Karl Lagerfeld brought Chanel’s atelier to the runway this year.

When Americans were gearing up for the 4th of July, fashion’s elite were packing for a different kind of fireworks – the show-stopping clothing of Paris Haute Couture week. From July 3rd to 7th, thanks to designers like Givenchy, Chanel, and Valentino, Paris was cloaked in a flurry of ruffles and an avalanche of embellishments. While haute couture is usually known for its fantastical elements several designers showed presentations grounded in reality, with the focus on the clothes themselves and the people who create them.

Vetements Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2016/17

Although Juicy Couture’s name would seem to denote high fashion status, no one would ever expect to see the brand’s signature velour on an actual couture runway but that’s what happened on the first day of the week, thanks to Demna Gvasalia and his brother Guram. For the first time the Gvasalia siblings showed Vetements during couture week and they brought 18 other designers with them, sticking true to the label’s signature move of pushing subversive street wear on to the runway. Collaborations with Juicy, Levi’s, Commes de Garcons, Dr. Martens, Manolo Blahnik and more meant that looks were mainstream in name but couture in originality.

Dior Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2016/17

On Monday Lucie Meir and Serge Ruffieux had all eyes watching as they debuted another Dior season, post-Raf Simons. Dior’s original 1947 New Look Bar jacket was the jump-off point for the clothes and the two designers kept things low key with a classy black and white collection of elegantly understated gowns and two-piece ensembles with a punch of paisley prints and embellishments thrown in for good measure. Keep watch on the historic house – it is rumored that a new artistic director will soon be revealed.

Givenchy Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2016/17

Over at Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci is breaking all the rules this season. He showed his haute couture collection on the runway with menswear at Paris Men’s Fashion Week and then shot looks post-show on supermodels like Kendall Jenner and Natalia Vodianova. During couture week he showed the made-to-measure garments again but this time on dress forms at Givenchy headquarters. Lucky visitors got to view the impeccable clothes up close and personal. Although Tisci only showed 13 looks, mirror embellishments, sophisticated ruffles, menswear inspired evening gowns, and a crisp black, white, and olive green color palette made the clothes just as intriguing as a giant collection.

Chanel Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2016/17

On Tuesday, May 5th, Karl Lagerfeld took the Chanel audience behind the scenes for his haute couture collection for the house. Chanel’s sets are usually dreamy in nature but for this season, the backdrop reflected every day life, to great effect. For the show, Lagerfeld’s team brought in a fully working couture studio, complete with Chanel’s actual “petit mains,” the artisan sewers and tailors who make the couture collections happen. The garments themselves were also true testaments to craftsmanship, the usual Chanel tweeds in pale pinks, greys, and blacks were topped off with angular shoulders and next-level jewel embellishments. In a modern twist, the usual finale bridal look consisted of pants and a feather cape worthy of a 1940s screen siren.

Maison Margiela Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2016/17

On Wednesday, John Galliano turned show-goers’ worlds upside down on the Margiela runway. Primary colors punctuated sweaters and outerwear that were worn bottom to top – with sleeves swinging by the knees. Transparent sea foam and turquoise mesh lent under-the-sea vibes to some looks. Layers, and lots of them, seemed to be the only rule of the multi-faceted collection

Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2016/17

For his latest collection, Jean Paul Gaultier headed straight for the trees. Brown woodgrain print made an appearance on bodysuits, coats, leggings, and evening gowns. Later in the show, leafy greens crept in accompanied by fur and feather halo-esque bonnets. Plaids also made an appearance, bringing to mind the world’s most stylist lumberjacks.

Valentino Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2016/17

Valentino closed out the week with a fantastic finale. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli sent out a collection in the classic palette- white, black, and dramatic pops of the famed designer’s signature red. From the Renaissance-inspired hair and ruffled collars to flat black riding boots, looks channeled a modern Shakespeare theme from head to toe. The soundtrack even included a song from Romeo + Juliet, Baz Luhrmann’s much loved 90’s film version of the classic play. Although there were a number of trousers on the runway, the showstoppers were the gowns which ran the gamut from lighter chiffons to heavy taffetas and seductive leather. In a true example of haute couture, one particular floor length dress took more than 100 hours to paint with unicorn, birds, and ornamental flowers.

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