British designers kicked up a storm Wednesday at Paris haute couture week with highly-praised shows from Givenchy's Clare Waight Keller and John Galliano at Maison Margiela.
Waight Keller made a flawless haute couture debut late Tuesday with critics swooning over her moonlit sonata in black and white. And Galliano, who showed his first Margiela men's collection last week since his fall from grace after a drunken anti-Semitic rant in a Paris bar in 2011, gave his fans something to shout about on Wednesday morning.
Fashion critic Emma Hope Allwood of Dazed and Confused magazine said his eye-poppingly futurist new look, using shot fabric to catch the flashbulbs, was a triumph. "Actually almost crying at how good Margiela was," she tweeted. "What a privilege to witness!" Italian i-D magazine hailed the return of "a great genius".
The former Dior supremo showed his clothes under ultra violet lights to better display their shimmering fluorescence, with silk and satin combined with Mylar. These were dresses designed to literally light up the red carpet, with Galliano saying the idea is that they will be "transformed by the flash of a camera to create a new glamour."
London Evening Standard critic Emma McCarthy said the "effect, which could only be seen via the audience's iPhone screens, and was not visible to the naked eye on the catwalk, could be perceived as a comment on the illusion of social media and the alternative reality a snap-happy society can present to the world."
Galliano knows all about being caught in the glare of the spotlight. Once fashion's favourite extrovert, he has largely withdrawn from view since his disgrace, embarking on a extended public penance.
The designer commissioned American artist Jessi Reaves to make the backdrop for his set, with many guests also sitting on his banks of deconstructed furniture -- a nod to Galliano and Margiela's genius for recutting classics.
Waight Keller, who quit Chloe in March, had an equally ecstatic reaction to her debut at Givenchy. The 47-year-old had never before tackled a haute couture collection -- the handmade pinnacle of the fashion pyramid.
But hers was both a daring and crowd-pleasing first bow, with a run of highly romantic dresses, mostly in black and white, on a set which evoked a moonlit garden. The New York Times' Vanessa Friedman called the show "dreamy". "It was really good... a study in sophistication," she tweeted, proclaiming one shimmering layered silvery creation as "definitely an Oscars dress".
The designer's big innovation, however, was bringing men to the haute couture catwalk for the first time at Givenchy. Of the big labels, only Dolce & Gabbana has ever previously presented men's haute couture.
The rocky romanticism of Waight Keller's male creations was a clear grab for a high-end market that is dominated by the bespoke tailors of Milan and London's Saville Row. Waight Keller, who made her name by turning Pringle of Scotland from a rather staid knitwear maker into a fashion brand, had a lot to live up to.
Outgoing Italian creator Riccardo Tisci transformed the brand long associated with Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy both financially and stylistically in his 12 years at the helm. His edgy, gothic look brought a long line of stars to the label including Beyonce, Madonna and Kim Kardashian.
Reactions to the Giorgio Armani Prive show, which brought French stars Marion Cotillard, Isabelle Huppert and German actress Diane Kruger to the front row, were decidedly more mixed, however. The veteran designer's "evening shorts" and crystal leggings got short shrift from some critics, as did another creation which Friedman described as "paillette-covered bloomers”.
Lebanese designer Elie Saab delivered another lesson in Oriental chic while the Russian-Israeli Galia Lahav had an empowerment message for trophy wives with her shiny black and silvery cocktail sheaths: "Don't call me Sugar." The haute couture shows -- which are unique to the French capital -- are the creme de la creme of fashion with sometimes thousands of hours going into the handmade dresses that can be afforded only by the richest women on the planet.