Is Parisian couture stuck in a timewarp?

The Paris couture shows were sensational. But, asks Susannah Frankel, are the clothes so steeped in history they risk being irrelevant?

The twice-yearly haute couture collections are anachronistic at the best of times. There is, after all, no need, since the advent of the sewing machine, for clothing to be crafted entirely by hand. Neither, given the arrival of the designer ready-to-wear on the scene, is it necessary for garments to be painstakingly fitted to each individual client.

That said, the skills of the craftspeople involved in the medium - master embroiderers, specialists in feathers, fur, lace and the most accomplished seamstresses in history - are surely worth preserving as indeed, for those who need convincing further, are their jobs.

Haute couture provides vital research and development for a brand, inspiring the production of everything from the many different collections a designer is today expected to come up with to fragrance and beauty lines. It is not unusual for the creative director of one of fashion's bigger names to oversee upwards of six collections a season - women's clothing, menswear, pre-collections, second lines, bridal, sport, denim… The list goes on.

With this in mind, the hours spent poring over the latest fabrics and considering new silhouettes in the haute couture ateliers no longer appear so indulgent. It is here that the future of fashion - and that goes for the status labels in question as well as the high street copycats - is informed.

Even so, the shows at Paris couture were so steeped in fashion history, and in what might not entirely unreasonably be described as occasion-wear to boot, that its relevance, at times, seemed questionable.

There is no doubt that the nostalgic romance that swept away John Galliano's audience at Dior to a faraway and extravagant place was lovely to behold. Given that this is fashion's most fabled fantasist and that the heritage of the house has always been the reinvention of old-style glamour - such a viewpoint seemed strangely reasonable.

Shown in the Orangery at Versailles and inspired by Christian Dior's own art collection this was the most opulent show of the week - and the clothes were no less sensational. Corseted silks and satins with overblown skirts, sinuous fishtail gowns that seemed lighter but were still strictly underpinned to ensure the best is made of madam's curves, jewels, embroideries, rainbow colours and hair and make-up that looked like an acid-fuelled tour of the past 500 years all made for extraordinary viewing.

Galliano had flown in the supermodels of yesteryear to walk his catwalk alongside today's big names and that, too, was spectacular. These were clothes with authority and modelling's older sisters appeared indomitable posturing and pouting in their finery.

Galliano's catwalk is always an extreme place, and one where any client has to search hard for a piece that will suit everyday life. At Christian Lacroix one has to search harder still, although the front row suggests that the couturier's clientele is alive and kicking. This collection was quintessential Lacroix - rich brocades, furs, frills, feathers and embroideries piled up until the women wearing them could be forgiven for buckling under the weight of it all. There was more black than might be expected, which was disappointing. Following the retirement of Yves Saint Laurent, this is fashion's great colourist after all.

At Chanel Karl Lagerfeld went for a more louche - although still at times historical - take on the feminine wardrobe. It seems not insignificant that if Dior was famous for looking, dewy eyed, at the curvaceous belle époque, duly bringing back the corset, the notoriously serpent-tongued Mademoiselle Chanel called him 'a madman' for it.

True to this house's signature style, then, a Twenties line with a dropped waist was dominant, making for more androgynous and therefore more obviously contemporary viewing. Here once again, however, the emphasis was on evening dress - tuxedo stripes snaked up everything from stockings to gloves - proving that even those privileged enough to buy haute couture are more likely to spend their money on this than on a simple day dress.

Jean-Paul Gaultier's most successful pieces were, perhaps for this reason, long, lean, tailored wool suits in rust or grey that looked all the more chic for their understatement. More spectacular were ethnic-inspired pieces heavy with jewel-coloured embroidery. Tailoring at Armani Privé - ultra-small, skinny jackets over full ikat print skirts - was more uptight, which seems strange coming from a man who gave women - and men - a famously relaxed jacket in the 1980s. Cate Blanchett, taking pride of place in the front row, would be more likely to take an interest in long black velvet columns, which would suit the modern-day red carpet down to the ground.

Finally, Riccardo Tisci's urban collection for Givenchy, while overly tricksy in places, continues to move forward. Martin Margiela's Artisanale collection of hand-worked, limited-edition pieces, meanwhile, seemed positively grounded compared to that offered up by the rest of the pack. That says something given that jeans covered in denim sequins (for him) and a sheath dress made out of the types of rings one might win at the fairground (for her) all took centre stage.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

    £40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

    £30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum