PARIS –

The birds tweeted, not the fashionistas, the day Chanel whisked her haute couture guests into the calm of the Bois de Boulogne forest.

On Tuesday morning, teary-eyed VIPs walked on tons of white sand through the Etrier de Paris equestrian center on the leafy outskirts of Paris, past rows of spinning wheels and inflatable capsules as nature, fashion and the art.

The dreamscape had been created especially for fall-winter by artist Xavier Veilhan, who had adorned Chanel’s inner ring enclosure with a gigantic silver mobile. He had guests, including Marion Cotillard and Keira Knightley, gasp.

Haute couture is the old Parisian tradition of producing custom-made garments at exorbitant prices for the world’s richest women.

Here are some highlights of the fall-winter 2022 collections of the day:


THE SOFTNESS OF CHANEL

Giving a somewhat incongruous drum performance via video recording, Chanel ambassador Pharrell Williams enthusiastically kicked off proceedings before the actual show began, with soft music and even softer form.

Soft colours, lines and shapes, punctuated by moments of dazzling buttons, flowing feathers and large hats was the simple formula for Virginie Viard. The French designer was in a high fashion mood this season, letting the subtle twists speak for themselves.

A loose, pastel green skirt suit was opened, lined with painstakingly shimmering crystal buttons made by the world-renowned stalwart’s atelier. It led to fastidious embroideries and jacquards on loose coats in mottled mint and sand with often oversized or turned-up collars, laden with an ’80s vibe. Meanwhile, A-line coats with heavy booty, dropped waists and Bold pockets introduced subtle tensions, along with hems and fringes in contrasting patterns.

However, the best looks were those that kept it minimal. An olive green ruched dress with a clean strap across the bust that flared out at the bottom, in a clever take on a mermaid dress. He towed a perfect line between sporty and chic. There is an unsettling sense that Viard has been playing it safe, ever since he took over from Karl Lagerfeld, who died in 2019.


FIRST ROW

It has to be haute couture week when, to honk the horns of annoyed motorists in tangled traffic, paparazzi slide into the arena to snap a celebrity-list photo.

Keira Knightley, 37, arrived at the sprawling Chanel show to cause the biggest commotion. The actress, who has been an ambassador for the house since she was 21, arrived in a Chanel velvet and lace halter LBD dress, accessorized with sunglasses and accompanied by her husband, British musician James Righton.

Oscar-winning French actress Marion Cotillard wore a more casual ensemble, consisting of a striped Chanel shirt and a black micro miniskirt, interviews in decline. Actresses Sigourney Weaver, Clemence Poesy and Maggie Gyllenhaal also joined in, clapping vigorously as the designer walked out at the end.


ALEXIS MABILLE FLORES

French designer Alexis Mabille was in full fall form for a timeless couture collection that never forgot its whimsy.

Dresses draped in lush pastel silks caressed the body, shivering slightly as they were displayed on the dazzling indigo catwalk.

Flowers were never far from Mabille’s design universe, both literally and figuratively.

A pastel gray silk dress had a central curved slit at the knee, so that the hem cascaded in folds like a flower opening. Her upper bib was made of intricate white lace like the veins on a petal under a microscope.

Then came glimpses of whimsical fashion design, such as a huge silk flower headdress made of multitudes of glittering petals.


MEN’S CLOTHES RULE IN PARIS

Front-row fashion insiders comment on how Paris menswear week, which ran from June 21-26, felt just as lively as this week’s VIP-packed haute couture. And unusually so. Haute couture traditionally trumps menswear in terms of attention and celebrity presence. But could this be a thing of the past?

From Justin Timberlake to K-pop sensations BTS, the mere presence of celebrities in the spring summer 2023 menswear season was enough to rival this week’s haute couture. And that indicates higher than normal levels of attention in the glossy press and online.

This change in gear, or fashion leveling, comes as the portfolio of men’s luxury brands has overtaken women’s clothing in terms of growth overall, with more and more looks on the men’s runway.

Of particular interest is the proliferation of US menswear brands, now choosing to show themselves across the pond in Paris to capitalize on the attention. Following the ill-fated New York menswear week, launched in 2016 and later canceled due to a dwindling attendance, reports have pointed to how countless US-based houses like Thom Browne, Amiri, Greg Lauren, KidSuper and Rhude have chosen to display their designs in the City of Light.

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