Paris's Winter 2012 haute couture shows ended on Wednesday with two high flying shows: Jean Paul Gaultier's rollicking take on 19th-century decadence and Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli's mysterious ode to royal blue and Botticelli beauty for Valentino.
One look at the program notes for Jean Paul Gaultier's show, featuring ensembles with names like "Garconne," and it was an easy guess that cross-dressing was on the menu. Sure enough, Gaultier, a member of the jury at last May's Cannes film festival, had seen Pete Doherty's performance as a wayward young dandy in Sylvie Verheyde's Confession of a Child of the Century, based on Alfred de Musset's autobiographical novel about his affair with George Sand.
And so Sand opened Gaultier's show dressed in black 19th-century tails and top hat. This was followed by men's trousers turned into a satin jumpsuit, more tails in croc, '20s dresses in cut-out velvet, beading and silk fringe revealing almost everything, and shimmering jeweled jumpsuits in a decadent onslaught complete with men in corsets, frock coats, and top hats stripped down to a transparent skeleton. After all this, when you would think Gaultier's menswear inspirations had been spent, the bride came out in the show's best piece: white tails worn backwards, with their lapels reaching out like wings.
An ode to the mysterious power of blue, from royal to midnight, is the last thing one would expect from Valentino, a house which is famous for the color red, but designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli have been quietly turning over a new leaf here since they started.
A veil of royal-blue crystal pleat mousseline over abstract underpinnings looked streamlined, and the cerebral blue kept coming in more structured dresses under strict capes. But before long, the heart necklines and flowing lines began to take on a Botticelli look in stylized floral prints, embroidery, and brocade taken from William Morris's Tree of Life. Some of these fantastic blooms looked like botanical drawings, or pressed flowers on transparent dresses, or in combinations of matte and transparence in dresses with capes. These are princess clothes, in effect: embroidered in gold, trimmed in velvet, with crystal embroideries requiring from 500 to 1200 hours of handwork in Valentino's ateliers in Rome. By the time the blue velvet column glided in with a frontal pavé cutout like a cathedral window, Chiuri and Piccioli's audience was up in the clouds.