PARIS - The final day of Paris's spring-summer haute couture week saw Jean Paul Gaultier serve up a cigarettes-and-all homage to late singer Amy Winehouse and Valentino show off the dazzling couture work of seamstresses who toiled for thousands of hours to create a lavish white collection.
Lebanese designer Elie Saab produced a fairy tale blockbuster, drawing in Hollywood stars sizing up dresses for Oscar season. But the show also highlighted the importance of the Middle East and Asia in couture finance: Bollywood actresses mixed alongside Arab and Chinese buyers at his show.
Wednesday marked the official debut for couture's first Chinese-born designer: Yiqing Yin, in what was an accomplished and imaginative collection of shaved fur and asymmetrical draping. The couturier's presence on the highly restricted calendar might demonstrate the relaxing of couture rules — for decades the realm of mainly the Europe-born. Since last year, couture collections have also been shown in Singapore.
With some Western countries facing renewed recession, the apparent opening up might seem business-minded. Many of Yin's clients are from China — now the world's second economy.
Elie Saab stole into the tower and gave Rapunzel a gift to dazzle any passing prince — a new gown that shimmers royally.
Models with long rope-like ponytails in luminous shantung silk gowns blossomed at Wednesday's showing of the Lebanese designer's collection.
The show was made up almost exclusively of delicate ball gowns, painted with pastels. Some other collections were heavy on greens, but this time Saab gave the colour a full-blown crowning. Sea and pale green full-length gowns danced regally with flower paillettes.
One sweeping sea green robe in tulle embroidered with sequins featured a plunging decollete and dramatic double skirts.
Judging by the front row turnout, you could guess the Oscars are around the corner, along with the quest for best gown.
The designer's lavish show was a natural choice for stars eyeing up potentials — like Berenice Bejo, basking in the attention gained by her nomination for best supporting actress for "The Artist."
"I love Elie Saab. It's so beautiful," Bejo said of the fairy tale dresses. "I wear him all the time."
Shimmering green would be a good match with the Oscars red carpet.
JEAN PAUL GAULTIER
It was back to black for Jean Paul Gaultier whose collection Wednesday was an ode to the life, style and smoking habits of late music star Amy Winehouse.
Like the British singer — who died at age 27 last year — the show's concept was hard-edged femininity, dressed up with Gaultier's signature touch of androgyny.
To a barbershop rendition of Winehouse's songs, the creations channelled her eccentric mix of floaty silhouettes, silk nightgowns and tight bustiers.
Metres of revealing lace, corsets, huge beehive hair and, of course, the iconic pointy bra, including one with inset crystals, dazzled spectators.
In the front row, French icon Catherine Deneuve, who appeared in lingerie in the film "Belle de Jour," seemed to enjoy it.
Bustiers in black and white with impossibly small waists and fitted short dresses in satin were combined with Teddy Boy jackets and dark masculine lapels. A floaty silhouette would be reined in by a rock-and-roll belt, waistcoats hung down over exposed bras, and lace covered reptile skin garments.
Gaultier confessed backstage that although he had never met the star, their "styles had always been similar."
But the designer still had his eye on the trends: one beautiful full-circle dress in pink tulle and black lace ensured the show kept pace with the in-vogue 1950s shapes that have filled the catwalk this season.
In the finale, all the models filed past in sweeping black silk veils, a bittersweet statement for a show (and life) filled with fun.
She-wolves whimpered as designer Yiqing Yin introduced the svelte world of their more glamorous cousins, the she-foxes.
The pack of journalists ensured the heat was on for the Chinese-born couturier to impress in her first official haute couture showing.
And Yin didn't fail: introducing a new fascinating couture technique of fox fur shaving — alongside a skilled demonstration of embroidery and her signature draping.
Patchy silver and blue frost fox fur was meshed onto tulle in several pieces, serving as a second skin next to sexily exposed bare flesh.
A raw elemental mood defined the show.
In one top, silk and metal gauze blurred the face of a fierce old man sculpted in sisal netting, as if tousled by wind.
Ice swept through another piece: a sparkling jacket, embroidered with Swarovski crystals.
At one point, the young designer had the audience gasping in delight, or perhaps for breath, when a model in a full body veil of powder blue silk with assorted skirts appeared like a giant air bubble.
The designer still has a lot to prove, but this collection might have blown her some of the way.
Is life just a dream? It certainly seemed to be in the diaphanous, white and haunting spring-summer collection from Valentino that ended Paris' haute couture week.
Models in sparkling lace choker collars and long smocked taffeta dresses appeared like ghosts, floating through the show's neoclassical venue.
For fans of couture, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli's creations were an instant hit. But they weren't the real stars of the show.
The program notes ensured that the "petites mains" — the old Italian seamstresses, many of whom have been with the house for decades — were credited.
One strapless gown with embroidered beads and adornments, it read, took 850 hours to make. Another 1,200 hours. Even without that detail, it didn't fail to astonish revellers as it swept past with its long train.
A full dress in soft-white invisible tulle was perfected with small lace gloves that wrapped around just two fingers.
The show's only downside was its dependence on white — something that was broken up in the last spring-summer collection with flashes of scarlet.
"Yes, there is no red, and it was a complete accident," said Chiuri in a strong Italian accent. "I woke up this morning and realized: Oh, dear, I forgot the red!"
Paris' ready-to-wear fall-winter collections begin on Feb. 28.