Fashion’s Finest

Armani, Alaia, Chanel, Dior: Best of Paris Haute Couture Fall 2011

Dior's first show without Galliano gets panned, and other highlights of Paris Haute Couture Fall 2011.

Dior’s first couture show without John Galliano gets panned, Elle Fanning swans at Chanel, and Anne Hathaway dazzles at Valentino. See highlights of Paris’ Haute Couture.

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Dior

The fashion world watched closely Monday as Dior staged its first couture show since the ousting of its head designer, John Galliano, this year. The house’s show last season was marred by the designer’s anti-Semitic scandal—for which he stood trial in June. Since then, a search for his successor has dragged on—with various names, such as that of Azzedine Alaia, appearing as possibilities in the press. Despite the period of transition, Dior still managed to turn out a couture collection without a creative director—and it didn’t resonate well with critics. The collection was the brainchild of Bill Gaytten, a studio assistant who began his work at the house in 1999, the same year Galliano took the head job. This collection was reportedly a trial-run for Gaytten, to see if he had the chops for the job. The collection he produced evoked the 1980s, with several bright shapes in the form of headpieces and retro prints. But the outcome was largely panned. WWD said the collection was “way too cartoonish,” and The New York Times’ Cathy Horyn called it a “hodgepodge” and a “mess,” explaining that it looked “as though there were too many hands in the pie.”

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Giorgio Armani Privé

It’s been a big week for Giorgio Armani. On Saturday, Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock wed Prince Albert of Monaco in a sleek white gown by the designer. And on Tuesday, the Privé collection drew on the Far East, taking inspiration from Japan. The collection featured a series of kimono tops, silks of delicate floral prints, velvet adorned with black velvet and red embroidered flowers. T Magazine Editor Sally Singer called the collection one of Armani’s “finest since launching the haute couture line six years ago.” Next up for the designer? His 77th birthday on July 11.

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Stars Descend on Paris

Each season, haute couture attracts everyone from international editors to street-style bloggers to foreign socialites. But a fair share of Hollywood royalty made the trip across the pond this week, as well, turning out carefully styled in front rows across Paris. At Valentino, Anne Hathaway—who walked the red carpet at the Academy Awards in a vintage Valentino gown—arrived hand-in-hand with Valentino Garavani’s partner of 50 years, Giancarlo Giammetti. Vogue Nippon Editor Anna dello Russo, meanwhile, turned heads in a bright yellow number as she skipped into the Dior show. Cate Blanchett looked significantly more refined at Giorgio Armani Privé on Tuesday morning, where she wore a red Armani skirt suit. Also at the show was Katie Holmes, in black Armani pants and a tuxedo shirt. Cate and Katie sat in the front row, flanking Roberta Armani, Giorgio’s niece.

Givenchy

Riccardo Tisci described the inspiration for his couture collection for Givenchy with the words: “purity, lightness, fragility.” Under the theme “Albino Angels,” he presented 10 diaphanous white gowns that were exactly that: layers of sheer silk topped with hand-cut paillettes, tiger’s-eye pearls, and dotted with crystals. And in typical Tisci style, each dress balanced simple draping and slim silhouettes with complex flourishes—from hand-curled feathers to fringe to beading. For the past two seasons, Tisci’s couture dresses have been shown on models during his presentations, but this year, the designer suspended the dresses from the gilded ceilings of the Place Vendôme, which allowed visitors to witness the handiwork of his atelier at close range. And the collection received rave reviews: The Telegraph called it “exquisite” and otherworldly; Showstudio.com called it “about as haute as couture can get,” and Interview magazine said it was “one of the best things to happen to haute couture in a long time.”

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Chanel

There were no pants in Karl Lagerfeld’s entire Fall/Winter couture collection for Chanel—just lots of straight shifts, skirt suits in signature tweed with peplums at the waist, cropped sleeves, and rounded shoulders. The collection was typically black and white—with a few great flourishes of color—such as neon pink. The collection centered around a juxtaposition of masculine and feminine forms: Eveningwear included everything from an evening-dress tuxedo to lace dresses adorned with ostrich feathers and mermaid silhouettes. In terms of accessories, boots were mesh (with the signature patent leather toe), small bowler hats offered a manly edge, and fingerless gloves appeared throughout the collection. But a highlight came at the end, when models congregated around the massive Plexiglas stage at the Grand Palais, each in a pair of platform shoes that glowed from within. As WWD wrote of the finale: “Leave it to Karl to light the way of couture.”

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Stars at Chanel

Shoes lit up at the end of Chanel’s runway show—but the front row was equally aglow—with “it girls” of many ilk. The 13-year-old actress Elle Fanning, clad in a pair of Chanel’s Summer 2011 flatform sandals, sat front-row alongside TV personality Alexa Chung, and fashion’s grand dame, Daphne Guinness. The only star conspicuously absent from the crowd was Lagerfeld muse—and Chanel’s official face—Blake Lively.

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Maison Martin Margiela

Relative to the dreamy romance seen elsewhere on the runway this week, Maison Martin Margiela’s collection was sporty and futuristic. It featured several translucent fabrics, which seemed to light up the room as models passed in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. Tailoring was precise on see-through blazers, trench coats, and plastic rain jackets. Elaborate leather motorcycle coats came over billowing translucent skirts—but perhaps the strangest touch of all were black stockings over models’ faces.

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Valentino

The collection Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli created for Valentino elaborated on their collections of seasons past—soft gold evening gowns, flowing silhouettes, occasional pops of red. The design duo presented a collection inspired by a young woman who had left Paris for Imperial Russia. There were white fitted blazers over flourishes of tulle, silver dresses embroidered with metallic flowers and edged with delicate fringe, and shimmering gold brocades. As Chiuri told WWD of the collection: “There is a sense of luxury in a new way; not so showy.”

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Elie Saab

Elie Saab’s Fall Couture collection seemed fit for a princess—or at least a nominated actress shopping for the perfect Oscar dress. A series of Cinderella gowns came down the runway, each a pouf of gauze and tulle and crystal dreamier than the next. Saab said his collection—which featured only different varieties of shimmering eveningwear—was inspired by “skyscrapers.”

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Jean-Paul Gaultier

If Riccardo Tisci experimented with lightness and fragility at Givenchy, and Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli played with diaphanous shapes and silhouettes at Valentino, Jean-Paul Gaultier was anything but. Gaultier, who is celebrated this year in a massive retrospective at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, experimented with men’s wear, rock 'n' roll motifs—and lots of black. It was an androgynous collection, as both and women came down the runway—and some, like transgender sensation Andrej Pejic, blurred the line between the two. Plumes exploded from headdresses, and fur-trimmed bell skirts came down the runway, along with velvet capes, studded jackets, and, on one man—a full-length feathered skirt. And Gaultier’s runway shows always include some special guests: This season it was the French model Eve Slalvail, famous for her tattooed bald head, who got her start with Gaultier in the early 1990s. The finale, however, brought out the Gaultier’s muse, singer Mylene Farmer, who gave the designer a big kiss at the end of the runway.