Paris Couture Week: Valentino's Barefoot Byzantine Dream

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Looks from Valentino Haute Couture spring 2016

"The moment when models don’t stand up on heels, something much more human happens," said French actress Ludivine Sagnier.

Valentino took models off their pedestals and put them on petals. There were no platforms in sight — even with Christian Louboutin himself in the front row — as models walked barefoot on a runway of roses and ranunculus.

It made the ethereal collection all the more grounded.

SLINKY SERPENT: A model wears a serpentine headpiece designed by Harumi Klossowska on the Valentino runway. (Photo: Getty Images)

Inspired in part by dancers Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan (soon to be portrayed on the big screen by Soko and Lily-Rose Depp in The Dancer), the collection from Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri was called Alchemy. It certainly had a magical mix of modern dance influences and Grecian goddesses. Dresses were all pleats and patchwork with Japanese-inpired embroidery, from pale ivory to scarlet velvet. Serpentine headpieces from Japanese-Italian artist Harumi Klossowska added a sensual touch.

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French fashionistas sat front row — Melanie Thierry, Clotilde Courau and Ludivine Sagnier, along with Louis Garrel, fresh off a best supporting actor Cesar (that’s French Oscar to you) nomination this morning.

“It is so sophisticated and theatrical. The moment when models don’t stand up on heels, something much more human happens. There’s something very sensitive about walking barefoot on the catwalk, and at the same time the way the fabrics float in the air, brings us to a higher level,” Sagnier told Pret-a-Reporter. “Pret-a-Porter is amazing, but couture to me is a whole other world.”

In a year that has seen surprise departures at other major fashion houses — Alber Elbaz at Lanvin and Raf Simons at Dior, both rumored to be in part due to the fashion calendar’s churn of six seasons a year — Chiuri and Piccioli noted that they hoped the collection could “live beyond the rhythms of fashion in order to express long lasting values.” In an industry that sees designers searching for a new aesthetic from season to season, their vision is refreshing.

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Stylist Cristina Ehrlich, who’s dressing Brie Larson for the SAGs and Oscars and Penelope Cruz for the upcoming Zoolander 2 premiere, compared the collection to Chaucer. “It feels like a novel opened up and these moments fell out,” she said. “To see where fashion has been going where it has all of this history is just so beautiful.”

That show notes included how many hours of handwork each dress took — Isadorable (Look 1) topping out at 2,000 hours, made it all the more timeless.

ISADORABLE: Look 1 from Valentino's presentation. (Photo: Getty Images)