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Fall 2012 Paris Couture Recap

Understated artistry defined the latest couture collections


For the first time in a very long while, the Paris haute couture collections were unified by the mantra “less is more.” A mood of restrained elegance pervaded this fall; the clothes were startlingly wearable. Pants—generally thought of as too pedestrian for couture—were prominent. Gone were the fantasy and frivolity and, some unkind souls might say, self- indulgence of recent years. Everywhere, splashy red-carpet designs, bait for the paparazzi, were replaced by the intricate techniques of les petits mains—the “little hands” of the craftsmen and seamstresses returning to the traditionally hard and time- consuming work of beading and embroidery.

The highly anticipated debut collection of Raf Simons for Dior, a continuation of the trail he blazed for three seasons at Jil Sander, did not disappoint. For years, Dior has been a house where the demarcation line between couture and high-end ready-to-wear was blurred. In this particular instance, simplicity and skill trumped extravagance. Simons sought to update classic Dior looks, such as the hourglass silhouette from the immortal 1947 collection, with a thoroughly modern play on volume and proportion. A fitted black-mesh top was designed to go over a long full skirt, and a painstakingly embroidered mini ball gown with an exaggerated peplum was paired with slim black pants.

The understatement continued throughout the week. At Valentino, designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli created a feminine collection that was infused with subtle sexuality. Strips of cutout velvet or sheer, pleated chiffon on floor-skimming gowns highlighted erogenous zones from neck to toe, while delicate lace and chiffon floral dresses, encrusted with cashmere appliqués of flowers and leaves, were inspired by dreamy Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Over at Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci used leather to create intricate mosaic patterns on a spectacular red-and-black cape. For his eponymous line, Giambattista Valli displayed similarly meticulous craftsmanship in ladylike, garden-inspired flourishes and ruffles on collars, waist-aesthetic—these customers certainly drive sales, which nipped skirts and evening coats. And though at firstare up by more than 30 percent. For the newly rich, high glance Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel appeared to have fashion is no longer just for gala evenings but a status updated the house’s famous tweed “simplicity and suits, on closer inspection the “tweed” proved to be hand-embroidered tulle,skill trumped some of the pieces having taken thousands of hours to make. Luxury was never so discreet. extravagance”

For the first time since her brother’s death, Donatella Versace returned to Paris and the Ritz Hotel—where Gianni presented his couture collections in the ’80s—with signature Versace details like chain mail and leather. Still, the clothes were ethereal and refined: A bustier woven from white leather topped a diaphanous skirt that seemed to float down the runway.

So why this sudden change, this rejection of flamboyance and return to classical technique? Perhaps the influx of wealthy clients from China and Russia is driving the new symbol to be worn throughout the day. Although couture may be one 

of the last laboratories of pure creativity, an unfettered place to imagine something truly unique, times and economic circumstances have changed. What was once little more than a vehicle for attracting publicity is now a real paying proposition. The modern couture is imaginative and exquisite but almost low-key. Personally, I’m thrilled.
Photos: Imaxtree.com


Harriet Mays Powell is the founder of TheLookNow.com