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Blue body paint and beaded jeans: The top moments from Paris Haute Couture Week

<i>Courtesy Alexandre Vauthier</i><br/>Alexandre Vauthier presented a classic
Courtesy Alexandre Vauthier
Alexandre Vauthier presented a classic

By Samantha Tse, CNN

Paris (CNN) — In the week leading up to the fall-winter haute couture shows in Paris, there was national unrest over a police killing of 17-year-old teenager Nahel Merzouk in a suburb of the city. People were protesting and getting arrested, stores were being looted and fires being started — how would the fashion industry respond?

Haute couture is the most elite level of fashion. The bespoke garments are handcrafted by highly skilled artisans in the finest fabrics for the 1%. It denotes style, class, money and most importantly, access. It’s one of the most visual markers of privilege and exclusivity in the world.

The Federation de la Haute Couture didn’t give any directive on how to respond to such extraordinary circumstances. As such, there wasn’t a collective decision within the industry on how to proceed appropriately. Brands showed their collections as planned and barely acknowledged the protests.

However, Hedi Slimane canceled his Celine’s menswear show and afterparty scheduled on the day before couture’s official kick off. In an Instagram post on the designer’s personal account, he stated: “Having a fashion show in Paris, while France and its capital are bereaved and bruised, from my point of view alone, seems inconsiderate and totally out of place.” Balenciaga, Bulgari, Chloe and Courreges also canceled their parties in the context of current events.

The shows went ahead despite being at odds with what was happening outside of the couture bubble. Celebrities came out in full force to support the houses. Cardi B was spotted at several shows including Schiaparelli wearing a custom black velvet dress worn with a dramatic black coat and a pair of gold ear-shaped earrings. She was also seen at Thom Browne, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Fendi and at Gaurav Gupta where she arrived almost an hour late dazzling the crowd in a scintillating lime green dress and oversized puffer hood and sat beside Chinese star Fan Bingbing.

Diane Keaton was at Thom Browne looking like a modern-day Annie Hall in the brand’s three-piece suit, tie and straw hat. Valentino’s front row featured Florence Pugh in a sheer lilac gown, Donatella Versace, Nicole Ari Parker and Jeremy O. Harris. Spotted revelling at Chanel were Lupita Nyonog’o in the brand’s purple tweed shorts set and Kendrick Lamar in Chanel tweed and denim. Actresses Laura Dern, Emma Thompson and Kate Hudson lead the fashion pack at Armani Prive and songstress Shakira wore a statement trench coat with the word “NO” across the chest at Viktor & Rolf, who celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Thom Browne debuts couture

Perhaps the most anticipated show of the season was Thom Browe’s couture debut. The American designer’s distinct point of view fuses Americana with high romance, a bit of camp and a whole lot of precise, intricate tailoring. Each collection begins with the gray suit and for his first couture outing, Browne took the idea and owned it, sending 58 iterations down the runway, each more fantastical than the last.

“He’s so specific with his vision. You feel like you’ve stepped into this world and Thom is one of those people who gets excited about an idea and sees nothing else apart from it,” said hair stylist Eugene Souleiman, who created gravity-defying wigs for Browne’s show.

In keeping with Browe’s palette, the wigs were dyed gray. Some models wore abstract bobs with a section jutting out on one side “so the head’s elongated on one side,” Souleiman told CNN. Others had softer, more elaborate hair that gave nod to the 18th century style.

And to give it that Thom Browne twist, Souleiman put the wigs on slightly off-kilter so they look like they’re about to fall off.

In keeping with the asymmetric theme, makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench drew from the New Romantics. Bright shadows were spray painted across eyelids and finished with bold black lines above the brows and under the eyes. Top lips were colored in magenta or orangey-red.

Yves Klein blue makes a comeback

At the Schiaparelli show, Daniel Roseberry paid tribute to artists including Salvatore Dali, Lucien Freud and Yves Klein, paying homage to Elsa Schiaparelli’s long association with artists.

“I think more than any other house, we have a natural birth right to connect fashion with art and it felt like the first step in making that connection,” Roseberry said of the collection backstage.

Klein’s signature hue is “the Photoshop inversion of Schiaparelli Gold” Roseberry explained. It’s the opposite end of the color spectrum to the brand’s signature gold embroidery. “So, the vibration of color is really important but I wanted there to be a sense of freedom and ease too.”

The cobalt blue found its way across models’ faces, necks and torso, splashed over jewelry and an undulating mini skirt.

The rich tone was also seen at Valentino in abstract motifs over a long white dress with matching blue shoes, as well as in a beautifully draped gown, slouchy overcoat and relaxed trousers.

Elsewhere, Alexandre Vauthier’s runway was carpeted in the recognizable color and one of Iris Van Herpen’s “Oceanix” dresses featured a graphic polygon pattern that faded from navy to Klein blue.

Simplicity in silhouettes

While couture conjures up escapism and fantasy, this season was more grounded in realism, with paired down silhouettes and flatter shoes.

Vaultier’s collection was a return to elegance with his iteration of the tuxedo featuring meticulous, sharp tailoring featuring narrow silhouettes with wide lapels. The lines were clean, almost severe but the collection was balanced with more fluid volumes and silhouettes that were feminine and unfussy.

In Kim Jones’ fall 2023 line-up for Fendi, the English designer sent down a series of featherweight gowns, featuring pleated column dresses, Grecian draping and Obi-inspired belts that accentuated the waist. Turtleneck dresses were either cut high on the thigh or floor-sweeping while fluid asymmetric dresses featured trains that felt understated and modern.

Vertiginous shoes are the norm at couture but this season, Pierpaolo Piccioli subverted that tradition and sent every model out wearing flat slingbacks with oversized bows while Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri featured flat, sheer mesh lace-up boots and sandals with a gladiator vibe. Different heights of Mary Janes dominated at Chanel.

A win for age inclusivity

Chanel’s show opened with the brand’s 48-year-old ambassador Caroline de Maigret in a black ankle-grazing black double-breasted tweed coat with crystal-encrusted buttons.

French supermodel and designer Ines de la Fressange was greeted with thunderous applause when she stepped onto the runway in an all-black ensemble at Charles de Vilmorin’s debut couture show. The 65-year-old icon also walked the Balenciaga runway in a structured gray suit alongside models Amber Valetta and Eva Herzigova who are 49 and 50 respectively, actress Isabelle Huppert age 70 and Danielle Slavik, Cristobal Balenciaga’s former house model in the 1960s, who opened the show wearing a replica of a dress he first designed in 1966.

Valentino’s cinematic fairy tale

Guests traveled two hours outside of Paris during rush hour to the 16th century Chateau de Chantilly, where the show began with Kaia Gerber wearing a white shirt and jeans hand-embroidered with thousands of micro beads dyed in 80 shades of indigo to resemble denim.

Models walked out from the majestic castle, down a dramatic staircase and around the central fountain so Piccioli’s collection could be seen from all angles. Dresses, coats and capes were voluminous yet light. Tunics and dresses were cut on the bias and gently caressed the body while sleek silhouettes were juxtaposed with opulent embellishments including feathers and gemstones.

Piccioli walked out with his entire atelier to a much-deserved standing ovation.

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