A model presents a creation from the Spring/Summer 2017 Haute Couture collection by Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen during the Paris Fashion Week, in Paris./EPA
A model presents a creation from the Spring/Summer 2017 Haute Couture collection by Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen during the Paris Fashion Week, in Paris./EPA

The sensual and the chaste

Art February 02, 2017 01:00


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Dior, Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier and others bring sex appeal to the Paris catwalks

After the fairyland fantasy of Dior and Chanel’s chill glamour, Paris haute couture shows veered between Vestal Virgins and the hot-blooded embrace of Mediterranean women.


As the French capital froze, designer Jean Paul Gaultier escaped south to the sunny plains of Spain, his slinky frocks ablaze in a carpet of poppies and spring flowers.

All the stock characters of Iberian arcadia were there, from imperious marquesas down to gypsy glamour pusses, all dressed to the nines for feria.

Black cordobes hats topped Gaultier’s thoroughly modern take on the flamenco dress, one black, white and red number paired with a leather biker jacket in the same colours.

It has to be said his fantasy Spanish rural idyll was more movida than Andalusian feria, searingly silky reds, yellows, pinks and blues bursting out of moody black.

Despite the little ears of corn detailing, these were no hick chicks. His subtle series of rethought bolero jackets went from one ever so elegantly encrusted with tiny crystals to a killer blue denim jacket hybrid.

His knowingly cheesy payoff – couture shows traditionally end with a wedding dress – was a fairy-winged bride on the arm of a bare-chested hunk in dungarees who might have walked straight off the set of “Jamon Jamon”.


As the legacy of the Arab Spring grows more bitter by the day, Lebanese creator Elie Saab voyaged to a more liberal time when love, freedom and beauty were in the air during Cairo’s long post-war cultural flowering.

Having been transformed at the turn of the 20th century by immigrants from the Levant and elsewhere, Egypt became “a hub for progress which allowed Arab culture to flourish”, the designer said.

The show’s high romantic pitch came from the party scene in the great 1957 Egyptian film “Sleepless”, Saab said, when the actress Faten Hamama arrives in a long gown “elegant in its simplicity... sparkling with crystals” and catches the eye of her lover Omar Sharif.

And those same crystals sparkled across the pale blue Nile haze of his collection’s tulle, mousseline and lace.

Sandy beige and pinks of the desert beyond also loomed large, all heavily embroidered with flowers, palm trees and forms inspired by Arabic calligraphy.

Saab said he was searching for the spirit of all the great Egyptian leading ladies of the era and the legendary singer Umm Kulthum, “Strong yet delicate, elegant and free.”


Having seen his long-time creative partner Maria Grazia Chiuri slope off for Dior having between them turned Valentino into a $1-billion (Bt35 billion) business, Pierpaolo Piccioli is in reflective mood.

His first solo couture collection is the blank slate of a new start, with a series of full-length robes you could imagine on ancient Rome’s most stylistically savvy Vestal Virgins.

The Italian designer called this restrained white-out elegance a “purity that sidesteps austerity”. Which you can take to mean what first looks simple and austere can also seduce, holding you in the spell of razor cut lines and quivering pleats.

Showing it in a contemporary art gallery housed in a Paris mansion, Piccioli hinted at the depth of conceptual thinking he had put into the collection.

This return to classical “vertical silhouettes”, he said, was about hiding the work that had gone into the dresses so as to give the women who wear them “the magic of the absence of effort”.

The Russian designer Ulyana Sergeenko brought fashionistas to the French capital’s historic indoor winter circus for her show, which began with a howling wolf. 

Her women in their scary-sexy dark evening wear suits meant business. They were the hunters not the hunted, as her invitation showing a wolf staring at the prone body of a speared tracker in a forest made clear. 


Earlier the Dutch designer Iris van Herpen proved yet again why she is regarded as one of fashion’s great visionaries.

Her shimmering hi-tech dresses seemed to appear from the future, transparent without being see-through, playing tricks with the eye so they looked like they could have been made from ice or even fish scales.

Her models walked through a computer circuit board set and the optical illusions continued in the futuristic poetry of her clothes that evoked both deep space and a deep sea world.

Some seemed to have been made from the chrysalis of an alien creature, or from swirling fossils or kombu seaweed.

Two awesome “Digital Glitch” dresses made from silk and laser-cut hooped mylar looked almost like they were holograms, beamed in from an episode of “Star Trek”.

Van Herpen’s genius is that she can make such way out forms wearable thanks to her mastery of cutting edge materials and collaborations with architect Philip Beesley and Berlin artist Ester Stocker.

She said the show, called “Between the Lines”, set out to trick the “eye’s perspective and challenge it to see new patterns in between”.

Schiaparelli also embraced surrealism and lots of clever trompe l’oeil tricks for its colourful and elegant show which played on the revived couture house’s close historical links with artists Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau and Jean Miro.

A love-heart white mini suit with thigh-high red boots was mixed with dreamy feminine evening gowns, including one with a gorgeous bejewelled octopus clinging to its bodice. 


For its part, Chanel went all out for glitter in its Paris haute couture show that channelled the full-on glamour of silver screen goddesses like Marlene Dietrich.

You could almost imagine the German diva air kissing designer Karl Lagerfeld “Mein Liebling!” in the hall of mirrors he had built inside the Grand Palais which was inspired by the famous spiral staircase of the label’s headquarters nearby.

The veteran designer sent out a fandango of feathers and glittering sheath dresses that shouted Hollywood at its dazzlingly glamorous 1930s zenith.

No one was telling how many ostriches lost their tail feathers. As Cecil B DeMille used to say, you cannot pluck spectacle from thin air.

Nor did Lagerfeld spare on the crystal. But this was bling without the brassy, all in the best possible taste.

As if to confirm its celluloid source, the show ended with Lily-Rose Depp on Lagerfeld’s arm, the model daughter of film star Johnny Depp in a pale pink wedding cake frill dress.

Although the 83-year-old was uncharacteristically tight-lipped about his inspirations, the all-white set and huge white lilies brought to mind the British interior designer Syrie Maughan, wife of the novelist William Somerset Maughan.

The acres of snow-white salons she decorated when she went to Hollywood were the backdrop to some of the photographer Cecil Beaton’s most famous shots.

Pale, silvery hues ran right through the collection and reached a crescendo with Kendall Jenner of the Kardashian clan in a column gown with a knee-height ring of feathers – the ultimate dress for a Mae West entrance. With the Jackie Kennedy movie, “Jackie”, it was inevitable there would also be a nod to one of Chanel’s greatest customers. 

Lagerfeld opened with a line of classic Chanel suit silhouettes that are forever linked with the former US First Lady. However, he subtly undercut the cliche with one boucle suit with daring cutaways and lots of glitter woven into the tweed, while others had kind of cow bell waists.

The 1950s made an appearance too with one standout crystalin-crusted tent skirt topped with pistachio tulle and others bringing rival Dior’s post-war “New Look” to mind.

Among the glitterati seated on front row sofas was the Korean rapper G-Dragon in a glittering Chanel beret and earwarmers.

French designer Alexis Mabille also went to Hollywood classics for his ideas, taking “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” as his mark along with its standout song, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”.

“A tiara lasts forever...” the song says, and his show was not short on them, with his colourful veiled brides all seemingly trying to get a millionaire to the altar.