The biannual couture shows in Paris remain the most exclusive of all the fashion weeks, and the schedule has never been short of thrills. Here, Vogue rounds up some of the most high drama moments in haute couture.
The Most Memorable Couture Gowns Of All Time
Karl Lagerfeld’s First Chanel Show
For more than three decades, Karl Lagerfeld has presided over Chanel as creative director. In 1983, when first charged with bringing the house into the modern era, the designer is said to have initially found couture frustratingly slow. Today, Lagerfeld’s Chanel epitomises what audiences around the world love about couture – the quintessential fashion escapism. In 1983 however, his modern vision was met with more than a few raised eyebrows from critics.
All That Glitters Is Gianni
In contrast to the genteel shopping expedition for well-heeled women that couture presentations used to be, Gianni Versace’s high-voltage shows at Atelier Versace in the 1990s were splashy, star-studded affairs. Audiences jostled for a front row view of the “Versace experience”, and applause broke out after every shimmering look of the AW95 couture collection – a masterclass in fashion history that captured the hedonism of the era in every twinkling rhinestone – sashayed down the runway on a supermodel muse. The Versace couture woman was undoubtedly flashbulb-ready, primed for Hollywood’s red carpets rather than Paris’s Bal de Débutantes.
Larger Than Life
In the 2000s, John Galliano’s Christian Dior catwalk proved to be the epicentre of theatricality. The British designer, who took the helm at Dior in 1996, emboldened his atelier and it showed in the clothes. Nowhere more so than the SS03 couture collection: “In Galliano’s hands, the vivid colours and patterns of Chinese costume and Japanese kimonos got transformed into some of the hugest clothes ever invented,” Sarah Mower reported for US Vogue. “Models, almost completely submerged in cocooning swaths of brocade, taffeta and exploding chiffon flounces, teetered along on vertiginous platforms.”
Kate Moss Blooms
1993 was a big year for supermodel-in-the-making, Kate Moss. The star’s first Vogue cover (for British Vogue) would hit shelves in March, by which time she’d already floated down the Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture SS93 catwalk in ethereal florals.
Thierry Mugler’s Robot Woman
The cyborg suit created by Thierry Mugler for his AW95 couture show was received as “a frightening and tantalising image for the dawn of the Internet age” by Vogue. Later that year the one-of-a-kind piece was immortalised by Helmut Newton for US Vogue’s November 1995 issue, in the magazine’s cult ‘Machine Age’ fashion story.
David Bowie By Way Of Dior
Mix Raf Simons with couture and you get something edgier than an ordinary fashion romance. Mix Raf Simons with David Bowie and couture, and you get a triumphant collection of thigh-high patent boots and second-skin catsuits. As then Vogue critic Tim Blanks noted after the show: “[Simons] is keen to create connections for couture that wire it to the wider world.” Those boots became an overnight sell-out.
Bella Hadid Walking On Water
For Fendi’s ‘Legends and Fairy Tales’ 90th anniversary show, Karl Lagerfeld took inspiration from the illustrations of Danish artist Kay Nielsen in 1914 children’s book, East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Fantasy did indeed become reality: We’ll remember this as the moment models walked on water (well, a transparent catwalk staged over Rome’s Trevi Fountain).
Alexander McQueen’s Mythology
Shortly after the late Alexander McQueen unveiled his debut couture collection for Givenchy, he revealed he felt the show had not lived up to his own expectations. History, on the other hand, remembers a couture debut that was a startlingly elegant and mythological play on the house codes.
Birds Of Internet Paradise
You’ve no doubt already seen pictures of the pink feathery Valentino couture gown that broke the internet twice in 2018. Model of the moment Kaia Gerber was the first to sport Pierpaolo Piccioli’s masterpiece during Valentino’s AW18 couture show, leaving even hardened fashion editors in awe (and in some cases teary-eyed). Lady Gaga’s people were quick to leap on the look, securing the gown for the A Star Is Born red carpet at the Venice Film Festival. Cue internet meltdown number two.
Going Dotty For Armani
When Mr Armani’s atelier turns its hand to polka dots, the results are nothing short of spectacular. No big back story here, just a perfect moment of dream-like beauty.
In his eponymous SS99 couture show, French designer Jean Paul Gaultier bucked convention to send a single patchwork denim gown (complete with feathered train) down his runway, a look markedly different from the other gilded pieces in the collection. Gaultier’s secret to standing out at the ball? Flout the dress code.
Linda As The Chanel Bride
It wouldn’t be a couture greatest hits list if we didn’t finish with a bride. Enter Linda Evangelista, the woman behind countless iconic Chanel catwalk moments, seen here closing the house’s AW03 couture show in true super style.