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Chanel, Givenchy, Dior: Best of Paris Spring 2012 Couture (PHOTOS)

Another season of Dior without Galliano earns strong reviews, Karl Lagerfeld takes a trip on Air Chanel, and Cameron Diaz is the surprise guest in the front row. See highlights from Spring 2012. Plus, backstage pictures by Kevin Tachman.

The dresses on display during Paris Haute Couture sometimes feel like Great Wonders of the World—and this season was no exception. As the shows come to a close on Thursday in Paris, show-goers are left with their usual lingering question: who are all these clothes really for? The answer is, sort of, no one. They are symbols of extreme creativity, dramatic vestiges of great fashion houses, and, more often than not, examples of highly original contemporary art. These are dresses that will be fought over by Hollywood stylists—and will surely end up on a few of this year’s Best Actress nominees. At Elie Saab, there were beaded pastel dresses that clung to all the right places, and Jean Paul Gaultier, perennial King of the Corset, found new inspiration in late singer Amy Winehouse. Karl Lagerfeld transported his guests on Air Chanel, and Ricardo Tisci channeled his dark side with an ode to Fritz Lang’ s 1927 film Metropolis at Givenchy. At Alexis Mabille, however, things were coming up roses: models topped with flowers of every color made the runway rival the Chelsea Flower Show, while Donatella Versace brought her usual dose of sexed up disco-glamour.

Catwalking / Getty Images

Versace

Beads, paillettes, skin-tight dresses: Donatella Versace shook out another season of her successful formula and delivered a show chock-full of drama. There were gladiator heels that extended above the knee, a bright yellow bodysuit with Space Age shoulders, and a strapless gold-plated mini-dress with a bustier and a corset so tight it practically had “Beyonce” written all over it. As Versace told WWD of her models: “I call them warrior women.”

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Chanel

In February, Karl Lagerfeld will release yet another cheaper line, “Karl,” exclusively on Net-a-Porter. But this week, he was focused on his couture collection. And if the show he presented at the Grand Palais sent one message, it was simply: the sky’s the limit. Lagerfeld may be stretched thin, but you’d never know it by the look of the clothes that came parading down the runway on Tuesday night. Tiered dresses, ankle-length tweed skirts, and, for evening, drop-waist sequined dresses. Lagerfeld, who always transforms the Grand Palais into his fantasy world, this time gave guests quite a trip: the room had been retrofitted with a full-scale replica of the interior of a 240-seat jet—complete, of course, with a carpet embroidered with the Double-C. Call it, as one critic put it, “Air Chanel.”

Catwalking / Getty Images

Christian Dior

There were sheer cocktail numbers, dramatic gowns, and embroidered silks in an assortment of grays, blacks, and reds. As the well-tailored skirts and dresses streamed down the runway, it was hard not to wonder what this season means for the uncertain future of Dior. Since John Galliano’s humiliating ouster last year, the house has searched for his replacement. But quietly, Bill Gaytten, the head of the atelier temporarily filling Galliano’s shoes, has put out stronger and stronger collections. As Cathy Horyn put it, Gaytten “really did expose the essential skills of the house.” Judging from this collection, the question haunting the fashion world may soon be put to rest.

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Giorgio Armani Prive

At first glance, the inspiration for Giorgio Armani’s couture collection seemed simple enough. But “Metamorphosis” took on multiple meanings as the show began—and slinky, snake-like dresses blanketed the runway. There were bright sequined gowns, chartreuse skirt-suits, and bright green evening dresses that looked like they were made of scales. The collection was, as Armani put it, for “the woman who is at first calm and easy and then is drawn out of her own skin.”

Tony Barson / WireImages

Highlights From the Front Row

On the morning of her Oscar nomination for her role in The Help, Jessica Chastain was sitting in the front row of the Armani show in Paris. And, sort of unexpectedly, there was Cameron Diaz—showing off a short bob, making her look not unlike Ellen Barkin. (The Daily Mail noted Diaz’s “glowing and taut complexion.”) But all in all, it was Diaz who won the week, making appearances at Dior, Chanel, Versace, and Valentino.

