Raf Simons hits the mark with his first collection
The start of haute couture week in Paris is a must on any self-respecting fashionista's calendar.
But day one of the French capital's autumn-winter 2012 show was different: It's what's called a fashion event.
It was the debut of Christian Dior's new designer Raf Simons – the first chance to see into the future of a storied powerhouse.
He is only their fifth designer since Christian Dior founded the company in 1946.
The anticipation was evident in the front row turnout: a who's who of influence, from Marc Jacobs to Donatella Versace, Pierre Cardin, Riccardo Tisci and Diane von Furstenberg.
Ever since last year's dismissal of John Galliano, the house has been looking for a new, stronger direction.
In Simons' triumphant offering – which modernised the cinched waisted New Look – it would seem they've found it.
Haute couture is an artisan-based method of making clothes that dates back over 150 years.
The highly expensive garments, shown in collections in Paris twice a year, are bought by a core group of no more than 100 rich women around the world.
Other shows on a busy day included Giambattista Valli, who also channeled 1950s silhouettes in tulip and A-line silhouettes. Meanwhile, Moroccan-born designer Bouchra Jarrar went back to haute couture's artisanal roots to produce an accomplished show of femininity.
In Full Bloom
'Say it with flowers' was the clear message from new designer Raf Simons in his 1950s-tinged haute couture debut for Dior.
When the normally exuberant house first hired the Belgian designer, known for his minimalist and linear style, it raised eyebrows.
But this particular show will win many over. He revitalised with panache the curved "flower women" silhouette.
It's what the man, used to describe his revolutionary 1947 new look of cinched waists and full skirts that resembled inverted flowers.
Fifty four diverse looks paraded through several sweet-scented salons, wall-to-wall in one million multi-coloured flowers.
The first pieces were among the strongest.
Simons truncated the new look, pairing high-waisted A-line mini dresses with contemporary black pants. These were followed by a series of clean A-line archive pieces in bright reds and pale pink.
Simons aimed to create a new kind of couture. He said it wasn't "just about reaching for a typical satin duchesse, a silk…but new forms".
Simons' show proves change is a good thing. Now, Dior could well give Louis Vuitton and Hermes a run for their money.
The lauded designer opened Paris' haute couture week on a breeze of soft A-line silhouettes.
The 22 highly wearable dresses – in a gentle palette of lavender, black and white – floated by with clean draped collars and backs with effortless elegance.
But the simplicity of the collection was deceptive.
At work here was the atelier of the last great embroider, Francois Lesage, who passed away last year – a huge loss to Parisian fashion.
But here his techniques carried on. A perfect example was on one silk georgette knee-length dress with a deep green flash of crepe de chine. Its hand-woven draped collar in tweed showed off couture's accomplished fastidious technique.
Giambattista Valli explored the flora and fauna of Mother Nature in a cinched waisted 1950s offering.
Models in billowing floral creations of lightweight silk organza and muslin fluttered by, some with butterflies covering their mouth.
It was – of course a VIP-filled front row.
The vibrant show was all about prints. For the garden, tulip shaped or A-line skirts were covered in rose prints.
There were some sublime looks. In several ensembles the models' head disappeared in the voluminous, petal-like muslin ruffles.
8 Things Every Woman Must Have
His story is one for the fashion archives – scruffy art-school dropout whips up a provocative first collection, cuts his teeth at two venerable French houses – Rochas and Nina Ricci – and lands in New York City, where his task is to bring European polish to some very American day clothes. As artistic director of Theory, Olivier Theyskens, 35, has introduced clothes that are, he says, "louche and elegant," such as jackets with tuxedo-like lapels and the slouched-up trousers of his Theyskens' Theory line. The Belgian designer advises women not to get bogged down in decisions about colour and ornamentation. "It's best to find a silhouette that looks good from afar," he says. "When you're up close, we'll see the details."