THERE are different kinds of couture fans: those who want it to move with the times, embracing modernity à la Raf Simons at Dior; those who long for the theatrics and drama of Galliano’s heyday; and then there are those seated in the Grand Palais today for the third outing of British-based couture house Ralph & Russo. Aside from the odd journalist and just a smattering of red-carpet supporters (Cheryl Fernández-Versini and Dita Von Teese among them), the assembled crowd are not mere couture fans. They are clients.
As far as it could be from the usual concept of the fashion-week spectacle, the Ralph & Russo show takes couture back to its inception – with the women who actually buy the dresses we were about to see waiting eagerly for their debut, some actually texting designer Tamara Ralph to to ensure that the one per territory that the brand allows will not end up in the wardrobe of a rival princess or Russian heiress.
This season, they were spoilt for choice, as hit after red-carpet hit took its moment in the spotlight. The pervading theme of delicate pastel florals – seen already this week at Valentino and Chanel among others – manifested itself in the palette, as gentle as Monet’s, as well as in petal-light tulles and faded-edge silks.
The house’s London atelier proved once and for all that there is no skill deficit in the city, with embroidery as heavy and ornate as a medieval pageantry ably rivalling anything else seen at couture this week.
Several Ralph & Russo signatures were at play again – a fluttering silk train flowing from an off-the-shoulder gown; a stiff folded cape tucked into a mini hem like the shell of a tiny delicate bug; silken roses on shoulders and hips; a sculpted New Look-inspired dress, a move-on from last season’s beaded opener – but the real novelty here was a feeling of surprising lightness.
Dresses had a clever “I don’t quite understand how they’ve done that” aspect to them: floating shoulders, hooped hems and sheer inserts creating the body shape you wish you had – and even Ralph herself eschewed her usual beaded pencil dress for a flower-fairy number – albeit in black with towering heels. Pin-pleated tulle in cornflower blue cavorted alongside punchy parma violet and succulent peach silks like a box of Turkish Delight – each one more edible than the next – and every model floated, wood-nymph-like, in the creations. The label’s fans – from Cheryl, Beyoncé and Angelina to the international clients gathered at the Grand Palais – will have no problem choosing a favourite from this, the strongest Ralph & Russo collection to date. In fact, it might be hard to choose just one.
And that’s thing about couture. For all its beauty and otherworldly whimsy, it has to offer dresses that women – who, granted, aren’t exactly like most women you might know – want to wear in their lives. And the ying and yang duo – creative Ralph and visionary CEO Russo – might just have hit on the formula to move the business of couture forward. Is it as revolutionary as Raf or theatrical as Galliano? No. But would you remortgage your house to be the world’s most beautiful flower fairy for just one night? Yes, I think you probably would.