Paris' rarified haute couture collections are a chance for fashion houses to pull out all the stops and showcase the savoir faire of the traditional craftspeople, from embroiders to seamstresses, who handcraft the wildly expensive made-to-measure garments.
Most go the easy route, smothering the clothes in sequins and rhinestones, but for spring-summer 2011, Christian Dior designer John Galliano delivered something all together more subtle.
Layers of tulle were painstakingly applied to sumptuous, jewel-toned silks and satins to create gradations of color that evoked the subtle shades of smudged charcoal or pastel. The house's petites mains applied up to seven layers of tulle to create the rich shading that enveloped princess dresses with full, swooshing skirts and cocktail numbers that sprouted bubble-shaped capes at the back.
This is the kind of work that can only happen in haute couture, where each garment requires dozens or even hundred of hours of work and cost as much as some cars. Subtle and stunning at the same time, the Dior collection was as convincing an argument as any of the value of couture — despite the fact that only a handful of fabulously wealthy women worldwide still buy the clothes.
Still, interest in couture appeared to be on the rise. Dior staffers said they'd had to double the number of seats at the show from about 500 last season to nearly 1,000 on Monday. Socialites from the world over braved a persistent drizzle to attend Monday's show, held in a darkened tent at the Rodin Museum.
Decked out in their evening finery — much of it Dior — they packed into seats set far too close for comfort to take in the spectacle. Judging from the whoops of enthusiasm that enveloped Galliano as he took his customary post-show strut down the catwalk, they heartily approved.