x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Haute couture shows in Paris show luxury at its best

The haute couture shows are an opportunity for fashion houses to shine.

Spending a week in Paris during the haute couture shows has the opposite effect of a reality check.

You find yourself at Givenchy watching the most luxurious, not to mention expensive, clothes money can buy - lavish embroideries that have taken more than a month to create - and making appointments to witness frivolous fine jewellery collections at Chanel's Place Vendôme boutique made entirely from diamonds, emeralds and rubies.

It's all good stuff, though. Couture is perhaps the only time money, in its commercial sense, is not allowed to dominate the big picture. It is the "dream sequence" within the fashion calendar, a time when fashion designers can let rip and create their fashion dreams.

The rest of the time, fashion houses - particularly the big fashion superbrands - must devote their time to the serious business of sales and figure out how to flog more coats, jackets, shoes and, ultimately, make-up and perfume, to the likes of you and me.

I arrived in the French capital early on Monday morning and immediately went to see several shows of young couturiers. This season the stuffy French body of couture, the Chambre Syndicale, seems to have actively encouraged (rather than discouraged) more designers to show "off-piste" to bring more interest into the rarefied and elitist world of couture.

Only a handful, however, are allowed to be on the "official" schedule - most of them graduate from the illustrious school belonging to the Chambre Syndicale.

Highlights of some 30 shows over four days included Chanel's evening presentation, which didn't start until 10.30pm, when the giant steel-and-glass dome of the Grand Palais, originally constructed for Paris's Universal Exposition of 1900, became flooded by moonlight. At least this was the idea. Actually, the weather is one thing Karl Lagerfeld has yet to control. There was a rainstorm so the sky actually looked rather grey and murky. The other best bit for me was seeing so much daywear rather than the usual eveningwear.

Highlights for me on this front include a white caped coat at Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier's perfect grey pencil skirts, Giambattista Valli's animal print crêpe jersey hourglass dresses and the new shape Chanel jacket, which has a peplum. All of these could easily slip into the wardrobes of today's style conscious, on-the-go princesses, namely Princess Charlene of Monaco and the Duchess of Cambridge.

Haute couture has benefited in the past decade, particularly from younger, more fashion-savvy customers predominantly from the Middle East - Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Abu Dhabi - along with emerging nations, namely India, Russia and Eastern European gas and oil-rich countries such as Kazakhstan. Not to mention China, Korea and Taiwan.

This has had a knock-on effect on the sort of clothes designers are creating. The French Moroccan couturier Bouchra Jarrar is a case in point. Her impeccably cut grey day suits were a million light years removed from the frumpy pastel suits aimed at American bankers' wives that couture used to be all about.

I spotted several Saudi princesses at shows like Gaultier and Stéphane Rolland, no doubt on a shopping spree.

A representative for Rolland told me it was a myth that Russian or Indian customers demand only "bling". "They are incredibly clued up about fashion, particularly the younger ones," he said. "Couture is no longer just about luxury and being made to measure, created solely for the client, it has to be about offering something new."

Last season Rolland incorporated Murano glass into jackets: this time around he went for a technique of knotting based on a Japanese Samurai silhouette (Japan was a recurrent theme at Giorgio Armani and Zuhair Murad, too).

It's not just been about shows either. Claudia Schiffer debuted her range of cashmere, inspired by taking her children on the school run, at the trendy Parisian boutique, Collette. Oddly enough (I thought) the original supermodel had chosen a doodle of a spider for her logo. "I love spiders and beetles," she said. "They remind me of walking in the woods as a child. I have always been fascinated by spider webs." Her entrance into the fashion business has not been as simple as you might think, however.

"Although I've been in the business for 24 years, technically speaking as a designer, I'm a baby."

Last week Elie Saab launched his first fragrance. Paris awoke on Wednesday to posters of Anja Rubik, the most successful model in the world right now, all over bus stops and the Metro. The party to launch this at the Hotel de la Monnai was the first in years that truly felt like old times again.

There was a party mood at Jean Paul Gaultier's couture show, perhaps because half of the collection was menswear. Perfume sales are not just a lucrative sideline to couture, which reaps a negligible amount: they are vital to the health and indeed existence of a fashion superbrand.

If his latest menswear fragrance Kokomo, which comes in a black bottle in the shape of a face, mirrors the success of Le Male, which until last year took the number one slot in the global men's fragrance market for over a decade, he'll be laughing. He certainly was when he took his bow post-show with France's number one chanteuse, Mylene Farmer on his arm. Perhaps he was thinking of the net profit he's about to reap?