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Here Are the Wildest Looks From Paris Couture Week

China’s Guo Pei and Japan’s Yumi Katsura stole the show at Paris’ Couture Week, with walking bird cages and churches and bright green kimonos heading down the runway.

Laurent Viteur/Getty

PARIS—Twice a year in Paris, the world’s top couture designers, and a handful of haute jewelers, present gems most people could never afford and designs that show just how far you can go with a needle and thread in the name of making a lasting impression—both for better and worse.

Sometimes tacky, and often completely OTT, Couture Week shows both how wrong you can get it with thousands of Swarovski crystals at your disposal or too much satin, as well as sometimes unleashing original visionary design. This week, showcasing fall 2018 designs, revealed both extremes to full effect.

As the July shows proved, big and bold is back, and while some European designers seem to have run out of steam, foreign creatives, like China’s Guo Pei and Japan’s answer to Iris Apfel, Yumi Katsura, stole the show, sending walking bird cages and churches down the runway—in Guo Pei’s case—and bright green kimonos in Katsura’s, even though the last person to wear one in Paris, of note, was Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s.

Guo Pei probably created the couture show of the century, when she presented a series of finely structured, architectural pieces that mirrored, in shape, the historic interiors of the Cité de l’Architecture & du Patrimoine, where the catwalk took place. The wow-craftsmanship was living proof that the art of couture is not dead, or diminished by the inclusion of more ready-to-wear designers at Couture Week.

Still, it wasn’t all high-art. The battle of the giant pink dresses ensued between Britain’s Ralph & Russo and Valentino; there were plenty of lurid color-combinations and gaudy-looking prom-style pieces from the latter. They made what to do with a long roll of pink satin look like a bad fashion statement.

Valentino got so carried away with poor taste, in fact, that half of their collection looked like a fancy dress parade. Consider a full-length, glittering, bottle-green cape, or their electric-blue cropped trousers, paired with an oversized silver bow, worn as a top.

There were bows everywhere at Giambattista Valli too—they seem to be the couture motif of the season—and a black furry wedding dress that looked like it was made from a bear’s coat, and even a polka dot dressing gown with Barbie-style fluffy adornments.

It is going to be a white winter at Viktor & Rolf. The duo tried hard with lots of bows and ruffles, and what looked like laser-cut holes in a wedding dress. Proving that couture is still a playing field for theatricality, one model wore a duvet coat with its own pillows attached at the neck. It wasn’t the cult label at its best.

Although no one came close to Guo Pei, several other designers pulled off some fabulous looks: Fendi’s delicate use of pink fluff and Zuhair Murad’s beautifully embroidered Medieval maiden gowns among them.

Jean Paul Gaultier kicked off his always-fun couture show, with what looked like a brand soccer scarf, worn with a suit and sneakers, giving men something more substantial to wear than the corsets sent out by John Galliano here, during the recent men’s shows, or Ann Demeulemeester’s lace gloves for men.

Couture Week’s reigning showman, Gaultier delivered with his sexy smokings-meet-chic-night-club looks that also drew on the aesthetic of a smart waiter, dressed in black-and-white for some pieces.

Styles included a full-length white dress, with some of his iconic newspaper-type graphic prints, covered in a plastic overlay, and a healthy measure of can-can ruffles throughout. Two Gaultier looks had “Free The Nipple” emblazoned on them. One such statement was in French. One was in English.

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Another winner, Armani Privé, sent out a stylish collection, playing with couture-d jackets and silky lounge pants, and golden dresses that harked back to the 1920s.

Alexandre Vauthier was big on glam belts and top hats for his sirens that wore sexy suits with plunging necklines; or they came all buttoned up, in high collars, held tight with a bow tie. His final catwalk look resembled an ostrich.

Azzaro went in for feminine, light evening dresses in rich, beautiful materials, Chanel was all about tweed, while Dior crafted elegant pieces, worn with French berets, that brought to mind a noir film about Europe at war.

But the best creativity this season came from overseas veterans: Yumi Katsura with her original twists given to traditional Japanese garments, that included tunics that played on ultra-long kimono-style sleeves, and Guo Pei for her architectural vision and precision.