Dior's shimmering couture suits the greedier 21st-century eye

The summer haute couture season kicked off in Paris yesterday with a typically audacious statement courtesy of John Galliano for the house of Christian Dior.

Inspired by John Singer Sargent's portrait Madame X, and by the Belle Époque more generally, the designer also clearly referenced Gustav Klimt in his use of colour – shimmering jade, coral and gold – and pattern- psychedelic swirls and row upon row of geometric jewelled shapes.

The silhouette was classic Dior. From the New Look to the trapeze line, mid-20th century haute couture was, once again, the starting point. Galliano understands it well and, in his hands, it is scaled up to gargantuan proportions to suit the more greedy, 21st century eye.

As models emerged in metallic, pudding basin hats the size of modest flying saucers, with sequinned, feathered brows, and quite the most vertiginous wedge-heeled platform-soled shoes even this most rarefied of worlds has ever seen, the message rang loud and clear: Dior is home to quite the boldest, brightest fashions in the world.

Such a confident collection seems all the more appropriate given last week's announcement that, despite the credit crunch, sales of couture at Dior experienced double-digit growth last year. Sidney Toledano, Dior's president, told the trade paper Women's Wear Daily last week: "It has been an excellent year for haute couture and I'm optimistic for the coming year."

He has every reason to be. While the rest of the market struggles with economic uncertainty, the handful of women who can afford to pay for a one-off garment created for their needs specifically, and all entirely by hand, appear blissfully unaffected. Instead, as a reaction to the fact that fashion has been democratised to the point where almost anyone can have a slice of it, this, the jewel in French fashion's crown, remains exclusive. That is, and always has been, its appeal.

"I have the feeling [these customers] are above all these [economic] trends," said Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel. Karl Lagerfeld's latest offering for that house will be unveiled today.

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