PARIS - It's a pretty wild idea--buying an ostentatious, sparkly dress or garish sequined trouser suit, or any other outlandish looking piece from a couture collection, some startlingly modern and abstract in their designs. Couturiers and their staff spend thousands of hours making these by-hand creations for very rich clients, including an increasing number of celebrities.
The Spring/Summer 2016 shows that wrapped Thursday in Paris are the showcase for the brightest, the best, and the most bizarre of them.
Once a demure French pastime, with names like Dior or Chanel or Armani (Italian) ruling the roost, they have now become more international in flair and ever more eccentric, with designers like Viktor & Rolf dreaming up the un-dreamable.
Their collection this week looked like walking cartoon characters cut from white origami paper. Some designs even covered the models' faces like a carnival costume.
Jean Paul Gaultier, who has now dedicated himself to the art of couture and given up ready-to-wear altogether, showed a 30-minute parade of glitzy hippy clubbers and twisted showmen outfits, designed for a bygone era of nightclub revelers, for his collection inspired by a famous Parisian night club that he would frequent during his heyday: it was like David Bowie meets Cabaret.
With the exception of Karl Lagerfeld with his lavish Chanel shows in the Grand Palais--for one recent catwalk, he created a Chanel supermarket--no one puts on a show quite like Gaultier.
The rule of thumb for most fashion shows is that they start 30 minutes late and don't last long, so a long parade is like watching a three hour film.
"These designers have so much energy. Can you imagine in the old days shows used to take 45 minutes each," sighed one reporter well into the Gaultier extravaganza, which included the usual collection of weird and wonderful models, both male, female and something other.
Ruling couture, there is an institution called the Couture Syndicate that decides who can be a part of the club that is so small that less than two dozen designers are on the official three-day calendar.
Thankfully, they have been adding fresh blood of late that includes hip young designers like Yiqing Yin and Bouchra Jarrar or Julien Fournié or Alexandre Vauthier, who likes sexy leather --young designers that are dedicated to turning tradition on its head.
Yin recently created a series of dresses inspired by moths that were made from a material used in car design, while Jarrar likes her wedding dress finales to be trouser suits! Some of Yin's dresses came decked in S&M ropes given a couture makeover. Elie Saab was inspired by India and combined rich, embroidered dresses with elaborate Maharaja trousers.
But the highlight of the new blood campaign has been the addition this season of the Chinese designer Guo Pei who landed one of the coveted couture slots after Rihanna wore one of her dresses to the Met Costume Ball.
It featured a giant canary yellow trail that looked like a lawnmower had run over a flock of birds and that someone had then picked up the feathers and stuck them all together.
In Paris, Pei sent out one full length coat that looked like a white big bird.
Adding to the fun and games in Paris were some of the oldest names in fashion, deciding to make a comeback on the couture scene. This includes Schiaparelli, the eccentric house that was revived a few seasons back, and draws on Elsa Schiaparelli's legacy of shocking pink, lobsters and weird hats, with stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Emmy Rossum recently wearing Schiap.
There was a shocking pink dress in the Paris show, and shocking red hairdos to top them off.
Azzaro closed couture week with a series of flyaway dresses for the old school: dresses and floor-length coats as light as a negligee. "These were inspired by geometric prints as seen through a kaleidoscope," the designers told The Daily Beast backstage.
Shortly after 11am on Thursday, the shows were done and the parade of often kitsch looking, absolutely unaffordable diamond designs that are so-called haute couture jewelry began.
Reporters, buyers and anyone left with zillions of dollars on their bank accounts, wandered through the gold pillared interiors that are home on Place Vendôme to the big jewelry houses like Chaumet and Boucheron.
Away from the frocks and jewelry, there was the work of hairdresser Charlie Le Mindu who designs what he calls haute coiffure: think artfully cut public hair and other anti-establishment and often erotic hair designs. As Le Mindu's designs show all too well, at Paris's couture shows anything goes.