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Jean Paul Gaultier

Cat-eyed makeup, beauty marks, beehive hair: Jean Paul Gaultier’s show on Wednesday night was an homage to Amy Winehouse. And his inspiration was pretty obvious: he sent models down the runway in corsets, black veils, and high-slit pencil skirts. “I think Amy Winehosue was truly a fashion icon,” Gaultier said after the show. But, as Womenswear Daily wrote of the show: “Unlike Alexander McQueen’s sober, soulful runway tribute to his friend Isabella Blow, this felt at best ill-advised; a young woman who died tragically less than a year ago the fodder for an oh-so-feisty fashion show.” And Gaultier delivered on his seasonal obligation to gender-bending, sending androgynous male model Andrej Pejic down the runway in an embroidered dress with his hair teased into an Amy Winehouse-inspired beehive. But, as one eagle-eyed Spanish fashion blog pointed out: “No es Amy, es un chico.”

Alexander Klein / AFP / Getty Images

Valentino

Calm was quickly restored to the bustling crowd of fashion-goers who pushed their way into the Valentino show at the Hotel Salomon de Rothschild on Wednesday night. A series of dreamy dresses floated down the runway, in white and cream tones—adorned with muted accents of color, and the occasional toile. But, in contrast to the Versace show, models here were covered up: sleeves were long, necks high, hems low. Inspired by Marie Antoinette, designers Maria Grazia Chiri and Pierpaolo Piccioli took cues only from a sense of decorum of the French Renaissance court—rather than rococo interpretations of the era.

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Elie Saab

Calling all Best Actress nominees: Eli Saab, who showed on Wednesday at the Grand Palais, sent a number of dresses down the runway that could surely turn up on the red carpet at the Academy Awards next month. A few of the dresses were ball gowns—such as a green floral number with a long train—but the majority were beaded and sleek, and probably impossibly heavy to wear. There were pale greens and blush pinks, sheer nude gowns with silver beads. Hollywood stylists, take note.

Francois Guillot / AFP / Getty Images

Alexis Mabille

At his show on Monday afternoon, French fashion designer Alexis Mabille debuted a shock of color in bright pinks, purples, oranges, reds, blues, and greens—all inspired by a quote from an unlikely source: Marcel Proust, who once declared that “dress may be brilliant without vulgarity.” Dresses ranged from cocktail fare to all-out ball gowns, some embroidered with flowers, others glittering with beads, but all topped with an enormous flower, making each girl look as if she had been plucked straight from Mabille’s blooming garden. It was, in a way, reminiscent of John Galliano’s final show at Dior, where he sent dramatic dresses topped with flowers down the runway.

Courtesy of Givenchy

Givenchy

Riccardo Tisci debuted a 10-piece collection for Spring 2012 couture in the gilded rooms of Paris’ Place Vendôme. The collection, which was inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, featured several long beaded gowns – all simultaneously elegant and defiantly punk. Cameron Diaz got a private tour of the collection from the designer himself, but the collection brought to mind none other than Rooney Mara – who has recently defined herself as a fashion force by channeling her rebellious Girl With The Dragon Tattoo character, Lisbeth Salander, on the red carpet. And this collection – with its sheer white fabrics, black leather, sleek silhouettes and nose rings – seemed primed for the picking for the Best Actress nominee.

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Christian Dior

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Christian Dior

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Christian Dior

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Christian Dior

Cameron Diaz.

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Christian Dior

Ines de la Fressange.

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Giambattista Valli

Lee Radziwill and Salma Hayek.

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Giambattista Valli

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Versace

 

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Versace

 Donatella Versace and Diane Kruger.

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Versace

 

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Versace

 

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Versace

 

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Giorgio Armani Prive

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Giorgio Armani Prive

Kevin Tachman for The Daily Beast

Giorgio Armani Prive