Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week: Atelier Versace spring/summer 2013
So, it turns out Britain is not the only European country that grinds to a halt following a few centimeters of snow. The main roads here in Paris are ankle-deep in plump white flakes. With Eurostar's schedules in shreds, planes grounded and taxis deserting the city, Donatella Versace could have been forgiven for postponing her show, which opened Paris couture week tonight. But this is fashion; it relishes a drama.
The icy setting certainly complemented the clothes, despite this nominally being a summer collection. Couture clients, spending most of their time on private jets, aren't overly concerned with the conventions of seasonal dressing. Hence the white mink coat, which, reworked with mirror, python and crystal embroidery, took 500 hours to construct.
Lest this is beginning to sound even the weenist bit Zhivago-esque, Versace fans can rest at ease: it was no more nostalgic than the normal Versace manifesto. Versace told me she had been inspired by Le Centorial, the glass, iron and steel domed building in the heart of Paris where she chose to stage the show in preference to the Paris Ritz, which is currently being refurbished.
The change of venue was no bad thing and provided a much more contemporary backdrop which reflected, literally, the mood of the collection. "I was totally taken with the way the fragility of the glass contrasted with the strength of that solid structure" she says.
It's not always easy making couture look modern, let alone relevant to anyone other than a Hollywood stylist looking to bag a haul of red carpet show-stoppers. But Versace's pinstripe suiting, threaded, like the denim pieces, with real gold looked sharp and, depending on your profession, business like, and the balance between the ethereal light fabrics and architectural shapes was well handled.
But 500 hours for a single jacket? That sounds museum-worthy rather than real fashion. Now that the lure of dressing celebrities for awards is beginning to pall ("I think red carpet dressing can be safe and a bit boring," says Versace, voicing what many designers have come to think, "I'm all for classy dressing but not classic dresses"), self-owned fashion museums have become the latest must-have for big brands.
But Versace insists there are no plans to open a Versace museum. "We keep one of every item for our archives, " she says, " but while I love museums, I prefer to see my clothes on living bodies".
Sales of recent couture collections, she reports, had surprised even her. "Originally when we re-launched couture just over a year ago, I thought selling it wasn't really the point. It was more about re-focusing on our DNA. But there is a luxury customer who is looking for the very best.
'Ultimately this isn't about red carpet or museums. It's about the 40 people who work full time in our atelier and it's about experimentation and most important of all, about keeping craft alive".