As a couture newbie, the question I've been asked most at the shows over the past day is 'Oh! Isn't it different?' The answer is yes, and no. The people watching the shows are different for sure - the ranks of store buyers missing, and polished matriarchs dotted about the place, their proximity to the catwalk no doubt based on the strength and solidity of their orders (front row: half a dozen outfits a season; back row: two pairs of couture pants and a flick through the catwalk samples). The shows are also generally much smaller - a clutch of salon rooms for the Givenchy presentation, and just four rows of seating at Armani. By contrast, the Milan ready-to-wear is held in an amphitheatre the size of a football stadium. And they have to do two shows to fit everyone in.
That proximity is presumably so you can eyeball the audience that much easier. And of course so you can appreciate the clothes. Even Armani, the maître of Minimalism, gets carried away with the money-no-object aspect of couture. I'd hate to see the bill for his towering Geisha girl headdresses or all that waterfall crystal beading he indulged in yesterday. I'm not sure what it was about the Armani show that unsettled me so. I often take umbrage with designers dolling women up as throwbacks to a patriarchical past, although if there's a place where that has relevance it's haute couture. Armani's arch, stylised vision of Japan was arresting, and often incredibly beautiful, but it seemed from another time and place. The silken printed trouser-suits were the only thing you could imagine women wearing about their daily lives - even haute couture clients have to walk around, and would probably prefer to do so sans hobble-strap.
On reflection, I'm less impressed than I originally thought with Riccardo Tisci's latest collection for Givenchy. Crafting ten wedding dresses (yes, that's just what they looked like) isn't a couture collection - it's a bridal capsule, or maybe just a busy spell at the atelier. No doubt there will be many orders for these clothes, although as you're only allowed to make half a dozen variations of each style a 'best-seller' in couture-land is something of a misnomer. They were beautiful, but conventionally so. In his past two couture collections Tisci has tackled Japanese robots and skeletons and made them into things of beauty - his ready-to-wear has that throbbing, potent undercurrent of menace too. At times this felt saccharine, the Givenchy girl gone good.
When you're talking bad girl, all fashion's roads lead to Coco Chanel. She's the blueprint for them after all. And, as ever, her life and style was Karl Lagerfeld's touchstone for a stellar Chanel collection. Ignore all that stuff about smaller shows - Chanel took us back to the Grand Palais, rebuilt a fair chunk of Paris and sent out an old school, full-length couture collection, daywear and everything. It was a flexing of couture might, no doubt about it. Maybe that's what couture is really about: survival of the fittest. The houses have been whittled down as we cut the wheat from the chaff, and offer fashion refined to its very purest form.
Today, I'll be covering shows by Jean Paul Gaultier, Elie Saab and Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli for the house of Valentino.