During haute couture week in Paris, the most extravagant dresses on earth are unveiled amidst a rarefied atmosphere of gilt chairs and scented air.
However, as the first show of the spring/summer 2010 couture collections demonstrated yesterday, there's more to made-to-measure fashion than Cinderella ballgowns. The Dutch designer Josephus Thimister's creations were inspired by the "bloodshed and opulence" of 1915, and featured jackets, tank tops and trousers evoking Russian army uniforms and splattered with fake blood.
Past inspirations for other designer's couture shows have included Vermeer and organ music, but Thimister, 47, whose grandmother was a White Russian princess, told AFP that he wanted to express the fact that "it's a tough world we live in," and "even in ugly, rough and tough pieces you can find a kind of poetry". His collection, which was a mix of couture and ready-to-wear pieces for men and women, featured variations on long officer's coats from WW1, slim jodhpurs and evening dresses in red and khaki or beaded finishes.
The show marks a fashion comeback for Thimister, who has been invited to show as a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale, the French body that controls which brands can use the legally protected label of haute couture. After working as the creative director of the esteemed fashion house Balenciaga from 1991 to 1997, Thimister launched his eponymous ready-to-wear collection in 1997. In his late Nineties heyday he dressed Madonna and showed during the couture schedule in 1998, but was forced to close his label due to lack of investment.
However, rich couture clients who want something more traditionally glamorous might want to wait until later in the week before flexing their Coutts cards. Today will see Christian Dior, one of the grandest and most quintessentially Parisian houses on the couture calendar, unveiling its latest collection by the British-born designer John Galliano, followed by Giorgio Armani's Privé line. Other big names later in the week will include Chanel, designed by Karl Lagerfeld, Givenchy, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Valentino. A couture dress requires several fittings, take 800 hours to make and costs anywhere between tens and hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Sadly, Christian Lacroix, the couturier famed for his richly coloured, flamboyant designs, is no longer showing at couture week after being declared bankrupt and reduced to a licensing operation last year.
The number of fashion houses showing their collections as part of the event has dwindled from around 100 in 1945 to just 11 official couture members. However ready to wear labels are showing their pre-collections during the event, and the Chambre Syndicale has invited jewellers including Chanel, Dior and Boucheron to present their fantastic designs on Thursday as part of a day dedicated to their craft. Couture's high-rolling clients might find that their exclusive Parisian shopping spree just became a whole lot more expensive.