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Gaultier’s swansong and Chanel's tribute collection: highlights from Paris

Karlie Kloss, the Hadid sisters, Erin O’Connor, Farida Khelfa and Dita Von Teese all walked for Gaultier's last runway

Jean Paul Gaultier, the ­ever-youthfully spirited haute couture designer, raised the roof of the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris with a song-and-dance extravaganza to mark his retirement from the runway after 50 years in fashion. With songs from Boy George and a cast of his favourite models – from Karlie Kloss and the Hadid sisters to Erin O’Connor and Farida Khelfa, and muses including actresses Beatrice Dalle, Rossy de Palma and burlesque star Dita Von Teese – this was the highlight of Paris Haute Couture Week.

Slickly produced by the team behind Gaultier’s successful Fashion Freak Show revue at the Folies Bergere, his swansong collection was on message about sustainability, and featured clothes from past collections upcycled for haute couture, such as tuxedos, sailor tops, denim, lingerie, camouflage and even Hermes scarves (he used to design for the brand). It was a masterclass in how to recycle, a tendency Gaultier has displayed since his first collections, when he exploited flea-market finds in the 1970s, and made a joyous finale at the spring / summer 2020 shows.

Boy George performs during the Jean-Paul Gaultier Haute Couture spring/summer 2020 at Paris Fashion Week. Getty 
Boy George performs during the Jean-Paul Gaultier Haute Couture spring/summer 2020 at Paris Fashion Week. Getty

With three women now heading up haute couture houses (Dior, Chanel and Givenchy), this season was also a celebration of female empowerment and femininity, and not just from Maria Grazia Chiuri, Virginie Viard and Clare Waight Keller.

Many designers were acclaiming women as the “­Female Divine” that, coincidentally, was the theme at Dior. Chiuri commissioned feminist artist Judy Chicago to create an installation for the show, and the result was a space in the shape of a recumbent female form. Inside were strung empowering banners, in keeping with Chiuri’s love of slogans, such as “What if Women Ruled the World”. And down the runway came a collection of goddess dresses in white silk crepe, antique gold lamé and silk fringing with elaborate drapery that transported the audience back to the pagan deities of ancient Rome. More rooted in the contemporary world were shimmering ottoman silk trouser suits worn with simple Roman sandals and golden wreaths in the hair.

The golden goddess theme threaded through several other collections, with Zuhair Murad inspired by Nefertiti, and the gods and hieroglyphs of Egyptian antiquity that decorated his dresses. Some of his outfits – jewelled crop tops, long tube skirts and draped sheath dresses – could have stepped down from the murals of the tombs of Thebes. Murad’s premise was that of the all-powerful sacred female.

Elie Saab’s collection was similarly bathed in a golden shimmer, with baroque curlicues in gold sequins and white lace lavishly decorating leg-of-mutton sleeve dresses and pantsuits to dramatic effect. A brief palate cleanser from all this opulence came in the form of a series of sculpted gowns in coral, turquoise and lime duchess satin for clients with more minimalist tastes.

Perhaps the designers had their eyes on another gilded figure, the famous golden statuette. It is only two weeks until the Oscars, and Dior, Murad and Saab are serious contenders for dressing the stars on the red carpet. So too is Giorgio Armani whose Prive collection featured nearly 40 potential red-carpet looks in nuanced shades of fuchsia, peacock green, blue and inky black. His lean gowns were fringed with beading, and subtly painted in ikat patterns then layered in organza and spot tulle veiling, with the merest hint of midnight sparkle.

Giambattista Valli produced a complete exhibition (also open to the public) of rapturous Oscar, Met Gala and Cannes Film Festival dresses. Some were hugely theatrical, such as a frothy yellow tulle gown that was short at the front but had a mile-long train, and that may catch the eye of a certain Barbadian singer and beauty mogul who knows how to make an entrance at the Met Gala. The collection was inspired by the couture shapes of the 1960s and 1970s as worn by famous women such as Jackie Onassis and ­Marella Agnelli – a ­reimagining of the glamorous gowns of the era. The result was a vibrantly coloured extravaganza of frills, Grecian drapery, puffball ­silhouettes, kaftans and ­feather masks.

There was more drama at Georges Hobeika, too, another designer who dipped his collection in gold, but also covered it with exotic flower appliques and prints. It had a sunny disposition with warm Mediterranean blues, pinks and yellows, and a 1960s vibe with neat cigarette pantsuits in flower-printed silver lamé, ­flower-trimmed babydolls, laser-cut pencil dresses and glorious fringed picture hats.

Haute couture by its very nature is the holy grail for event dressing: the ateliers of Chanel, Dior and Valentino have never seen it so busy. The long front row at Murad’s show was packed with clients in his gold party dresses and tiaras; the daughter of one client even wore a mini-me dress to match her mother’s. At Maison Rabih Kayrouz’s intimate show, one of the designer’s clients was identifiable by a stunning yellow blanket coat from his 20th anniversary show last season. For spring, she will have a choice of styles in standout red, white or blue. Kayrouz has a modernist aesthetic and a tendency for architectural cuts, such as the new boxier jackets, while dresses were voluminous and vivid, but oh-so refined.

However compelling these shimmering evening gowns are, there is still demand for beautiful couture tailoring. Armani and Dior provided it with chic matching or unmatched trouser suits (Chanel was the only house to feature mostly skirt suits). Alexandre Vauthier produced some great tailoring: elegant black-and-white tuxedo looks with harem-style ­trousers, a shorts suit with spencer jacket and some relaxed daytime tailoring in grey.

Shades of grey also appeared at Chanel, where Viard seems much more settled into her role as artistic director than she did with the ready-to-wear last October, and presented a sweetly demure collection drawn from the six years Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel spent in the orphanage at the Aubazine Abbey. The girlish collection was based on the uniforms and nuns’ habits with smock dresses, pilgrim collars, prim tailoring and ankle socks. While the largely monochromatic palette in tweed made the convent aesthetic appear austere, there was a sweetness to the silhouettes, delicate lacework (notable on two white coatdresses and a full-skirted dress worn by Kaia Gerber), and fragile dandelion and wild flower embroideries.

This period in her childhood proved an unwavering ­influence on Chanel’s own aesthetic. One could add that Viard’s collection made a poignant statement in this season acclaiming female empowerment, for Coco Chanel has perhaps had the most lasting impact on fashion.

Updated: January 26, 2020 06:17 PM



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