PARIS (AP) — Thousands of hours of fastidious couture burst out onto the catwalks for Wednesday's dramatic Paris shows — including displays from Valentino, Elie Saab and Viktor & Rolf. The spring-summer 2014 collections provoked applause, gasps, cheers and generally so much enthusiasm that one fashion journalist even fell off the stage trying to speak to Jean Paul Gaultier. The Associated Press also caught up with a real life haute couture client who owns over 1,500 astronomically-priced gowns.
Here are the reports, tidbits and highlights from the day: DITA VON TEESE'S CAMEO Guests at the Jean Paul Gaultier show gasped when American burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese walked out for a cameo appearance at this haute couture show in a death-defying small corset.
The diminutive brunette's body looked distorted in the tight, laced blue green bodice that cinched even her tiny 22-inch waist. The corset flourished with a butterfly embellishment that Gaultier said was inspired by seeing mounted butterflies in a shop on a recent trip to London.
Gaultier is no stranger to corsets and became world famous for putting singer Madonna in one in 1990 as part of her "Blond Ambition Tour." VALENTINO'S ENCYCLOPEDIC COUTURE OPUS An incredible hand-painted set with butterflies and foliage met guests at Valentino's encyclopedic couture show, thanks a to collaboration with Rome Opera House.
Valentino can always be counted on to produce the most archetypally couture show of the season. Here, their army of indefatigable Italian seamstresses — the "petites mains" — spent sometimes up to 2,500 hours of embroidery time on just one garment. And it showed in the delicacy of the gowns.
Medieval images of fawns, mixed with youthful frothy tutus, silken cream Asian pajama suits, a bronze Celtic pattern and even a Grecian toga dress in alabaster white with an enviable cape attached to the sleeves.
If references were myriad, one thing held it all together: luxury. From dentelle lace, to natural tussah silk, feathers, pearls and crystals — this collection shimmered. ELIE SAAB IS FIT FOR A 50s PRINCESS
Elie Saab used the delicate colors of turn-of-the-century painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema as a starting point of his show. It pushed the Lebanese designer, who's better known for traditional red carpet traffic-stoppers, to produce an unusually subtle collection.
There were, of course, the predictable bread-and-butter cinched silhouettes. But the display achieved a rare mood which evoked the progression of day: From the blush pinks of dawn, the pure white of high noon, the purples of dusk, and then to resolution in midnight black.
There was also a nostalgia for yesteryear. Impressive crinolines appeared on several looks, all with the traditional couture embellishments, harking back to the styles the 1950s Hollywood actresses. Several looks would not have looked out of place on Grace Kelly.
Appropriately from the front row applauded Spanish actress Paz Vega, who stars in the upcoming biopic "Grace of Monaco." MEET A REAL LIFE COUTURE CLIENT Haute couture, the artisan-based method of making clothes that dates back over 150 years, is bought by a core group of no more than 100 rich women around the world for tens of thousands of dollars a piece.
One of these legendary women, Monaco-based Mouna Ayoub, sat in pride of place on the front row of the Jean Paul Gaultier show. She told The Associated Press she's bought over 1,500 couture gowns over 33 years.
"I wear haute couture every time I go out in public, I cannot stand ready-to-wear. Except when I go shopping where I wear jeans," she said. Houses such as Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Dior each possess special mannequins created with Ayoub's exact measurements to create the personalized, perfect fit.
JEAN PAUL GAULTIER'S BUTTERFLY EFFECT If the irreverent French designer was aiming for design transformations on Wednesday, after recent lukewarm show reviews, channeling chrysalises and butterflies was not it.
Gaultier always makes for one of the most exciting couture shows of the season— admired in equal measure for their celebrity appearances as for the endearing positive energy the designer personally exudes.
And here there was plenty of vibrancy: Butterfly sleeves, peaked shoulders, leather evening gloves, see-through lace pants, conical bras, feathers in the hair and a bride who looked like a showgirl. But the recurring imagery of butterflies — on large hats and shaped in organza dresses was sometimes overused, at times cluttering the otherwise beautiful silhouettes.
There were great ideas, like netting in skirts that evoked a butterfly catcher's net. The best looks, like one single orange coral butterfly blouse whose little organza ruffles seemed to flutter, were often the simplest.
VIKTOR&ROLF CREATE BALLETIC FASHION ILLUSION Dutch design duo Viktor&Rolf played clever visual tricks in the second outing of their relauched couture line. Models on pointe in ballet shoes, donned trompe l'oeil outfits that appeared three-dimensional, but were in fact flat.
Guests had to look twice at one look — it appeared to be a white lycra sports top and separate skirt below an exposed midriff. In reality, both pieces were part of the same single garment, that featured a trickster flesh colored stomach and arms.
Were they trying to say that ballet, a performance — like couture — is all artifice, where nothing can be trusted? It was a highly creative collection by Rolf Snoering and Viktor Horsting who already seem to be developing a unique, minimalist couture style.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP