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Past masters

Couture Week's festival of fashion past and present offered food for thought as well as a feast for the eyes, as Charlotte Marrion reports

It was always going to be an important season for the Paris couture shows, and the big names certainly didn't disappoint. At Christian Dior, designer John Galliano celebrated the double whammy of 10 years at the house and the 60th anniversary of Dior's seminal New Look of 1947 with an ultra-glamorous presentation at the Palace of Versailles. As if that wasn't enough one-upmanship, the British designer whipped up a posse of supermodels, including Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Helena Christensen, to model his extravagant confections.

Christian Lacroix marked his 25 years in business with a similarly dramatic parade of gothic-inspired regal gowns in taffeta and chiffon, while Valentino celebrated his 45-year anniversary by decamping from Paris to his home turf of Rome for a retrospective of his career and a star-studded fashion show.

At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld presented a clean, pared-down collection of 1980s-inspired coats and elegant knee-length dresses that offered a departure from couture's standard embellished eveningwear, while designer Riccardo Tisci's slim trousers and textured leather blousons presented luxury in a different shape at Givenchy.

Giorgio Armani dug deep into his cutting and tailoring heritage with razor-sharp cropped jackets, shrunken tuxedos and plunging decolletage 1980s-style dresses, while Roland Mouret took new mini-collection RM to the catwalk to showcase the origami-inspired looks that made his Galaxy dress such a success.

With each presentation more lavish than the previous, there was little to unite the collections in terms of trends apart from the ubiquitous use of black, a recurring 1980s silhouette and, in a delicate nod to the 1920s, a penchant for feathers such as marabou and ostrich.


KEY LOOK: Chanel's signature monochrome boucle jacket was given an elegant makeover, with longer proportions and contrast detailing

INSPIRATION: Knee-length coats and strong-shouldered little black dresses straddled the 1960s and 1980s, while floor-grazing gowns and peplum jackets had medieval overtones

SILHOUETTE: Shapes were streamlined but romantic - think embellished dresses, funnel-neck coats and the ubiquitous boucle jacket

FABRIC: Wool and quilted silk dupion were teamed with lace, chiffon, organza and feathers

COLOURS: Black, cream and pewter were broken up by dusty blue, lilac, pink and sage.


KEY LOOK: Matt ivory silk zibeline was swept into a clinging portrait-collared shift dress with a giant swirling rose sculpted onto the hip

INSPIRATION: The late Christian Dior's art collection was the main theme, which included works by Picasso, Michelangelo, Goya, El Greco, Caravaggio, and photographer Irving Penn

SILHOUETTE: Designer John Galliano's gowns recalled history's most beautiful silhouettes, with his exaggerated shoulder line still present

FABRIC: Matt tulle, silk duchess and beaded taffeta were key, along with some light chiffon

COLOURS: Pistachio, blue, pink and pale gold contrasted with cobalt, claret and emerald.


KEY LOOK: Cobalt blue taffeta was twisted into a full-bustle gown with a deconstructed jewelled bodice of black wool tendrils

INSPIRATION: Using historical costume as a starting point, Christian Lacroix referenced royals such as Henry VIII and Marie Antoinette

SILHOUETTE: Voluminous and grand, shapes oscillated between clinging to the body and standing proud in rigid layers

FABRIC: Heavy brocade, dramatic flock and elaborate prints vied for attention with whipped cream swathes of taffeta, lace and fur

COLOURS: Gothic black with splashes of royal blue, vermillion, shell pink and mushroom.


KEY LOOK: Super-slim cigarette pants were paired with a slouchy leather jacket with fish scale-style overlayed textural details

INSPIRATION: Nature was the key focus, from geology and animal skins to feathers

SILHOUETTE: Ergonomic forms included super-skinny leather jodhpurs topped with shrunken, pointed shoulder blazers, or bulbous, layered jackets with plenty of surface texture

FABRIC: Leather, marabou, cotton shirting, feathers and pelts created an organic mood

COLOURS: Ultra-luxe pale shades of cream, cafe-au-lait and dove grey were bolstered by shots of jet black.


KEY LOOK: A relaxed red carpet look offered a heavily embellished dropped-waist top cascading into a full, layered silk chiffon skirt

INSPIRATION: A floaty, Grecian look has long been Elie Saab's autograph. Delicately draped styles had a neo-classical elegance, while tiered ruffles added a modern twist

SILHOUETTE: Saab strayed from his signature flowing, feminine styles to add only a dropped waist, 1920s flapper flavour to several gowns

FABRIC: Silk chiffon, tulle and spider's web lace was bespangled with silver crystals and beads

COLOURS: An ethereal palette of greys; light silver, pewter and palest lilac all featured.


KEY LOOK: Shoulders were exaggerated in a ruffled tangerine bolero teamed with flood-length cigarette trousers and a strapless bodice

INSPIRATION: 1980s looks were softened with sweetheart necklines and collarless jackets

SILHOUETTE: From sculpted skirts to shrunken tuxedos and exaggerated hips, Giorgio Armani focused on a hard-edged but feminine form

FABRIC: Fine wool or leather, high-shine satin, jewel-encrusted brocade and jacquard were key

COLOURS: Jet black, pale silver, tangerine, hot pink and lime all made their mark.

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