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Sober times at the haute couture

Times are tough, and Paris haute couture week reflected that

Chanel suitHaving had a look at the major collections from Paris haute couture week, I would say the general feeling is sobriety.

Orange Dior suitFrom every designer, the palette was dark - black, navy and grey for the most part - though there were splashes of other colours (at Dior, take your pick from acid green, acid yellow, acid pink, acid orange...Dior is clearly the only house where anyone's having any fun). 

The fashions were also buttoned up and protective - not snuggly protective, but more like armour. Corsets, basques, double-breasted jackets, heavily constructed skirts, leather trenchcoats. This is a definite sign of the times - clothing for getting caught in the rain or standing in the dole queue. There was little that looked positive or optimistic.

Gaultier jacketAlong with the distinctly military-style wear seen at Wimbledon (trenchcoats on Serena, full quasi-naval uniform for Federer), this is a worrying trend. You tend to get it when the right-wing is on the rise, as seen in about 1938, before the First World War and during the Napoleonic wars. Arm for war and war will follow. The only thing that makes me less worried is that these fashions also offer the distinctively feminine post-war New Look design of skirt. 

There was also a whiff of 1950s glamour about most of the collections - a serious, sober, grown-up era - and conversely the early 70s with a rather Muir-ish Biba-eyed smoky decadent look, particularly the tight head wraps at Lacroix. At Gaultier, we were back in the 60s, with Bardot beehives, but his collection in general was a bit of a mess, as were several others, including Valentino and Chanel. Whatever the decade, with the future uncertain, designers were clearly taking refuge in the past. 

LacroixPerhaps the best collection was what may prove to be a swansong - Lacroix's. Once again he is facing bankruptcy, but pulled a rabbit out of a hat with a collection which was sober, restrained and perfectly cut rather than his usual flower-festival style of clashing colours and patterns. (For those who have never seen his flamboyant haute couture style in the flesh though, it is unbelievably beautiful in close-up - much more so than you would ever guess from a picture.) In his new restrained mood, I absolutely love this black dress with its three different fabrics and subtle pattern. It also shows one of the signature shoulder treatments of all the collections: if you want to update your little black cocktail dress this year, an ample chiffon wrap tied around and secured with a pin will be much more on-trend than a shrug.  

Armani jacketFor me, the main garment that really stood out in every collection was the jacket. You could probably update your whole wardrobe this winter with just one new jacket - look for something with a bit of neckline interest, which is very flattering for women over 40. 

In the main these jackets seemed designed to shield the wearer from the elements - structured rather than flimsy, and glamourously practical, with proper buttons and often high necklines. Distinctly waisted, too, and soemtimes with a peplum. A peplum is a useful disguise if your waist is thickening, btw, as it introduces a shape you haven't got. 

Pink dior jacketHowever, at Dior, always an exaggerated show, Galliano morphed the peplums into full-on version of New Look on steroids, wth padded hips, tiny waists, basques and corsets galore. (He also sent his models down the runway half-dressed, though this need not concern us.) What it does show, though, is a definite return to a tight-waisted silhouette after a decade and a half of a longer, more elongated silhouette. 

Armani pantsuitIt remains to be seen whether the fashion industry can foist this on us. It is good news for me - this style suits me and I have many vintage jackets in this style - but it isn't for most women, who are generally more flattered by an elongated shape than an hourglass one. Many women will greet it with dismay.

For a small-busted British pear with no belly fat, it's a good shape - the wider shoulders balance the silhouette and give you a figure you haven't got. But apple-shaped or oblong women, beware. Your best bet is to hope that those Armani pantsuits with a longer, narrower jacket hit the shops in watered-down and more affordable guise. 

For hundreds more photos and reviews of all the collections, visit Style.com

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