Today was, if I can say so, the 'hautest' plaisir of all, namely because I love Elie Saab and Valentino. Together with Oscar de la Renta, they are my glamorous soft spots. I swear to you, I cannot help but be completely swooning over all their collections and secretly wishing I was a multi-millionaire to be able to collect them all. But, sigh, as that is not bound to happen anytime soon, the couture shows will just have to do, and they are a treat all by themselves.
Elie Saab was a low-key, low-effort affair, with none of the drama and visual impressiveness of its fellow couturiers Dior or Chanel. No. There was only a simple U-shaped runway and the models walking slowly on top of it, like enchanted emissaries of a fairy-land. The Lebanese-born designer stuck to what he knows best, complicated embroideries with intricate beading and touches of sparkle on waves of lace - some might call this boring or playing it safe, but it's a signature. Saab is the master of this particular art and, in this collection, he took it one step forward to play not only with the visual illusions of decadent embellishing, but also with transparencies that reveal and cover the female body as beautifully as a charm. The result was a light fairytale world of princesses and an ode to femininity.
Gardens seem to be the leitmotif of many of the shows we've seen this week, but if Dior and Chanel chose to construct a life-size green-leafed background to showcase their work, Valentino did more - he took the concept and incorporated it into his work. Curlicues of fabrics were a fixture on most of the pieces shown, from the dresses to the feminine suits, echoing the wrought-iron gates and fences of old-school public parks. One gray dress with embroidered birds was even paired with a black cape made from this kind of tubing, making the model wearing it look like a mobile birdcage. Black lace was arranged on one A-line skirt to look like a garden maze, and a procession of shimmering green leaves snaked up a sheer ruffled dress. This was also a very modern and sober(ing) interpretation of the feminine, with a number of sleek looks without decorations which nonetheless summoned attention and awe.
Gaultier, as always, was an exuberant dissonance of colour, cuts and patterns. The inspiration for his collection was the majestic and rich culture of India and, while this extravagant Indian gypsy style could easily draw onto kitsch, the French designer kept it elegant and memorable. There was an abundance of deep colours, gold threaded silk, heavy prints and intricate embroideries matched by slim shapes, fitted jackets and form-fitting dress.Throughout the show, Gaultier hinted elegantly to some of his greatest hits — the trench, the smoking, the sleekness of corsetry, cone bra included. And even if this collection is not bound to establish a new perspective on fashion, couture is, after all, about the power of good craft and the artistry of style, and there was no lack thereof.
The day ended with the Artisanal collection of Maison Martin Margiela, now in its second season of Couture runway. It was a spellbinding show of a different note that the other collections of the week. In a faithful continuation of its founder's spirit, the house unceasingly looks to reinvent instead of innovate the ways in which we think of glamour and dressing, bringing a certain playful experimentation and an edgy quality. Just take the last three looks, whcih were made from thousands of metallic candy wrappers embroidered onto pongee silk. Other pieces were just as interesting, fusing wistfully romantic twenties with the more utilitarian contemporary staples of a trench or a parka. A mix and match of styles that is not for the faint of heart and not exactly haute couture either, but offers wit that anyone can appreciate to its true measure.