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The most spectacular looks from Haute Couture Week AW23

07 Jul 2023 | |By Zoe Gunn

Grab your heels and warn your bank manager – the most fabulous week in fashion is back

If you have even a passing interest in fashion, we don’t need to introduce you to the fantasy that is Haute Couture Week. Taking place in Paris in January and July each year, couture week is the time when a clutch of fashion houses deemed worthy by the French Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode present the absolute epitome of what clothing design and construction can be.

To qualify for prestigious ‘on schedule’ status strict rules must be followed: there must be a minimum of 35 looks in each collection and they must be made by a Parisian atelier employing no fewer than 15 full-time staff. Post-show, the pieces must be made-to-order for private clients with every customer granted at least one fitting per item. A trip to your local Zara this is not.

Accordingly, the craftsmanship, man-hours and skill required to create couture clothing is so great that many consider them to blur the line between traditional clothing and works of art (buoyed, one suspects, by price tags that can easily reach into the hundreds of thousands).

It is also for this reason that many designers, with the notable exception of Celine, which cancelled its Paris SS24 men’s show the day before Haute Couture Week began, chose to plow ahead with their runways despite a backdrop of protests in the city. Sparked after police shot and killed 17-year-old Nahël Merzouk during a traffic stop, more than 700 protestors were arrested in the days leading up to couture week, with cars, shops and government buildings raided and in some cases set alight.

dior haute couture aw23
Image: Dior/Laura Sciacovelli

While Celine creative director Hedi Slimane posted a statement on Instagram saying, “From my point of view alone, a fashion show in Paris at a time when France and its capital are bereaved and bruised seemed inconsiderate and totally out of place”, none of the couture houses took the same action. While Courrèges and Chloé, neither of which were scheduled to show at couture week, called off parties in the city, whether because of the huge sums of money and hours of work that go into putting together a couture show or simply, as some have suggested, due to the polarisation of French society, it was very much business as usual at couture week.

However you believe brands should have handled the situation, it’s hard to deny that attendees didn’t once again pull out all the stops with some truly spectacular collections. From hotly-anticipated debuts to high-fashion drama from reliable favourites, here are the looks to know from Haute Couture Week 2023.

Thom Browne

Due to the stringent rules applied to haute couture houses, it isn’t too often a new brand joins their ranks – so when American fashion darling Thom Browne announced it would be making its couture debut for AW23, it was big news. Held at the Palais Garnier, home to the Paris Opera, guests were seated onstage, with the theatre’s curtain lifted to reveal an audience of 2,000 cardboard onlookers dressed in signature Thom Browne grey.

The show itself was styled as a hyper-glamorous train station with 'passengers' stalking through the crowds in 50 shades of grey (and gold). As expected, tailoring featured heavily, with trompe l’oeil tweed suits and hand-embroidered jackets sporting scenes of far-flung destinations complemented by the exaggerated silhouettes and surrealist elements for which Thom Browne’s ready-to-wear has become known. In essence, this was Thom Browne but so much more – and, when it comes to couture, isn’t that the brief?



Another American that goes in for more than a touch of surrealism, Daniel Roseberry’s reinvigorated Schiaparelli has become one of the most exciting names on the couture circuit. After last season’s much-hyped show, in which Roseberry attached fake animal heads to gowns and coats, for AW23 he looked to eponymous designer Elsa Schiaparelli and her long-standing connection to the art world for inspiration.

Weaved throughout the collection were direct nods to specific artists: the distinctive brushwork of Lucian Freud on a silk body stocking, detailing in Yves Klein blue, leather cigarette boxes fringing a ball skirt in homage to Sarah Lucas. Most notable were the references to Salvador Dalí – a long-standing friend of Elsa Schiaparelli – whose surrealist sunrises informed degradé colour palettes throughout the collection. Look closely and you’ll also spot Dalí-style ears, lips and faces sprouting from bags, jewellery and accessories. Another tour de force from Mr Roseberry.



Getting married this year? Dior began its AW23 couture collection with a parade of no fewer than 17 all-white looks so, if your pockets are deep enough, there’s plenty here to inspire. In fact, across a collection that spanned 65 looks, Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri was never once tempted to stray beyond a palette of neutrals, blacks and whites. The fact that the show never once felt repetitive is sheer testament to her skill as a designer.

Inspired by the core silhouettes and shapes that underpin fashion as we know it – the tunic, the cape, the shirt – models were dressed as if divine goddesses of antiquity. Accordingly, floor-length column gowns were paired with flat sandals while pleats and draping paid tribute to the work of Dior’s petit mains. Tailoring was loose, merely hinting at the structure supporting it, and embellishment came in the form of golden rivets, floral appliqué and shimmering metallic embroidery. If you’ve been a fan of MGC’s tenure at Dior to date, you’ll find much to love here.



