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For those who think nothing of spending in excess of 150,000 pounds for a gown, here are the most expensive, and fabulous, dresses in the world, from Couture Fashion Week 2016.
Anna Murphy/ Fashion WriterIt is not so much that couture is another world, more that it’s on another planet. If you were one of the women shopping at the shows in Paris last week, you aren’t someone who has to ask the price. If you did, however, you would be,Anna Murphy/ Fashion WriterIt is not so much that couture is another world, more that it’s on another planet. If you were one of the women shopping at the shows in Paris last week, you aren’t someone who has to ask the price. If you did, however, you would be told that the bill starts at about 30,000 pounds for the simplest of day dresses. An evening dress-which has often taken thousands of hours to make-would set you back 150,000 pounds or more.Armani Prive Couture Show, S/S 2016Pictured here are some of the most fabulous, and expensive, frocks in the world. Hot off the couture runway, they may already be winging their way somewhere in the world to a walk-in wardrobe the size of my flat. Or the ateliers of Paris may, as you read this, be busy remaking a particular dress in a client’s size or with a bespoke design tweak here or there. (Some brands are more flexible than others. One reason that Armani Prive is so popular among the Chinese super-rich, an insider told me, is because it is particularly non-tweak-averse) It’s the new geography of wealth that is changing the old landscape of couture. On the front row at one show: three Chinese women in their twenties, dressed to the nines, with matching nose jobs, jotting down their orders on their phones, only slightly impeded by the diamond gobstoppers on their fingers. On a second front row: an Arab woman in a headscarf watches the princess dresses from behind her invite. Leaving a third show: a woman bitching in Russianaccented English, to a man who may or may not be her husband, about another nameless woman: “She can’t even afford ready-towear so why is she at couture?” In the loos at the Plaza Athenee hotel’s restaurant, a favourite with the couture set: a young Indian woman shakes her wrists, each freighted with a giant jewel-encrusted cuff that wouldn’t look out of place in the Tower of London.advertisement”From my mother-in-law,” she says to her friend, sounding bored. Not many people know the couture world and few of them will talk about it on the record. Off the record, they become more chatty. “The biggest clients don’t buy the biggest dresses,” one tells me. “They really live the couture life. Which means they order daywear above everything.” However extraterrestrial your existence, you need more dresses appropriate for lunch at the Four Seasons than for a ball.(Ideally ones with a low and/or simple neckline- there are lots of these in couture-the better to offset your jewels.) The nearest most of us get to couture is ogling the red carpet, of course, but what we see the Hollywood stars wearing often bears little relation to the shows. Many film stars are catered to separately, the dress entirely distinct from the vision presented on the catwalk, in some cases not even designed by the same team. If there is an overlap, it can cause tensions with the real clients. (The stars don’t pay for their clothes, of course; the brands rightly view gifting them a dress as the ultimate in promotion.)Valentino Couture Show, S/S 2016Many clients don’t want the exposure of seeing a star in a dress similar to theirs, especially if she is the “wrong” kind of star, and they certainly don’t want to lose out on a particular piece they have their eye on. (An insider told me how one brand infuriated a big Chinese customer recently by sending a dress she wanted to a superstar popsicle for an awards ceremony.) Before the rise of ready-to-wear in the first half of the 20th century, all rich women wore couture, fitted to their every curve. Tucked away in every couture atelier are the mannequins of its regular clients, on which each piece can be fitted in her absence. Dresses can be sent back by a client to be altered if she wants something slightly different, or has eaten too many pies, or too few. (The former does happen, apparently.Couture clients are human too.) “A couture dress is never finished,” observes one insider. This can cause tensions in the atelier, as anyone who saw the charming documentary Dior and I will remember. Just when Dior’s then-designer Raf Simons and his team are at pre-show full-steam-ahead, one of his two atelier premiers (heads) has to go to New York to tend to a client’s dress. Simons