francois mori/associated press


Above creations by John Galliano for Dior were presented at Versailles during this week’s fall-winter 2007-2008 Haute Couture collections in Paris.

A look from Jean-Paul Gaultier’s couture collection.

The Paris haute couture shows kicked off this week with French label Christian Dior holding a celebrity-studded catwalk show and party at the royal chateau of Versailles to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

Hollywood stars including Charlize Theron, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba joined guests at the 300-year-old orangery of the castle that was home to France’s Sun King, Louis XIV. “It’s amazing, it’s like a dream come true,” a dazed Alba said. “I can’t even believe the grounds and this castle. It’s extraordinary.”

Stars of the supermodel era, including Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, struck poses in sumptuous evening gowns and 1940s-style suits inspired by the works of painters ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso. The ideas flowed at breathtaking pace, earning the house’s British designer John Galliano a rare standing ovation.

Couture represents the apex of fashion, with made-to-measure gowns that cost upward of $10,000 US apiece. It also represents beauty for beauty’s sake.

Today’s couture customers more often are the newly rich of Eastern Europe and Asia. “Even if they are not the type of women you see everywhere all the time, even if their daily life is not close to ours, it is nonetheless a world that exists and that can add a touch of poetry to everyday life,” said designer Christian Lacroix after his couture show this week.

Karl Lagerfeld’s display for Chanel should have been a moment of poetry in a bucolic setting. Instead, it turned into a logistical fiasco as dozens of taxis clogged up the roads leading to the venue, the park of Saint-Cloud outside Paris.

Guests were still scrambling in from pouring rain when the show started, an hour late, in the estate that has played home to historical figures from Marie-Antoinette to Napoleon Bonaparte.

Under a dripping awning, models paraded in sequined shifts with full sleeves attached to the side of the body like tufted and feathered wings. A dark stain grew on the hem of a shimmering lilac coat as it trailed on the soaking gravel.