Chanel, Dior, Givenchy: Luxe and excess in Fall 2012 haute couture

Paris was once again the center of attention at the start of July for the presentation of the Fall 2012 couture shows. To even use the name in France, a designer must be vetted thoroughly by the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris, which is how the elegant pocket industry has managed to stay relevant (albeit sometimes teetering on the brink of extinction in this commercially driven world.) And this season’s collections produced a steady offering of meticulous — and excessive by nature — pieces sure to be circulating throughout Europe, Asia and the tonier cities of South America.

Karl Lagerfeld‘s offering at the house of Chanel was a savvy mix of the label’s signature square-cut, 1940s-inspired tweed suits for women in soft hues of gray and petal pink. Lagerfeld was pushing for a more timeless quality in his designs. Gone was the pouty heiress apparent that has driven his recent collections. In her place was a woman in control of her life, with the medals of maturity dangling from her heck, effortlessly. Of course futuristic elements were included in the latter half of the presentation — flowing plants and a dress in metallic colors, along with a pink dress with mink pom-poms sporadically sewn onto the body, were bold statements indicative of our times, intended to render the moment perennially relevant. A sort of rebellion that only luxury can afford.

Riccardo Tisci was brave in his vision at Givenchy, presenting a hyper exhibition of technical mastery to his creations. Napa fringe dangling loose toward the ground was first intricately braided — di la campagna Italia — around the body evoking the classic gentry, preunification, of his native country, when Rome and Florence vied for dominance. This was juxtaposed with Hubert’s original accents, such as the modern feeling of column dresses with deft single pleats that opened into more private areas of the dress, alluding to a grander world just below the surface. Which any women can appreciate.

And at the storied house of Dior, Raf Simons managed to meet the expectations of everyone within the industry with his first showing both in haute couture and as the head of Christian Dior. Mr. Simons’ attraction to saturated colors paired with Dior’s original affinity for all things flora made for severely elegant presentation. The house’s signature crisp lines were there, but the proportions literally shrunken in a manner au courant. Dior’s famous ballgowns were miniaturized and worn over black cigarette pants, a witty pairing. Elsewhere the contemporary artist Sterling Ruby’s prints were interpreted on the body of evening gowns. And where couture is rarely a starting point for inexpensive trendy knockoffs — again, excess is its own protective wall — this presentation can’t help but shape the niche industry and whet the palette for Spring ’13 prêt-à-porter shows. It’s clear Mr. Raf has a lot to say at Dior.

This season’s exhibited looks are sure to translate into show-stopping moments for next season’s red-carpet fêtes and events. Let the good times stroll.