has a meltdown, but Catherine Riviere, directrice of the atelier, is unapologetic. “When a client spends 350,000 euros a season,” she says, “I won’t say no if she requests a fitting.”advertisementWhat we saw last week was a new easiness- clothes that move naturally, fluidly, with the body. Even the ladies who lunch don’t want to sit ramrod straight while nibbling on their asparagus. What we didn’t see were trends, not in the ready-to-wear sense of the word. Couture is rarely about high fashion. The clients may be as rich as Mrs Croesus, but even for them this is investment dressing. It costs them a lot of money, but it also costs them time: the fittings, the waiting for the dress to be made. Couture is fashion’s version of a gilt fund. There’s nothing fly-by-night here.Couture is for life, and women build up their collection as another might accumulate paintings. Season after season, year after year, they construct for themselves a wardrobe that is beyond our wildest dreams, beyond fashion, beyond-some might say- reason or decency. When asked how much couture she owns, one German client merely puts her hands out in front of her, a two-metre gap between them. Money speaks louder than words, couture louder still.Five dresses to break the bankCHANELA standout ensemble in a standout collection, this organza round-sleeve dress and pencil skirt together took 530 hours to embroider. The skirt is covered in 50,000 wood and glass beads, crystals and sequins, the dress with flowers origami-ed out of organza and more wood beads. Karl Lagerfeld knows his client’s life of morning-to-night glamour well, which is why there were as many day dresses as evening dresses and why there was a wearability to his show-in couture terms, that is-to many. You could sport that skirt with a cashmere knit, for example, though if your life is about Rolls-Royces and Ruinart, quite frankly, why bother?Chanel Couture, S/S 2016VALENTINOLittle girls may want to be Disney Princesses but grown-up girls dream of being Valentino royalty. (Quite why we all covet sovereign rights these days is a question for another time.) Under a design dream-team of Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, Valentino has become the go-to brand for entrance-maker gowns. The brand majors in simple lines and intricate yet light-as-a-feather embellishment, and this season was inspired by the pliss dresses of Fortuny and by the dancer Martha Graham. This organza and tulle concoction took six seamstresses sixty days to complete. Serene to be sure, but no inhibitor of a high kick or two should a Martha moment strike.Valentino Couture, S/S 2016ARMANI PRIVEThere is a reason why Giorgio Armani’s couture offering is so prevalent on the red carpet and so popular with the new rich: because he makes very pretty dresses, which flatter rather than scene-steal. The new collection riffed on lilac and ruffles, and the front row loved it. This waterfall of organza – all 35 metres of it – received a round of applause when it came down the catwalk, good news for the five seamstresses who laboured for 400 hours to pull it off. “I wanted a light collection, with a feeling of weightlessness and movement,” says Armani. How long will it take for the red carpet to turn purple? Not long.advertisementArmani Prive Couture, S/S 2016ATELIER VERSACESexy and couture are not normally two words that go together. Unless you are Donatella Versace, of course. In one sense you don’t get much dress for your money with this fiery orange number, slashed not only to the navel but through it; in another, the effortper-centimetre-squared-of-fabric equation must be peerless. Tiny 2mm-squared sequins were hand-applied to give a wet-look effect. Each panel was then tied together with tubes of orange Swarovski crystal mesh. It took 100 hours to do the embroidery, 80 hours to assemble the dress; it will take a lifetime to earn yourself the body required to pull it off. Versace called her collection “athletic couture”. Truly.Atelier Versace Couture, S/S 2016CHRISTIAN DIOROnce a metonym for couture at its most classic, Christian Dior did – or rather undid – something different this season. Undoneness was the mood in a collection produced by a studio minus a head designer, Simons having departed last October. This off-the-shoulder pinafore – layered over a black knitted silk top – summed up the deshabill, almost real-world feel. Let’s not get carried away, though. That dress took five people 140 hours to make. And that was even before they got going on the embroidery, which was inspired by lily of the valley, Monsieur Dior’s favourite flower. Quotidian it ain’t.Christian Dior Couture, S/S 2016Courtesy: The Sunday Times