Haute couture is strangely divisive. Some (like myself) jump at the opportunity to witness designers unleash their imaginations, aided by the world's most skilled craftspeople. Petite mains, the name given to artisans, literally translates as little hands, a title that is derived, in part, from the tiny and intricate stitching these pieces are known for. Others, quite correctly, rail against the elitist display, where thousands of hours of work go into making dresses that only a handful of women can afford.
To get the best out of couture, however, it is better to view it through a wide-angle lens. Just as Formula One produces advanced car tech that eventually benefits the rest of us, so ideas that first appear in the grandiose setting of couture, come to shape that way the rest of us dress.
Yes, couture speaks directly only to a handful of people, but it is not designed in a vacuum, and it does, in a very precise way, raise and address important issues. In a political climate that's seen increased debate regarding sexual inequality and religious divides, it can hardly be a coincidence that not one, but multiple houses offered collections that focus on the so-called windows of the soul: the eyes.
Whether hidden behind fans or highlighted with kohl, our eyes and how we use them has always carried much significance, a fact not lost on couturiers. As arguments rage today about equal rights and pay for women, the right to be free from sexual exploitation, and the influx into Europe of Middle Eastern and North African refugees, it is significant that this season the houses are all using the same visual language.
At the couture shows in Paris last week, Iris van Herpen highlighted the eye with a line of vivid blue underneath, while at Armani/Prive, the eye was hedged with spiky eyelashes and a heavy dusting of powder. Elie Saab let his models - like women the world over - hide behind sunglasses, while Jean Paul Gaultier went for shouty, look-at-me patterned frames.
Over at Chanel, models wore delicately layered veils that barely covered the face, while the highly cerebral Dutch duo of Viktor & Rolf used starkly beautiful X marks, with the spot crosses drawn, literally, over the eyes.
Valentino hid models under large, floppy feather hats and, for the finale, obscured the model completely behind a great puff of feathers around her head.
The most powerful statement of all was from Christian Dior. Drawing on the burqa, here updated by milliner Stephen Jones, Dior - led by Maria Grazia Chiuri - used the shape of this region's traditional face covering as the focal point of the collection. Beautifully made in silk, tulle and gleaming gold, one of the most potent symbols of our region was delivered like a coup de grâce, and stood as an uncomfortable reminder that there is more to the world than fashion.
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