The Best of Couture: Spring 2011

Couture Spring 2011

Photos: Imaxtree

Paris Haute Couture Spring 2011 looks from Chanel, Alexis Mabille, and Christian Dior.

Couture as a business may or may not be dead—expect that debate to carry on for years. But as an art, there’s no doubt it’s still very much alive, a point proved this week with the nine collections shown in Paris.

Even the always hard-to-please Cathy Horyn was impressed, though her sentiments came with qualifications: “The couture shows have been pretty wonderful this season,” she wrote yesterday in the New York Times. “Nobody is crabbing about them being out of touch, maybe because a lot of editors just finished pre-season collections and are bored to death.”

Giorgio Armani may have unveiled the biggest surprise of couture—and we’re not talking Jodie Foster in the front row—with his futuristic, Gaga-worthy Privé collection of shimmering looks, complete with Philip Treacy flying-saucer headpieces.

Treacy also lent his designs to Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy with huge, vaguely Viking-esque horned helmets: strong counterpoints to incredibly delicate dresses made up of appliqués, beadwork, feathers and layers of organza and tulle in pale, perfect shades.

John Galliano’s Dior couture collection may have been less surprising—it did, after all, nod to the ‘40s and ‘50s New Look that so often influences his work—but the craftsmanship was full of hidden secrets like five, six, seven layers of tulle that created ombré shades, a reference to the shadows cast across figures in fashion illustrator René Gruau’s work.

Alexis Mabille went with a clear conceit for his collection: For every look there was a version shown in snow white and a version in color, whether it was a strapless gown that went from white to red or an intricately beaded caftan, one white and one in Technicolor pinks, blues and greens.

At Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli kept their color palette to their now-signature blushes and pale neutrals—but with a few welcome shots of that Valentino red (a move that surely results in a nod of approval from Signor Garavani).

Also favoring the blushes and nudes so ubiquitous on today’s red carpets? Lebanese designer Elie Saab, whose gorgeously intricate gowns will no doubt be present on the ongoing awards-show circuit.

The perpetual enfant terrible that is Jean Paul Gaultier fell out of his seasons-long funk with a punk take on couture that Tim Blanks of called “magical”: “A living legend got his mojo back.” There were Mohawks, yes, but also the Gaultier brand of impeccable tailoring and a few showstoppers that reminded show goers that Gaultier can really do couture.

Couture Spring 2011

Photos: Imaxtree

Paris Haute Couture Spring 2011 looks from Valentino, Elie Saab, and Jean Paul Gaultier.

Speaking of magic, Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel collection had critics in a veritable tizzy. (“Chanel mesmerized,” wrote Horyn; The Telegraph’s Hilary Alexander called the collection “spellbinding.”) Hundreds of thousands of pearls and crystals could have weighed down the looks, but Lagerfeld’s genius was in the collection’s lightness—not to mention the unexpected choice of layering beaded leggings or even narrow-cut denim under the most elaborate of skirts and jackets.

Couture, irrelevant? Thanks to Karl et al, not this season.