The final whippet-thin male model had barely cleared the catwalk of Hedi Slimane's spring/summer 2014 show on Sunday night when - egads - the autumn/winter 2013 Parisian haute couture shows began, with Atelier Versace. A thousand identical black Mercedes lurched from one arrondissement to another. The season had changed, again.
Yes, that's two seasons happening in a single day. One may be womenswear and the other mens - it's still confusing. Couture, however, is a law unto itself: hand-crafted, made-to-measure clothes reserved for the stratospherically rich. For Donatella Versace, those rich come from all over the world: “India, Russia, Brazil,” she stated, before a show opened by none less that Gianni Versace favourite Ms Naomi Campbell, sashaying in a frock so sliced-and-diced it looked like it had lost a fight with a waste disposal unit. That was the collections' leitmotif - slits, slaloming around the body, sometimes fasted with diamanté-studded hook-and-eyes like especially glamorous couture girdles. So, when they appeared on a nip-waisted cashmere coat or slinky knee-length black dress, was it daywear? Donatella blinked, then shrugged. “Who wears couture in the day?” Fair dues.
What Donatella Versace's collection indicated was a knowledge of her clients. They're never going to come to Versace for something to wear during the day. They want something that will get them laid. There was plenty here, in the house's great, grand tradition. What, then, of the traditional view of the couture client, the jolie mesdames who wear prissy, prim five-figure couture tailleurs to lunch? Are they dying? “No,” stated Donatella. “They're dead.”
Ironically, the client was also the starting point for a very different couture collection: that of Raf Simons at the house of Christian Dior. His clients are, apparently, a United Nations smörgåsbord - Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas were his inspirations, more specifically each nation's Dior clientele.
Fashion globe-trotting can often lead to clodhopping cultural pastiche, but Simons steered mostly clear. The world was filtered through Raf's reductionist retinas - no stars and stripes for America, no cheongsams or kimonos for Asia. The one that leapt out was Africa, the continent where Simons seemed to run riot with the technical skills the ateliers have at their disposal. The joyous mood of pleated and painted semi-transparent dresses, Maasai-hued checks wrapped into sensuous, slinky gowns, or a stand-out multi-fringed evening gown in shades of cobalt and orange, was especially infectious.
Often you weren't sure what continent you were looking at - which was a blessing. But Dior had a plan. A roll-call of photography's biggest names - Terry Richardson, Patrick Demarchelier, Willy Vanderperre and Paolo Roversi - captured the models in continental tableaux, the resulting images projected as a constantly-changing show backdrop to the models' progression.
Sounds distracting? It was. As a flexing of Dior's might, the nailing of those names was second to none. And it made great theatre. But at the start of the show, the backdrop was simply the dove-grey Avenue Montaigne salons of Maison Dior. You hankered after those wide open spaces, a blank vista that could allow you to simply enjoy some very good clothes.