Designers pitched their most elaborate evening wear as Paris launched couture week on Monday, hoping to seduce celebrity clients at a time when Oscar fashion has become almost as important as its films.
John Galliano put on a sumptuous display of Oriental splendor in his collection for Christian Dior, drawing on a recent trip to Japan to produce kimono-style gowns featuring intricate origami pleating and shimmering floral embroidery.
The slow-paced presentation of the British designer had models posing languidly on a gray set that evoked Dior’s historic headquarters on avenue Montaigne, where the founder of the house first unveiled his revolutionary New Look 60 years ago.
“This is haute couture at its highest level,” Dior CEO Sidney Toledano said before the show. “We wanted the show to be quite intimate so that the press and all the people present can appreciate the exceptional quality of this work.”
Hand-painted silk gowns with huge trains reflected the skill of the “petites mains”, or “little hands,” as the seamstresses who work in Paris couture workshops are known.
Only a handful of houses continue to produce these made-to-measure creations, whose price tags can run into six figures. With fewer than 500 customers worldwide, couture is traditionally a loss-making activity that serves mainly to enhance a brand’s image.
Dior’s show was cannily aimed at the fast-growing Asian market, seen as a key driver of future growth in the luxury goods market.
Tapered sheaths in delicate pastel shades bloomed into oversized folds at the collar or hem. A cream bubble coat was emblazoned with Japanese artist Hokusai’s famous print “The Great Wave.”
Dior will no doubt offer simplified versions for the red carpet, such as the strapless gown that Drew Barrymore recently wore to the Golden Globes.
The moment the nominations for this year’s Oscars are announced Tuesday, it will join other top fashion houses in aggressively bidding to dress the nominees on the big night.
In recent years, picking a fashion winner has become a little like playing the lottery, but the event can generate millions of dollars of free publicity for a handful of savvy brands.
Just ask Elie Saab. The Lebanese designer became a household name overnight when Halle Berry wore one of his dresses to accept her Oscar for Best Actress in 2002. He is now a Hollywood fixture, dressing clients from Beyonce Knowles to Sheryl Crow.
On Monday, Saab showed diaphanous gowns that tapped into the current mood for draping and Empire-line waists.
Bucking the industry trend, front row guest Diane Kruger was making her choice without the help of a professional stylist.
“I have a really great relationship with the people from Dior or Chanel, so I tend to just call them directly. It’s faster and I used to model, so I know what I like,” the “Troy” star told The Associated Press at the Dior show.
Kruger admitted the approach was not foolproof.
“I wore one outfit to the Golden Globes one year that I presented, and it was a really great dress, but I think it wasn’t the right occasion,” she said, diplomatically declining to name the designer responsible for her fashion faux pas.