christophe ena/associated press


A model presents a creation by British designer John Galliano in Paris on Monday.

Designers pitched their most elaborate evening wear as Paris launched couture week on Monday, hoping to seduce celebrity clients at a time when Oscar fashion has become almost as important as its films.

John Galliano put on a sumptuous display of Oriental splendour in his collection for Christian Dior, drawing on a recent trip to Japan to produce kimono-style gowns featuring intricate origami pleating and shimmering floral embroidery.

The slow-paced presentation of the British designer had models posing languidly on a grey set that evoked Dior’s historic headquarters on avenue Montaigne, where the founder of the house first unveiled his revolutionary New Look 60 years ago.

“This is haute couture at its highest level,” Dior CEO Sidney Toledano said before the show. “We wanted the show to be quite intimate so that the press and all the people present can appreciate the exceptional quality of this work.”

Hand-painted silk gowns with huge trains reflected the skill of the “petites mains,” or “little hands,” as the seamstresses who work in Paris couture workshops are known.

Only a handful of houses continue to produce these made-to-measure creations, whose price tags can run into six figures. With fewer than 500 customers worldwide, couture is traditionally a loss-making activity that serves mainly to enhance a brand’s image.

Dior’s show was aimed at the fast-growing Asian market, seen as a key driver of future growth in the luxury goods market.

Tapered sheaths in delicate pastel shades bloomed into oversized folds at the collar or hem. A cream bubble coat was emblazoned with Japanese artist Hokusai’s famous print The Great Wave.

Dior will no doubt offer simplified versions for the red carpet, such as the strapless gown that Drew Barrymore recently wore to the Golden Globes.