Paris couture week is over, and these were the most exquisite gowns

After a four-day whirlwind of fashion shows, Paris Haute Couture fashion week has come to a close. Although the time frame is much shorter than NYFW‘s upcoming 10-day marathon, the stunning gowns just wouldn’t stop. But that’s the magic of couture: All of the gowns are custom made and one of a kind, with most constructed by hand at the fashion houses’ ateliers.

One Elie Saab couture dress, for example, was hand-embroidered with 9,000 sequins and crystals. The process took 12 people more than three months — a total of 500 hours. Plenty of other couture collections had hidden stories, too, and all of the dresses were undeniably beautiful.

Interestingly, couture dresses are not sold afterwards like ready-to-wear pieces, which are picked up by buyers and sold in stores following their runway debuts. Instead, because of the couture dresses’ uniqueness and high level of craftsmanship, each piece is considered a prized possession for both the fashion house and designer — and anyone with enough cash to want to buy one. (Couture gowns can cost upwards of a few hundred thousand dollars).

So why does couture even exist?

“Couture supposes a high level of creativity and a high level of savoir faire delivered in the atelier. And also the absolute level of individualization,” Pascal Morand, the executive president of the Fédération Française de la Couture, explained to the New York Times. In essence, it provides designers with an unparalleled avenue along which imagination and creativity can flow freely, away from any retail pressure to hit a specific sales mark. The result? Dreamy, inspirational — as well as aspirational — gowns.

So without further ado, here are the most exquisite dresses from couture fashion week.

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