The designer John Galliano can always be relied upon to dream up some of the catwalk's biggest and most beautiful dresses.
His latest collections for Dior, shown yesterday at the opening of Paris Haute Couture Week, was no exception.
Inspired by the illustrator René Gruau, who was close to Dior, Galliano said he was interested in the artist's elegant brush stroke and sophisticated play between light and shade.
That is not to say that this was a monochromatic affair. Far from it, as this voluminous scarlet silk evening coat, topped off by suitably sculptural headwear by milliner Stephen Jones, showed.
Our heroine's lipstick and gloves appear to be in precisely the same shade, a sweetly anachronistic touch, harking back to the days when women appeared entirely groomed and with outfits perfectly co-ordinated at all times.
But, haute couture being haute couture, only very few women are ever likely to own any. This is the jewel in the crown of French fashion, where every garment is hand-fitted, sewn and embroidered by the world's most accomplished craftsmen in ateliers that have changed little – in terms of process – for the past century and more.
Given the man hours that go into the creation of even the simplest of garments, such confections are far from accessibly priced. On this subject the houses remain tight-lipped, although it is widely acknowledged that a tailored jacket starts at around £10,000 and, for more elaborate pieces, a six-figure sum is not unusual.
So what's the point – apart from the opportunity to dress a handful of very privileged souls?
The preservation of a great Gallic tradition is at least part of the story and, with that, the jobs of the petites mains, as they are known, who staff the workshops, many of whom are descended from parents and grandparents who trained with the likes of Coco Chanel and Dior himself.
Haute couture also functions as a laboratory of ideas, allowing principles of proportion, colour and cut to evolve. It is the perfume of a house, as opposed to the less potent eau de toilette: the very essence of a brand. It may be extreme but that's just as it should be. And looks inevitably filter down to the ready-to-wear runway and the high street before long.
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