Drama. That was the keyword at the season’s last couture show. Drama in the clothes, more theatrical than ever; drama in the inspiration subject, William Shakespeare (2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the playwright) and, of course, drama within the stage of big couture maisons. Like a three-part play with a plot twist that has yet to end, what started as the search for the perfect, ever-so-prestigious replacement to Raf Simons at Dior (no anonymous talents such as Alessandro Michele or Demna Gvasalia would do for Bernard Arnault) culminated a few weeks ago, prompted by rumours, with the extra-official quasi-announcement that Maria Grazia Chiuri would be separated from Pierpaolo Piccioli to go to the French house. The story might yet have a surprise ending (we are still waiting for an official announcement and, again, rumour has it there is still another runner-up being considered) but what we saw on Wednesday might well be the Italian duo’s last collection for Valentino.
Still, on the surface, everything was as usual: the show took place at the Hotel de Rothschild, as always, and, as always, there was a renaissance theme viewed through an early 20th century prism. Sergei Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet provided the soundtrack to the Shakespearean clothes (Chiuri and Piccioli never veer away from the Ballets Russes for long) and out came a series of black and white looks featuring ruffs, renaissance volumes, hunting boots and Henry VIII- approved jewellery fit more for a young prince than for a princess. Obvious femininity was notoriously absent from the first few looks (a hidden message from Chiuri from those who say she could bring a corny edge to Dior?). Instead, it was all a play on textures, which included cashmere, velvet, and - yet more unusualness - leather. There was no hint of colour until look 18, in the shape of an architectural crimson satin duchesse top, but red was the only bright tonality in a collection marked by understated, ethereal looks. A copper dress with a renaissance print of dragons and unicorns was a highlight, but towards the end proportions got heavier in the shoulders and the theatricality of the show’s finale, a striking crimson taffeta ruffed (and ruffled) cape, was excessive. There is such a thing as too much drama, even in the often farcical world of fashion.