage of Dior to create a collection that refreshed this venerable brand without losing one iota of its design identity. Dior, now, is a very different proposition to the Galliano-led brand; and the trends of couture as a whole followed where Simons led. Here are the top five looks to take from the season.
The set at Dior was filled with around a million flowers, from floor to ceiling, a reference to the founder's garden obsession. And among the simple bar jackets and graphic silhouettes were heavily embroidered floral skirts as round and light as bubbles. Elsewhere, Giambattista Valli's sumptuous jacquard silks bore elaborate flower designs and at Valentino, the midnight-blue austerity gave way to delicate printed satin bearing Renaissance-style trees, birds and flowers. At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld encrusted a delicate blush dress with moulded silk camellias and even the usually stern Bouchra Jarrar used an oversized black floral line drawing on white silk to accent her tailoring. Incidentally, the men's Spring/Summer 2013 shows a week or two earlier also featured floral prints as a major trend - including printed coats and a long shirt at Raf Simons' eponymous menswear line.
The king of lace is, of course, Elie Saab, and his collection for autumn was utterly ravishing with delicate, spidery gowns embroidered, beaded and embellished into the sort of shimmering glory that every actress craves. Alexis Mabille, too, used guipure lace motifs and placements to accent evening gowns and even to replace whole panels in one vampish gown. Perhaps the most surprising use was that of Maison Martin Margiela, a house known for its uncompromising, avant-garde simplicity. Here, scraps of vintage lace, in a multitude of designs were scattered and pasted over skirts and jackets or simply cut into sheer, wide trousers.
The 1920s and 1930s were recurring themes, from Jean Paul Gaultier's decadent flappers in Art Deco frocks and top-hatted gents in sleek black evening suits, to the beautiful button berets by Phillip Treacy for Armani Privé. These were worn with a sort of Pierrot look: black and white, voluminous trousers, big buttons and organza ruffs at the neckline. Those ruffles at the neckline reappeared at Giambattista Valli, while Alexis Mabille used curlicue designs that could have come straight from a Belperron jewel. Even Chanel, arguably an aesthetic unto itself, featured filmy blouses with big bows, bias-cut frocks and frilled sleeves fit for Ginger Rogers herself.
Whether it was the frothing gold embellishment to be found at Rami Al Ali's accomplished, off-schedule, baroque-inspired presentation or the iridescent lamé of Alexis Mabille, the delicacy of the season was offset with some serious shine. The extraordinarily subtle Givenchy collection by Riccardo Tisci had a highlight of bronze, while the infinitely more high-octane Versace played with rose gold on buckles and a coat. The final frocks of Elie Saab were gilded and gorgeous, an exemplary use of metallic finishes that combined exquisite glamour with a lovely innocence.
The surprise trend of the season was the face-covering veil, ranging from Maison Martin Margiela's somewhat terrifying crystal-encrusted fencing masks, reminiscent of Alexander McQueen's Spring/Summer 2012 collection, to Armani Privé's delicate lace draping, weighed-down Italian widow-style with beading. Raf Simons' Dior collection and Giambattista Valli's show featured delicate, barely there millinery netting enveloping the face, although Valli's carefully placed butterflies (often over the mouth) made a more significant statement.