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Starry nights

Geisha glamour and religious iconography were among the influences on party dresses and red carpet gowns at the Paris couture catwalks cranked up the A-list glitz

John Galliano marked his 10th anniversary at Dior - and the 60th anniversary of Christian Dior's revolutionary New Look of 1947 - in typically dramatic style, with a flurry of brightly-swathed Madame Butterflies. Just as the wasp-waisted New Look changed the face of post-war fashion and cemented Dior's position as the most powerful name in fashion, Galliano's Japanese-influenced collection expressed the craft, confidence and showmanship needed to maintain the brand's position as the creme de la creme of couture houses.

Elsewhere, red carpet and bridalwear stars Elie Saab and Valentino showed beautiful, wearable gowns in both floor and cocktail lengths, with an emphasis firmly on lace, tiered skirts and a pretty, pastel palette. At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld stayed true to his signature monochrome, but dabbled with a flapper flavour with shredded hem dresses and feathered trims. Never shy of creating controversy, Jean Paul Gaultier toyed with religious iconography and 1980s silhouettes, while fellow countryman Christian Lacroix toyed with oversized florals and ultra-bright colours.


Lebanese designer Elie Saab is fast becoming a red carpet favourite and it's easy to see why. Delicate layers of lilac silk chiffon and plisse platinum tulle were crafted into curve-skimming knee-length cocktail dresses. Sea green and steel blue beaded dresses hit the floor, while chic short silver dresses used Saab's signature lace. Asymmetric shoulder straps and multi-tiered styles had a hint of the 1980s, while black skin-tight bodices contrasted with flowing striped or graphic skirts. Strapless gowns with side cutaways, navel-grazing V-necks and splits slashed to the thigh are bound to be a hit with the A-listers.


Complementing his dramatic use of colour, John Galliano folded and pleated his way through his 10th anniversary show for Christian Dior. Fuchsia, leaf green and lavender silk was as intricate as origami nipped into sharp-shouldered gowns, geisha-style hobble skirts and kimono jackets. Obi sashes and Watteau trains enhanced the oriental feel. Pleating was key, especially articulated knife pleats, alongside crimped tulle and handkerchief skirt swags. Pencil skirts were paired with long hourglass jackets, which evoked Dior's New Look collection of 1947, as did a crossover-front dress in the colours of the Italian flag.


Valentino Garavani stayed true to his pretty perfectionism with dresses doused in sugared almond colours. The look was very Stepford Wives, with precision crystal pleating, intricate laser cutting and tiers of lace and organza creating graceful, ladylike silhouettes. The collection had a strong 1960s flavour, highlighted by swing coats with boat necklines, cropped jackets and wide-cut sleeves. But as the focus turned to eveningwear, 1970s chic took precedence. Floral lace applique dresses worn with billowing chiffon evening coats added retro glamour that mirrors the season's ready-to-wear styling.


Religious iconography was at the heart of Jean Paul Gaultier's two-phased presentation. Beginning with space-age veiled shift dresses and seamless laser-cut satin sheaths, the collection developed into a showcase of little black dresses that was reminiscent of Gaultier's 1980s heyday, alongside Sevillian widow looks in black crochet with stained glass window-effect mantilla headdresses. Heavy embellishment and vibrant turquoise, cobalt blue and gold added drama to Joan of Arc-inspired armoured gowns and cap-sleeved crochet dresses, which had icons and crucifixes worked into the fabric.


The 1960s continued to inspire Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel and was best seen on daywear, which came in simple linear forms. Prim tweed dresses with cherry red stripes and slashed into strips sat alongside white shift dresses and black db funnel-neck coats. Delicate organza ruffles and pure white feather sprays added a little Parisian flair. This hinted towards the more glitzy showgirl-styled eveningwear waiting in the wings. Here, metallic ribbons flapped around ankles on column dresses, black organza was splashed with gold, and white pleated flutes of chiffon curled in floor-skimming waves.


With each piece more magnificent than the previous one, Christian Lacroix blasted his looks onto the catwalk in a spectacular explosion of colour. Up first was a gold sweet wrapper-effect embossed coat, followed by a retro-look chartreuse swing coat with an enormous corsage at waist level on the dress beneath. A paint-by-numbers-styled trench was haphazardly filled in with neon pink, while marble-effect painted skirts came in voluminous folds. The floor-length dresses in cobalt blue, bubblegum pink and tomato red should occupy the paparazzi spotlight come Oscars time.

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