Paris Couture Week: Pierpaolo Piccioli's Valentino Solo Debut, Elie Saab's Arab Epoch

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Backstage at the Zuhair Murad spring/summer 2017 haute couture show.

With Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior, this breakup was bound to be good.

Following the haute couture debut of Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior earlier in the week, all eyes turned to Valentino, where her former partner Pierpaolo Piccioli staged his first solo show on Wednesday in Paris. Not all breakups are bad (pay attention, Brangelina) — the pair reportedly split amicably and both collections were stunning. A win-win for fashion fans.

Valentino

The second of two highly anticipated debuts this week was Pierpaolo Piccioli’s first solo show for Valentino after the departure of former partner Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior.

He kept the otherworldly vibes the pair had perfected over their years at the house. The Italian took his inspiration from Greek gods, bringing out a parade of nymphs in muted pastels, with each gown its own reference to mythology. Euridice, Athena, Apollo, Hermes (no, it’s not just a handbag line) came out in turn as models seemed to float down the runway to an original score of delicate piano by Oscar-winning French composer Alexandre Desplat.

One hot pink satin gown was jarring — it seemed out of place in the otherwise ethereal and calm collection.

A destroyed paper collage from artist Gatot Pujiarto hung in the main room of the Hotel Salomon de Rothschild, while oil paintings that inspired the designer's pale palette were displayed throughout.

Elie Saab

One of the delights of fashion week is Lebanese designer Elie Saab’s elaborate show notes. He compiles an inspiration book for each guest complete with sketches and inspirational photographs. This time the sands and sky of the Sahara were on his mind, as he looked to the glamorous period of post-war Egypt, what he called the “Arab epoch.”

Inspired by stencil art and strong feminist figures, Saab presented a more streamlined shape while lightening up on his signature shimmer. Several looks were embellishment free, instead relying on accessories such as stunning jewels or beaded booties.

Subtle slits morphed into open panels exposing bare legs, perhaps to avoid any awkward Angelina-style thrusts, seen here and later at Zuhair Murad. While there were still a couple of poufy princess dresses among the collection, Saab added several pant looks for more modern ease, relying on capes or trains for volume.

Saab has been a red-carpet staple since outfitting Halle Berry for her Oscar win in 2002, and surely some of these golden gowns will be seen during awards season.

Viktor & Rolf

Viktor & Rolf isn’t often seen on the red carpet, and when Winona Ryder did don the label at the Golden Globes, her sweetheart-neck black gown was so simple and traditional it wasn’t easily identified.

Still, the Dutch design duo, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, typically produce a couture collection that is more engaging. This season, they took on the wastefulness of fashion, repurposing previous collections to create a series of collage dresses joined by gold thread in the spirit of Japanese fragment art.

The result was as eccentric as one would expect, with a piece of green polka dot fabric here, a slash of hot pink there, as models walked to Diana Krall’s version of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." All were outfitted in Christian Louboutin patent pumps with glittery golden cat eyes. It was easily the most diverse runway this season.

The closing looks were dreamy, fractured, fairy-tale gowns, perhaps for a new Alice in Wonderland or an especially daring (and environmentally conscious) celebrity.

Zuhair Murad

The Beirut- and Paris-based designer once again looked to the stars — this time the fireworks that light up the night sky, opening with an explosion of billowing white on black. There were some stunners, of course, as we’ve come to expect nothing less from the man behind many of J.Lo’s costumes.

Murad also took inspiration from the '80s, fashion's current favorite decade, for his padded shoulders and puffed sleeves, which were a subtle nod to the decade without being too literal, toeing the line between power and princess. Mullets, be they a hairstyle or a fashion trend (those high-low hems!), are best left to memory. The sheer, polka-dotted tights on the runway at Alexandre Vauthier on Tuesday were on display here as well (buy a pair now!), as was the exposed leg seen at Elie Saab.

Ulyana Sergeenko

At the Cirque d’Hiver — or winter circus — Ulyana Sergeenko toyed with tulips to mixed results. The Russian designer, who recently outfitted Elle Fanning in Cannes, sent out several minidresses with layered skirts or flower-themed bustier cups, which came off as a little comical. It’s her gowns where she shines, even in the somber blues and blacks she showed for this collection.

A black gown topped with a snake-patterned armored breastplate read tough from the front, but with a low-cut delicate T-strap back the dress felt light and airy (look 35). A red gown with bell sleeves read Renaissance without being overly referential (look 29), and while a cocktail ensemble (look 5) fell flat in photos; in person it practically lit up the room with its crystal chainmail skirt. Swashbuckling sequin gloves were paired with capes, the perfect accessory, perhaps, for a modern Joan of Arc.

Natalia Vodianova opened Sergeenko’s show with a dramatic black cocktail dress. The model has worn the Russian designer on several red carpets, so it was fitting to see her on the runway alongside Doutzen Kroes anchoring the collection after a week in which supermodels were sorely missed.

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