Haute couture week is officially over. Well, just about - Azzedine Alaïa has just staged his Autumn/Winter show, his first in almost a decade, and a few jewellery showcases are dragging the 'weak' (sic) to a limping finish. Mr Alaïa not only has the last word when it comes to the couture designs, but his views on fashion in general ring true. 'We don’t need to think in seasons anymore; we need to think about beautiful clothes.'
The best collections this week have taken that as their raison d'être, exactly the way it should be at couture. Valentino was bare-faced beauty, pure and simple. Well, not so simple: whorling ribbons of lace and organza around the body, speckling tulle with sequins fading in and out of graphic pattern and lining strict coats in delicate chantilly lace aren't the easiest couture tricks in the book, but Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli - and their workrooms - rose to the challenge with the greatest of ease. It was a salutary effort, for the house and for couture as a whole.
I'm still brooding over Givenchy's haute couture outing - perhaps after reading the outpourings of praise from the fashion pack eulogising Riccardo Tisci's effort. But should a new season's haute couture offering really inspire eulogy? Tisci's garments were beautiful, but off the body they seemed dead, already readied to be enshrined in museums never to be touched by human hands (or by anything bar acid-free tissue). Looking on them on a technical level, they were stunning. The garment most often highlighted was a gown crafted from hand cut 'sequins' of chantilly lace. That one took a month of work - as in, if you totted up the hours it took to slice, stitch and fit, it would amount to a month of round-the-clock working, some 744 hours or thereabouts. It's that kind of workmanship that boggles the mind, and undoubtedly deserves applause whether clothing a body or museum mannequin.
The same is true of Jean Paul Gaultier, once the new boy on the block but a dab hand at couture nowadays. The beauty on the Gaultier catwalk always hath some strangeness to it. This time, we had fur and feathers flying - for peacock males too, as Gaultier returned to his love of homme couture. He's launching a male perfume, in case you were wondering - Kokorico, the title derived from the French onomatopoeic term for a cockerel's crow. The Gaultier male, cocksure as ever, crows through his couture, with beaded transparent trews, fur trimmed jackets and a neat line in skirts for men. Gaultier's done those before, but here it was the old ideas that were the stand-out successes. A feathered frock referencing his 1997 couture debut was stunning, as was a fluffy Fair Isle rendered in down, a masterpiece of the plumassier's terribly specific art executed by Lemarié. We saw it in 1998, but the great thing about the timeless beauty of haute couture is that it looked just as good, if not better, today. Maybe that occurred to Gaultier when preparing his latest one-man show - a retrospective at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Lucky for us, Gaultier didn't see any reason to keep his archive enshrined - he got it back in action, on the human body. That's what fashion, even haute couture, should be all about.