Earlier this month, Valentino's Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli unveiled their pre-fall 2016 collection, which has so far been a huge hit with buyers, if Instagram is any indication; then it was on to menswear fall/winter 2016, which they showed last week; and Wednesday they closed the couture season in Paris with another memorable show. It's true that two pairs of hands are better than one but, with each collection a creative tour de force, one wonders how they do it all. On a recent visit to one of their Paris boutiques, even a sales assistant admitted to having a hard time keeping track with all the collections they design, marvelling at their prolific output.
While in their ready-to-wear shows and pre-collections the designers are not afraid to be daring, mixing high and low; street and high fashion, for their couture range they stick to a winning formula of ethereal and covered-up silhouettes that often hark back to the glorious times of Ancient Greece and Rome.
Spring/summer 2016 was another exercise in supreme beauty and unparalleled workmanship. They transformed Paris's Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild into a modern-day Arcadia with the runway painted gold and strewn with leaves and petals. Models walked barefoot to classical tunes such as Stravinksy's The Rite of Spring; they actually wore anklet-like gold sandals, evoking sylvan creatures and modern-day nymphs. References on the duo's mood board ranged from dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, whose influence was evident in the fluid lines and focus on the body, to the late Mariano Fortuny, the Venice-based Spanish couturier whose archival textiles the designers repurposed for this collection.
Standouts were many, from two pleated velvet dresses – one in yellow, one in red – to a fringed gold cape that gently swept the leaves off the floor as the model paraded down the runway. Valentino's real business is done with Rockstud heels, camouflage sneakers and neoprene sweatshirts, but it's the simple grace of the maison's couture line that wins everyone's hearts and never fails to move its ardent fans.
Lebanese designer Elie Saab's bread and butter is occasion wear, dresses and gowns destined for grand soirées and the red carpet. For his spring/summer 2016 couture collection, he paid homage to India. The India that Saab had in mind, however, wasn't the touristy cliché of bejewelled maharajas and pink saris. He instead looked back to Victorian and Edwardian times, when ladies from Britain and other parts of Europe made their journey east to the subcontinent. Most of the looks featured heavily embellished Victorian silhouettes - every single outfit had some sort of sparkly element to it - toughened up with utilitarian extras such as structured belts, explorer's hats and work boots, though the latter were bedecked in sequins and silver tassels. Desert sand and blush pink were the dominant colours in the collection, and the printed looks stood out in what was an otherwise very coherent show. Column gowns featuring pleated asymmetrical sashes were direct references to Indian costume. Overall, it was an elegant and beautiful show but – whatever Saab had in mind when conjuring up his imaginary "adventuress" – every single piece on his runway was meant for glamorous jet-setters rather than intrepid travellers.
The numbers of Russian couture clients may be dwindling due to the current crisis sweeping the country because of the fall in oil prices. Ulyana Sergeenko, however, the Moscow-based couturier who's also a well-known client, front-row regular and street-style star, seems to be going strong, and is still showing her biannual couture collections in the French capital. Her heritage is a constant source of inspiration, whether it's the traditional costumes of her native Kazakhstan or the mink outfits favoured by Russian babushkas. For spring/summer 2016, Sergeenko found her muse in the end of the Russian Empire in the 19th century, a time of decadence and lavish balls, and the last years of the Soviet Union before the wall came down. This mishmash translated on the runway in maxi gowns embroidered with carnival characters and Venetian masks, and jumpsuits and sharp-shouldered dresses reminiscent of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper in their heydays. The outfits were accessorised with hats and Sergeenko's signature whimsical extras, such as cat- and fish-shaped bags and bracelets with big bows on both hands.