The thing about haute couture is that it's not entirely inclusive, (even the name, haute, meaning high in French, suggests it's a little out of reach). With price tags ranging from $45,000 - $100,000 each piece, there are only about 2000 women who purchase from these collections worldwide. And, given that's in the same financial ballpark as a car or house deposit, it's little wonder why.
So, why is couture so important? Firstly, it's a celebration of the art of dressmaking; one dress can take up to 1000 hours to create (that's about five weeks) and must be finished by hand. Secondly, the couture collections are a conceptual playground for designers to push garment technology, fabric techniques and ideas. There is nothing too far-fetched, no set design too extravagant, no limits on creativity. Oh, and the spring shows become something of a couture candy store for Oscars attendees, so if you're putting money on what Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence or Alicia Vikander will be wearing, we suggest you read on.
Atelier Versace kicked off the proceedings in Paris on Sunday night, with a suitably fierce collection of sleek separates and goddess gowns that stormed down the runway on the likes of Lara Stone, Rose Huntington-Whitely and Irina Shayk. But there was something different about this Versace woman. No longer just a focal point for the male gaze, she is powerful, feminine and athletic, dressing for herself. The sporty, luxurious collection of hyper-whites with bold slashes of primary colours and floor-sweeping gowns with painstakingly intricate cut-work was strung together by spiderweb lace, buckles, cord and caribiner clips. Similarly, the strong shoulders, boiler suits, PVC and thigh-high boots at Alexandre Vaulthier riffed on the theme of sex and power.
At Christian Dior, the design team were effectively sailing without a captain in the wake of ex-creative director Raf Simon's departure, but the collection looked anything but adrift. An offering of house signatures - the exaggerated hourglass silhouette and sharp evening jackets among them - were spliced with a clash of fabrics, artfully off-kilter necklines and youthful, modern lengths.
The spectacularly maximalist proportions at Giambattista Valli and Dice Kayek echoed the oversized looks at last week's menswear shows: the sculptural Bishop sleeves, trapeze shapes and empire-line dresses (one can only imagine how many thousands of yards of tulle went into Valli's finale) suggested a sign of things to come in February's ready-to-wear collections.
The third day got off to a decidedly meditative start. The Chanel show saw the Grand Palais transform into something of a Zen garden. Manicured green lawns, water lily ponds and a simulated serene blue sky set the tone for an eco-friendly collection of classic tweed suiting in a palette of sand, straw and hessian. But look closer and you'll notice that the tweed is spun with fragments of shaved wood throughout its weave - one wedding dress was made with approximately 50 per cent wood chips. The garments' embellishments themselves are made from wood, cork and hessian rope. Karl Lagerfield, a hippie? Well, I never.
With the practice of hand-making garments to order and producing minimal wastage, haute couture is the most eco-friendly of all fashion manufacturing practices. Whether trends, ideas or now, materials, fashion does love to recycle.