x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Sculpted volume and filmy fabric spell modernity

As haute couture fashion week comes to a close, we run through the best of the collections.

When even the king of neutrals, Giorgio Armani, sends out his haute couture frocks and suits in vividly ultra-glossy fabrics that look as though they were moulded from coloured glass, with futuristic discs as hats, you know something unusual is going on.

Certainly, even where the past acted as inspiration, as at Dior and Gaultier, the season's prevailing mood was one of renewal, modernity, excitement and in some quarters a sense of novelty. And while muted, delicate, nude shades prevailed with some designers, particularly at Elie Saab and Valentino (wisely, given that they were established as the awards-season red-carpet look of the year at the Golden Globes and will no doubt fill the Oscars ceremony as well) there were some spirited presentations that were bold enough for the more flamboyant couturistas.

Take, for example, Maison Martin Margiela. No longer designed by the label's founder, the collections have remained in keeping with his avant-garde spirit, which made the floral explosion of the new season all the more surprising. The girlish cotton evening dress is sure to find a red-carpet wearer, thrusting the label back into the limelight, while the more traditional Margiela shapes include bodies with shoulders and hoods built up from flowers and even an iridescent cellophane evening frock belted on to a foundation garment.

While not exactly avant-garde, the Lebanese designer Rabih Kayrouz has a sort of deconstructed simplicity in common with Margiela's house, and his design signatures have become more and more distinctive over the couple of seasons that he has been showing in Paris. His pieces this season were utterly pared-back dresses and separates, with the blankness of Celine but informed by an artisanal folk look. The luxury was in the finishes of the fabrics, the dense satins and rich jacquards.

It was beautiful, and a long way from the high-octane glamour of his compatriot Elie Saab, who presented an exquisite selection of intricately worked evening gowns in shimmering pastels that are sure to find plenty of takers for the coming awards ceremonies. Alexis Mabille, too, went all-out for evening, with a classic My Fair Lady debutante look: demure, elegant, but with a knowing, modernist edge.

Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel went in the opposite direction, with jeans in dusty pastels, beaded silken T-shirts and black and white jackets - casual pieces in rich finishes. The evening wear, though, made full use of the couture ateliers that Chanel owns, with exquisite work on delicate fabrics, gently falling to a dropped waist or swinging from a high empire line, a change of proportion hinted at in the ready-to-wear shows last October.

Jean Paul Gaultier also brought a street edge to his collection, which he dubbed "punk cancan": the raw finishes of punk welded to the ultra-feminine burlesque of the Moulin Rouge - and that's a lot more wearable than it sounds. The sharpest tailoring, the slenderest pencil skirts, the glossiest black satin: there was no compromise in the sure lines of his silhouette, which was flattering, feminine and sassy, with some gorgeous finishes such as the red dip-dye beaded chiffon empire-line evening dress.

In the end it's one of the first shows that remains in the memory the longest: for Christian Dior, John Galliano returned to his most theatrical, extravagant and creative form - and even beyond. Taking his inspiration from the illustrator René Gruau, who was one of Dior's close collaborators and the subject of an exhibition last year, Galliano recreated the dramatic lines, fluid brushstrokes and vivid contrasts of light and shade in ombré silks and stiff satins. It was one fabulously cut frock after another, and every look counted: this was what couture is all about.