Couture this week, and the bright, the beautiful and the billionaires have been watching manifold creations waft through the halls of Paris's many palais. The roll call of houses still producing for this most exclusive of markets may be small, but the scale of the operations – and budgets – are anything but. Jackets start at £8,000 and dresses can go upwards of £20,000.

So it's little surprise that in such gloomy fiscal climes, those who can afford these pieces are, shall we say, toning them down a bit. But how to offset the hours of craftsmanship and artisanal finishes of a couture garment? How to contain the very "bigness" of it all? By wearing it with your smalls, of course.

Madonna's version of this trend is the one we all know – she let bespoke Jean Paul Gaultier corsetry poke through her pinstripe suit on her 1990 Blond Ambition tour. Gaultier's own couture shows have been more low-key of late, but John Galliano's designs for Christian Dior's autumn 09 couture show last week had corsets worn over vividly coloured bubble-hem and shift dresses, bra tops with full crinoline skirts, and suspender belts visible through tulle pencil skirts.

And at Alexis Mabille, France's youngest couturier showed off his talents for pin-tucking and draping yards of lavender silk edged with delicately wrought black lace with an elegantly cropped top and matching hotpants. The model looked more like she was going to bed than a ball.

But then, the point of couture is not to look like any other clothes. It serves to enhance every aspect of its client's life – so it seems there's a couture look for any event, from state occasions to sleeping in.

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