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At Couture, a Château, a Diamond Necklace and a Bouquet of Red Roses

Is it a love story, a murder mystery, or the last day of the couture shows? asks Tim Blanks.
Valentino's haute couture show at the Château de Chantilly.
Valentino's haute couture show at the Château de Chantilly. (Indigital )

PARIS — “Un Château,” Pierpaolo Piccioli called his Valentino couture show. No particular château, just any old “un.” Except it wasn’t. It was actually Chantilly, the pinnacle of château-dom, a fairytale place where Louis XIV stabled his horses. Which gave Piccioli’s throwaway show title even more spine. This may have been the Sun King’s bolthole, but we’re gonna treat it real casual-like. Recalibrate its elitism, at the same time as we show you a collection of revisionist haute couture.

This has been Piccioli’s shtick for a while. Break down the elitist barriers that surround traditional couture, open it up to a new young diverse audience. He showed his last couture collection in a gritty nightclub under a bridge by the Seine. Now here he was presenting that same wannabe iconoclastic spirit against the majestic backdrop of the Château de Chantilly. And it worked better here. Fact is, Piccioli can be a brilliant couturier. Grandeur is irrevocably woven into his fashion sensibility. The Everyman routine conspires to make his ready-to-wear look as contrived as that last white-shirt-black-tie episode, but in couture, it liberates him to create clothes that float and flow and lift the spirits. The warm evening air made the long trains of dresses billow, baring legs and bodies. Just about everything looked simple, just draped or twisted, scarcely even seamed. There was technique here. There was also couture trickery, like Kaia Gerber’s jeans, made from gazar and beaded to look like worn denim. Break the elitism, build up the luxury. A few outfits later, there were real vintage 501s, crusted with gold embroidery.

The colour palette was the distinctive blend of leaf greens, reds, pinks played against rich neutrals we’ve seen before from Piccioli. Some of the models were halo-ed in feathers. On their feet were flat slippers. You could easily master all those steps, cross the cobblestones, and run into the sunset at Chantilly, glossed by the golden hour. It was a truly optimistic moment in a week of bad tidings.

The models in the Fendi show walked with a jewel box clutched to their hearts, like tokens of love. Kim Jones saw the collection as a love letter to Delfina Delettrez Fendi, scion of the famous family and the woman responsible for the fine jewellery range that was launched on Thursday along with the autumn/winter couture. Jones built his collection around Delfina’s jewels. He thought it was possibly the first time that had happened in haute couture. When one model walked past in a casual couture black-bomber-and pants combo with a million dollars worth of white diamonds and spinels collected over 40 years around her neck, Jones’s creative decision made perfect sense. “I do feel a great sense of responsibility towards the stones,” said Delfina, adding an appropriately romantic note. “It took them millions of years to get to the surface and to be collected.”

The collection was immaculate, precise, cool, as you might imagine from something that was inspired by diamonds. Even the intrusions of vivid colour — dresses draped in green sapphire or ruby satin — had the glossy monochrome of a hyperlit film noir. This startling, cinematic effect was complemented by Klaus Nomi’s operatic “Cold Song” on the soundtrack.

Jones did show softness, in chevron feathered shearling and jewel-studded astrakhan, but his primary silhouette was classically contoured: long, lean, disciplined still further by futuristic obi-like body wraps. It is this discipline which colours all Kim’s work in fashion, but when he allows himself a personal indulgence — as he did here with a pink sequin-crusted finale which he claimed was inspired by a costume Leigh Bowery created for dancer Michael Clark — you get a hint of what life beyond a perfectly constructed couture column might look like for him.

You might wonder the same thing for Giorgio Armani, who turns 89 in a matter of days, and is still feeding the machine of his massive business. He chose roses as the motif for his new couture show. The world knows them as the flower of love and passion, but they also represent sacrifice. As he has aged, Armani has acquired some insight into what he has ceded with his success.

There was a definite arc in his new Privé presentation, from the cool silvery sheen of the tuxedo variant that opened the show to the woman in red that closed it, veiled like the bride at a blood wedding. That notion would undoubtedly be too theatrical for Armani, but there is often a sublimated drama in his clothing. It was obvious early on here with the vermilion accents that underpinned sheer gossamer dresses.

Shimmering languor has long been a signature of Armani’s evening wear. Roses introduced red as a kind of disruptor. It steadily insinuated itself into the flow, first with black, then with black and gold, echoes of Japanese lacquer, and then red on its own. It’s usually the cooler end of the colour spectrum — blues, greys, purples — that Armani favours. The rise of red in this collection might point to passion and sacrifice, but also perhaps defiance. And, knowing Armani, that would be a fitting response to his 89th birthday.

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