La couture

July in Paris: at the haute couture shows, where ordinary people have no place and ordinary prices no role, where modern contingencies do not intrude, the illustrator Richard Gray records, in classical style, the view from fashion's Parnassus
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Valentino

The heavy black wrapover skirt is lined in sumptuous pink satin. The most delicate of lace is beaded and layered over a fine mesh of chiffon. The dress is finished off by a garland of perfectly sculpted organza orchids. To see the balletic model Shalom Harlow wear it on the catwalk is to see human and dress in perfect marriage - the line, the cut, the fit. But to see it up close is to be amazed at the craftsmanship that goes into a single flower or a finely turned sleeve.

For this winter, , an Italian who transports his whole atelier from Rome to the Paris Ritz twice a year for the couture, suggests that his clients, who might include Joan Collins and Linda Evans (seated together in the front row ), wear orchids at their shoulders, orchids in their hair, orchids, orchids everywhere.

Well into his sixties, and 35 years in business for himself, has many glories to look back on. Most famously, Jackie Kennedy's dress for her Onassis wedding - an occasion so global in its notoriety that 38 plutocratesses forgot their lust for real exclusiveness and promptly ordered the same dress.

Christian Lacroix

The star who announced himself in a blaze of brightness ten years ago, said he was concentrating on the colour black for this winter. Black in every conceivable texture and shade (charcoal to jet). Clearly his concentration lapsed. He could not resist throwing in a blood-red wool suit and a violet tulip skirt in duchess satin, let alone the simple long-sleeved evening dress in the brightest sweetest shade of lipstick pink satin you see here. He may talk a good black and white but his best ideas come in colours.

Yves Saint Laurent

How magnificent to have created a whole canon of classics, how wise to keep the faith. Saint Laurent's collections always include the tuxedo smoking suit (for this autumn/winter, with a knee-skimming skirt); the peacoat in slate grey or camel wool; the mannish trouser suit, with high shoulders, in chalk-stripe wool crepe. He is called a genius, but to his women d'un certain age he is a friend. They come back for more because they can wear Yves not only to balls and soirees, but for everyday lunch meetings too: a simple black wool suit with no fiddly detailing except a set of sparkly diamante buttons means no more wardrobe dilemmas - ever.

Givenchy

When he walked to the end of the catwalk, impeccable in his white atelier coat, and bowed to the applause for the last time, he had the air of another age, the age when women wore hats indoors and changed at least three times a day. Hubert de Givenchy, age 68, was saying goodbye. Yves Saint Laurent held his old friend in emotional embrace. Christian Lacroix paid tribute: "The house of Givenchy," he said, "is as old as I am. I have grown up with its influence." Think of Givenchy and think of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, in Sabrina, in Funny Face. It was she whom most he beautified and who most beatified him. He left his current clients with a collection they would love to wear. It was the end of an age that stretched from Schiaparelli to Galliano.

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