Couture shock: The world's most expensive clothes

When it comes to the most expensive clothes in the world, there are no rules. Carola Long reports from Paris, where equestrian grandes dames rubbed shoulders with men in silver suits
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The Showman

Couture offers a label the opportunity to heighten its prestige and attract publicity, and the designer is able to experiment with ideas.

In the case of Jean Paul Gaultier, you get the impression that it's also a chance to cut loose, no matter whether that overwhelms his clothes or not. Accordingly, his romp through every Mexican motif under the Latin American sun took in dresses woven from gleaming strips of green silk which resembled palm fronds, heavy Aztec silver jewellery worked into breastplates or armoured sleeves, and a dress made from a fringed shawl. Some signature sharp tailoring also crept in, and all was set to mariachi music and accessorised with sombreros.

The Celebrities

The celeb highlight of the spring/summer 2010 haute couture collections was Tina Turner at Armani Privé, next to Anne Hathaway. "I like short skirts that work for heavy dancing," she revealed. There's nothing like gazing at exquisite dresses and mingling with the filthy rich to make one feel like a bit of a fashion pleb, but the 'one of the people' prize goes to Claudia Schiffer whom I spotted catching the Metro from the Gare du Nord. And the strangest off-catwalk outfit of the week was the medieval-speed-skater-style hooded lurex dress worn by rapper Kanye West's squeeze Amber Rose to Chanel.

The Moon

From crescent-shaped brooches to luminescent white dresses with bobbled textures, you didn't have to be Buzz Aldrin to work out the lunar theme behind the latest Armani Privé show.

Some outfits, such as the liquid metal-look trouser suits, were a bit too sci-fi, although the white organza circle in which a model was encased was presumably meant to be a knowing joke. Skirts with curvilinear, crescent lines were beautifully cut, and stars looking to cast an ethereal glow on the red carpet are likely to snap up a white evening gown covered in opalescent 'aurora borealis' sequins. With Lagerfeld using silver in his collection, space could be fashion's latest final frontier.

Modernisers

Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli are clearly on a modernising mission, so it was out with classic grandeur and in with a younger, sexier aesthetic.

Inspired by the idea of a "virtual Eden...a private paradise awaking desires and temptations", there was certainly an edgier sensuality at work. This translated into ruched silk leggings worn with tunics, tank tops or jackets, bustier mini-dresses and a "bondage jumpsuit".

Colours included fashionable nudes, black, sky blue and orchid pink with flashes of neon yellow, and the classic Valentino evening gown was re-imagined as a sheer silk, Halston-style, backless maxidress.

Capes and shorts

Couture doesn't produce trends in the same way as ready-to-wear, but themes do emerge. The most chic pieces at Stéphane Rolland (Cheryl Cole's favourite couturier) were tuxedo jackets which turned seamlessly into capes and evoked a man's jacket draped over a woman's shoulders after a night out. There was a lovely pink cape, appliquéd with round circles of satin and chiffon, at Chanel. At Givenchy, feathered evening shorts seemed very 'right for now', an ambiguous piece of fashion parlance which basically means, 'those look cool. I want some', while Chanel showed tweed shorts.

Wedding Dresses

Couture wouldn't be the same without la mariée and some of the biggest commissions are for weddings. Karl Lagerfeld's space-age romance at Chanel culminated in a pale pink, floor-length dress with lace bodice and sleeves, and a tiered train, accessorised with a silver-suited and booted groom. It took 1,300 hours of work to make the outfit, including 350 hours on the sequins, pearls and crystals embroidered on the décolletage and sleeves, courtesy of Maison Lesage. At Stéphane Rolland, the bridal dress was fit for a – slightly terrifying – galactic glamazon with ridges of white Plexiglass coiled around it.

Equestrians

John Galliano's sultry horsewomen couldn't be further from the Zara Phillips take on riding gear. Instead, the models in the first part of the show looked like Edwardian dressage dominatrices replete with net-veiled top hats and whips. Riding jackets with nipped waists and peplums, halterneck dresses and riding skirts with pleated inserts or origami folds: all came in huntmaster red, fuchsia and grey or black checked wools.

Jumpsuits

Riccardo Tisci's collection for Givenchy was inspired by the Seventies: erotic French films, Pierrot, Guy Bourdin, glam-rocker Renato Zero, make-up artist Serge Lutens, Helmut Newton...The result, in short? A young, sexy disco collection with a haunting hint of the sad clown. Think floor-length gowns with tiny ruffles bunched into pom-pom shapes, frock coats, tuxedos and – most strikingly – jumpsuits.

A willowy Lou Doillon couldn't get enough of them. "I loved the jumpsuits," she enthused, "but I wish I had somewhere I could wear one. I want the blue overall with black shoulders adorned with sequins. It makes me think of a mix between a toreador and a superhero." Note too 'cocktail' jumpsuits with organza ruffles at Valentino, and looser sequinned versions with shoulder frills at Anne Valérie Hash.

All that glitters

Imagine you're a couture client who's splashed a few zeros on an exquisite dress and had it perfectly tailored to your body. Yet, somehow, something is missing, you feel underdressed... You need bling. Not just any old baubles, though, but high jewellery, where twinkling trinkets are, strictly speaking, one-offs. Fortunately, the Chambre Syndicale has dedicated a day at the end of the couture collections to showcasing high jewellery and limited edition pieces from grand jewellers around Place Vendôme, Paris's answer to Bond Street.

Boucheron's new high jewellery collection, Inspiria, is unashamedly exotic. Commissioned by Guy Laliberté, the founder of Cirque de Soleil, each of the 20 necklaces is inspired by a different performance. The Ovo necklace, clustered with yellow, purple and blue sapphires, is based on insect life and features a detachable spider brooch with a cabochon ruby in the centre. That's two pieces of jewellery for the – undisclosed – price of one. At Van Cleef & Arpels, butterflies inspired the unique pieces of jewellery – largely brooches – on display. Some had one wing laid over the other to create a three-dimensional effect, while a diamond-encrusted Orchid Butterfly brooch took over 400 hours of work.

Bees were key at Chaumet's presentation of high jewellery and existing designs, and the house supports an organisation concerned with saving the insects.

The pièce de résistance was a necklace called the Lune de Miel, crafted in white gold, and set with brilliant cut diamonds, round cut emeralds and pear cut sapphires.

Many of Chanel's designs were inspired by diamond jewellery created by Coco Chanel in 1932, and Mellerio dits Meller's treasures showcased their patented oval-shaped cut. Didier Grumbach, president of the Chambre Syndicale said, "generally the couture houses are as closed as cemeteries, but there is nowhere else in the world with such savoir-faire and beauty, so it was an obvious opportunity to capture that attention and focus it on to jewellery."

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