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Galliano makes elegant case for haute couture

John Galliano, the Christian Dior designer, kicked off the round of couture shows in Paris yesterday with an elegant visual argument for haute couture's place in the modern world.

Describing the house's autumn/winter collection as "couture in a contemporary way," his fresh, relatively restrained silhouettes, combined with a confidence among design house executives that couture is flourishing, dispelled any lingering notions that the made-to-measure art form is not viable in today's fast fashion era. "The demand for very high-end products continues to be very strong," Sidney Toledano, president of Christian Dior, told Women's Wear Daily, pointing to an increase in couture sales of more than 35 per cent last year and a "strong double-digit" growth so far this year. "Very rich people are not suffering from the crisis. The workshops have been very busy," he added.

Galliano always transforms and reinterprets his influences from bygone eras, but yesterday's collection wore them particularly lightly. The result was a collection with bite. Similarly, while last season's collection cited sources of inspiration such as Klimt and John Singer Sargent's portrait of Madame X, the ideas behind these clothes were less about recognisable themes, and more about aesthetics.

That's not to say that the show, staged in the smart grounds of the Rodin Museum, didn't include clear homages to some of the house of Christian Dior's signature shapes, details and colours; mainly from the 1950s. The waist was emphasised throughout, on structured wool jackets and full-skirted, silk, prom-style dresses, by the addition of black patent corseted belts with pannier-like inserts at the front, laced backs and a slightly fetishistic feel.

Galliano said of the collection: "There's a sexy new step in the salon." There was an undeniably sexy streak to chain mail shoes with silver heels like inverted Eiffel towers. If couture offers fairy-tale gowns, however, there was something here for both its good and deliciously wicked characters. The first half of the show featured a monochrome colour scheme, and black leather cloche hats studded with punky rivets by Stephen Jones, and a slightly 1980s belted leather jacket with blouson sleeves. An inky net ballgown studded with crystals, and boasting a train the size of a small bedroom, would be perfect for a wealthy, modern-day sorceress.

The fondant colours that came later – sugared almond pink, pistachio, cream and lilac, which appeared on tiered ballgowns would suit a princess. A soft grey, tiered chiffon balldress with a low back, came with a firm corset laced bodice to ensure the figure inside looked as perfectly formed as the Rodin statues in the museum – and almost as expensive.

In pictures: Paris haute couture collections