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Couture Fashion Week A/W 16/17

Couture Fashion Week is always my favourite showcase of what the industry has to offer. In a world where we can now view and buy fashion collections as soon as they hit the runway, catwalk shows seem increasingly insignificant and almost wasteful. All that money, time and attention for something that could instead be shared democratically with a few beautiful photos online seems extravagant to say the least. However with the couture shows, it feels like these events are almost a display of art, showcasing the most fantastical design ideas, exquisite materials and a celebration of the true craft of fashion. For a designer to create a collection unconstrained by budget or practicality and instead to let the imagination form the most luxurious and daring garments is a beautiful thing to behold when done well.

The Valentino show came amidst rumours (which have now been confirmed) that Maria Grazia Chiuri is moving to Dior, leaving her design partner Pierpaolo Piccioli to run the house alone. I am sad to see such a successful partnership break up because together they have made Valentino as relevant, coveted and exciting as it ever has been with some of the most divine collections on the catwalk in recent years. This one was no exception; rooted in a celebration of Shakespeare’s 400th birthday there was a nod to elements of Elizabethan style, with ruffs, full sleeves and a mixture of cotton, leather and velvet in a simple monochrome palette. This gave way to ethereal, sheer neutral embellished gowns that looked like something out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, then brought back to the Elizabethan era with a not-so-subtle ermine fur print adorning floor length jackets. Equestrian flat boots were worn with every look (including later the evening gowns) giving the collection a practical and powerful feel among the whimsy of the historical references. The finale was a voluminous taffeta cloak in classic Valentino red which was the perfect end to a show which did the house proud at the end of an era.

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To then Maria Grazia’s new home and Dior was a much more subtle affair. The collection was purely monochrome, with a focus on texture and soft tailoring that was luxe and yet approachable. Like the Valentino show, each look was worn with flat shoes which will delight many a woman looking for a side order of comfort with her couture…

Giambattista Valli is a couture hero of mine; his work manages to combine complex detail and embellishment with the most effortless and flattering of silhouettes. As with Valentino, there was a nod here to Elizabethan fashion with dramatic high neck ruffs (this is going to be a big trend guys, as also seen in the Giles collection and not a million miles away from the recent trend for pie crust collars on shirts), wide open necklines and full sleeves. Young, fresh tailored mini dresses moved into dreamy chiffon creations and the collection culminated in his now signature voluminous layered tulle gowns, which somehow seem light as a feather and engulf the model in a cloud of dreamy gauzy fabric. This is a collection that has wearable cocktail pieces combined with the most whimsical evening gowns, yet with enough of a modern touch for those who favour unique style over playing it safe.

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For classic, tailored couture both Elie Saab and Ralph & Russo have cornered the market in feminine glamour. The former had beautiful tailored gowns, heavily embellished with fabulous giant brooches that looked like sparkling coral, on a collection that referenced 1940s chic style. Maribou feathers, chiffon and velvet were teamed with leather belts nipping in the waist to create a look that was as flattering as it was luxurious. Ralph & Russo showed a neutral, pastel palette with occasional pops of bright and jewel tones which made for a rich visual mix. Floral prints and beadwork adorned tailored cocktail gowns – although my favourite piece was a simple chartreuse silk coat-dress which was the definition of elegance in its simplicity.

Both Maison Margiela (via Galliano) and Viktor & Rolf showed they were still the labels that pushed the idea of style forward, with their playful and experimental collections mixing materials, textures and the very idea of what couture is meant to be. By contrast, Atelier Versace and Armani Prive took pride in creating shows that were focused on classic, wearable garments that could go straight from the runway into the wardrobe of a very lucky woman who simply wanted her clothes to make her look good – ok, look phenomenal

Last but not least, there is Chanel. A stalwart of couture week, by now Karl Lagerfeld has the Chanel woman down to a tee. His garments were created in the instantly recognisable Chanel tweed and offered embellished details you would hope for from the iconic label, with exquisite cut and tailoring taking centre stage. What I loved most about the show though was the setting – and this is why, to me, catwalk shows are still relevant for couture week. Guests were asked to sit in amongst a studio filled with the ‘petit mains’ of the high fashion ateliers. These are the women that create, fit, cut and embellish the clothes for these collections that otherwise just appear manifest on the runway as if by magic. Seamstresses were fitting garments before the show began and continued to sew, cut and create as the runway took place – almost as a refection that their work is never over, they move silently from creating one collection to the next. These women are the creators of what we take for granted in high fashion. As someone who has run their own atelier, I know that for both designers and makers it is often not the final show, but the process that is the true delight of fashion. I love that Karl made that point, showcasing the incredible talent, skill and hard work that goes on behind closed doors to make the glamour and decadence of couture week possible.

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I have been inspired to illustrate some of my favourite looks from the shows, as it really does feel like these collections are my beloved combination of art and fashion – a mixture of wearing and dreaming at the same time…