It was party time over at Fendi, where creative director Kim Jones presented a collection of dancefloor-ready pieces taking their cues from the work of Delfina Delettrez Fendi, artistic director of jewellery for the house. Also highlighting the core couture elements of fluidity, drape and shape (the show notes stated that many pieces in the collection featured only a single seam), the line reflected the skill and technical mastery also required to make great fine jewellery – where exceptional work is denoted by the absence of any evidence of its creator.

Among the highlights of the collection were a translucent corseted gown scattered with a constellation of diamond-like embellishments and a rainbow of textured dresses and coats crafted in fabrics running the gamut from tailored neoprene to feathered shearling. Accessories also took centre stage, with pieces from Fendi’s fine- and high-jewellery lines complemented by a series of minaudière bags fashioned as jewellery boxes in a rich palette of sapphire, ruby, gold and emerald.


Armani Privé

Mr Armani, as the fashion set respectfully refers to him, turns 89 next week. It’s not an age at which you'd expect a person to be working at all, let alone turning out a 67-piece collection of refined, elegant high fashion that will undoubtedly give Armani Privé’s loyal clients much to dip into their wallets for.

The theme here was roses in all their glory, from delicate floral trims all the way up to big, blousy organza blooms. Silhouettes were classic and minimal – Armani is not a brand to which you turn for attention-grabbing volume – with embellishment and luxe fabrics doing the heavy lifting. In many ways a quieter, more wearable collection, than those detailed above, Mr Armani has once again demonstrated the ability to navigate the fine line between artistry and commercial viability that has been key to his longevity.



If there’s anything that is the absolute antithesis of haute couture it’s a humble pair of jeans. The ultimate everyman garment, denim is about as far from the elitist, rarified world of couture as it’s possible to get. So, for Pierpaolo Piccioli to open Valentino’s AW23 couture show by sending Kaia Gerber down the runway in a white shirt and pair of customised vintage Levi’s 501 XX Big E jeans was quite the statement.

It’s a gamble that paid off. Staged in the gardens of the majestic Château de Chantilly, and inspired by the history and the humanity of the lives lived within such palaces, this jeans-and-white-shirt combo proved to be a jumping-off point for a collection brimming with unexpectedly beautiful colour combinations (neon orange and grey, sky blue and chartreuse), contemporary regal touches (an ermine fur-style feather stole and chainmail-esque liquid silver trousers) and outsized finishing touches (enormous chandelier earrings and two-foot-tall feather tiaras). Proof of the quality on display? Not even Florence Pugh, who used the occasion to debut a new pastel pink buzzcut, could pull focus from the runway.


Elie Saab

If your idea of perfect couture fashion is fairytale gowns fit for mythical queens and princesses, then Elie Saab delivered in spades this season. Inspired not directly by royalty of yore, but instead by the Hollywood stars who have played them on screen, Saab’s show notes namechecked Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth, Angelina Jolie in Maleficent and Marion Cotillard in Macbeth as among his muses.

The influence is clear to see. This is the Tudors with the glamour turned up to 11; Marie Antoinette meets the Kardashians; Bridgerton but make it fashion. In fact, such a visual feast was Saab’s collection that it’s practically impossible to pull out any single standout pieces – each could have been the grand finale gown. Look at this silky periwinkle blue embroidered suit complete with flowing floor-length jacket. Oh, but here come the exaggerated shoulders of a Games of Thrones-style velvet cape worn over a sheer gown hewn top-to-toe with gold embroidery. But, hang on, what about this feather-strewn gown rendered entirely in nude mesh and a spray of pink crystal? Saab’s clients have some serious champagne problems on their hands…


Stéphane Rolland

Also held at the Palais Garnier, this time with models adorning the opera house’s majestic staircase, Stéphane Rolland’s AW23 couture collection was teeming with gowns fit for a diva. Indeed, the collection was inspired by Maria Callas’ legendary 1958 concert at the Palais Garnier, an event so big that it became one of the first concerts to be broadcast on television.

Callas’ set list that night featured classics from the great Italian operas, including Norma, Il Travatore and Tosca, leading Rolland to create a collection reflecting the full span of operatic heroines, from tragic figures to fierce leading ladies. Dramatic sculptural hardware, thick velvets and even a chainmail-style crystal hood spoke to a Wagnerian toughness, while the righteous anger of Medea was expressed in a hooded scarlet gown. Elsewhere, Tosca’s Roman setting found form in draped toga-style gowns and golden olive tree embroidery. And, for the show-stopping final act? Norma, the archetypal operatic figure willing to make the final sacrifice, was depicted as two women: first, the defiant yet vulnerable Gaia enveloped in a giant acanthus bloom, and then, pure, virginal and innocent swathed in pristine white muslin. Pure theatre.


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