The mask of Zorro? No, the couture of Gaultier

Jean-Paul Gaultier was honoured with the closing slot at the haute-couture collections in Paris yesterday, a position held in the past by Yves Saint Laurent, considered to be the greatest couturier of the latter part of the 20th century.

YSL retired in January 2002 and Gaultier, according to the French fashion establishment in particular, is his natural heir.

Swashbuckling heroes, from D'Artagnan to Zorro, was the look Gaultier served up for his autumn/winter clients and it was refreshing to see women striding fiercely down the catwalk in seven-league boots crafted in everything from Chinese silk to Argyle knits, with feather-trimmed hats tilted jauntily to one side.

Gaultier only opened his couture atelier in 1997, accepting the challenge of taking this most archaic of craft forms into the 21st century. If anyone can, Gaultier can. His front row alone was testimony to the fact that couture can indeed be cool: Catherine Deneuve, Val Kilmer and Jane Birkin.

They won't be disappointed to see real clothes executed to couture standards - the perfect cashmere sweater, a full-length tartan dress, a trench coat morphed into the autumn/winter season's favourite cape and beautifully tailored black wool crêpe dresses.

Couture wouldn't be couture were it not for the requisite sequence of show-stopping eveningwear and Gaultier's is more modern than most. Among the stronger pieces this time were a hooded black sheath with intricate jet beading, and another in lipstick-pink organza worn with a hand-painted blanket coat billowing behind.

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