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Dior’s Mount Olympus: A sporty couture homage to the Paris Games

Designer Thom Browne, centre, poses with models backstage at the Thom Browne Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2024-2025 collection presented Monday, June 24, 2024 in Paris. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

PARIS (AP) — Dior staged an homage to sport on the eve of the Paris Olympics on the grounds of the Musée Rodin on the first day of Paris Couture Week on Monday.

The show let the sumptuous, lightweight silks — georgette, taffeta, tulle, and sporty jersey — speak for themselves, draped elegantly over the body.

Here are some highlights of the fall-winter 2024 collections:

Athletes old and new

The walls were lined with mesmeric artworks in eye-popping color of sports players and athletes by artist Faith Ringgold, who died in April. Designer Maria Grazia Chiuri used fall’s couture as a stage “to pay a fitting tribute to all athletes … from antiquity to the present day.”

On the runway, Grecian-style draping evoked the original Olympics. The nod to antiquity echoed the Italian designer’s penchant for historical influences.

Jersey fabric, an unconventional couture material, was handled poetically. It cascaded down the model’s body in loose, fluttery segments, with a twin leather belt to define the waist.

Mosaic embroidery on skin-tight tank tops added a contemporary twist, seeming to sculpt the bust. Sandals adorned with pearls sported crisscross straps up the leg.

The nicest looks were the simplest. An ecru lightweight wool gown seemed like a single whoosh of fabric, hanging whimsically and loosely from the shoulders. It had an unexpected cowl back. This simplicity with an element of surprise is quintessential Chiuri, who has said she often finds elegance in restraint.

Venus Williams marveled and applauded from the front row.

Schiaparelli’s phoenix rises

Couture Week kicked off with a bang at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild. Kylie Jenner, veiled and striking in a pink ribbed hourglass Schiaparelli bustier, caused a media frenzy. Doja Cat appeared in a coat with pronounced shoulders, while “Emily in Paris” star Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu added to the star-studded front row. Guests were enveloped in an intimate black box-like setting adorned with nostalgic chandeliers.

On the runway, designer Daniel Roseberry unveiled fall silhouettes inspired by the legendary phoenix. The bird and rebirth theme was inspired by Schiaparelli’s homage to ballerina Anna Pavlova, symbolized by a coq feather stole she once wore. The couture was executed with theatrical flair.

The show opened with a breathtaking phoenix gown featuring 3D chrome trompe l’oeil feathered wings over a black ensemble, paired with silver eggshell earrings. This set the tone for a collection defined by technical skill.

Phoenix motifs appeared throughout. Gowns of washed silk and wool crepe bustier dresses featured phoenix-wing shoulders and plunging necklines. Models, heads wrapped in transparent crepe, engaged the audience with direct eye contact, creating a commanding presence.

Standout pieces included a bustier dress of moving circles, creating a mesmerizing effect, and a cocoon-shaped jumpsuit of faux horsehair and sequins mimicking zebra skin. These designs were accompanied by a haunting soundtrack featuring Nina Simone’s “Plain Gold Ring.”

Roseberry’s exploration of Schiaparelli’s relationship with women — emphasizing their power to reinvent themselves — was clear. “The context of this collection, which honors Elsa’s singular gift for rebirth, is second only to its form,” he said.

Reflecting on the bond between fashion and wearers, Roseberry remarked: “People don’t buy Schiaparelli; they collect it.” This sentiment resonated throughout the collection, offering garments that were not merely fashion statements but pieces of history and art meant to be treasured.

Van Herpen breaks the mold

Iris van Herpen presented her couture as sculptures in what the house called a “profound shift” in the Dutch designer’s trajectory.

“For a long time I’ve been working on expanding people’s perception of how fashion and art can be symbiotic,” van Herpen said. She compared her techniques in couture, such as draping directly on the mannequin, to sculpting.

“Even though we call one practice ‘haute couture’ and the other ‘art,’ to me, it’s one universe,” she said.

Van Herpen unveiled her collection amid her new large-scale, monumental pieces at a “hybrid" show. They were crafted with innovative techniques on tulle surfaces and suspended via steel tubes.

While preparing her retrospective in Paris' Musée des Arts Décoratifs that recently closed, van Herpen realized a longstanding ambition to delve into sculpture and painting. Her new works, developed over a year, reconnect with nature and the freedom of slowing down. Her move to a tranquil residence outside Amsterdam fostered this idea.

“The little transformations that happen every day fiercely inspire me,” she said.

The fall couture dovetailed with similar themes. Gravity-defying, slowed-down silhouettes and ethereal draping embraced the couturier’s signature three-dimensional printing and silk folding. The Umwelt and Aeromorphosis gowns featured a gradient of pearls mimicking cyclonic sculptures, while the transparent Ataraxy dress, sculpted with a heat gun, captured the sense of floating away. They held a Renaissance-like feel.

Honoring Japanese craftsmanship, the Sensorium dress was crafted from obi fabric, which evoked a sense of spirituality and peace.

Froth, flowers and illusions at Valli

Froth, flowers, and more than meets the eye — that’s the signature of Giambattista Valli, the master of couture illusions. Known for his sumptuous off-kilter silhouettes, the Italian designer once again delivered one of the most highly anticipated shows of the Paris couture calendar.

His collections often merge Italian ebullience with Parisian flirty nonchalance, creating a distinct yet harmonious blend.

A pink silk gown that might have seemed classical was given a contemporary lift, with unexpected segments pulled up in an avant-garde twist. Adding to the visual spectacle, the model’s face was painted blue, evoking an ethereal, otherworldly Eastern aura reminiscent of Valli’s penchant for blending classicism with modernity.

His mastery in creating weightless volumes and intricate draping was evident throughout. A lilac bridal dress showcased his signature florals, with petals falling down the tulle haphazardly, mimicking the natural shedding of a dying flower — a poetic nod to nature’s fleeting beauty.

Another veiled bridal look featured an acid gold frothing beam around the bust, a statement piece that combined Valli’s love for volume and fashion-forward color clashes.

Thomas Adamson, The Associated Press

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