PARIS - Haute couture, fashion's most luxurious appellation, can only ever come from Paris.
One thing couture week's third and final day proved, however, is that despite these geographical limits, Paris punches high above its weight creatively, attracting designers the world over and evoking every culture under the sun.
Italian house Valentino flew in its small army of artisan seamstresses to Paris for their spring-summer 2013 show Wednesday, which had guests awestruck in its glistening Renaissance-style embroideries and delicate lace.
Chinese-French Yiqing Yin put on a decorative, constructed display channeling Russian architect Naum Gabo.
Lebanese designer Elie Saab put on a typically fairy tale-like collection with 19th century crinolines. Meanwhile, couture's enfant terrible Jean Paul Gaultier travelled to Rajasthan to produce a gypsy-infused homage to India.
Such cultural infusions are all part and parcel of the famed artisan-based method of making clothes that dates back over a century.
Delicacy, nature, architecture and timeless, effortless beauty.
Those words describe one of the most sumptuous displays seen this season — courtesy of Valentino.
Designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, and their indefatigable Italian seamstresses, surpassed even themselves Wednesday perfecting the delicate Valentino silhouette by subtly softening it and exposing more of the neck. The designers said they were inspired by a garden.
A garden gate was evoked in the first gown, in tulle, with soft swirls of red piping. It appeared simple, but was achieved with 220 metres of silk around fibers of wool.
And there were beautiful plays in dimension — such as a dress in magnolia wool and crepe, hung with a curved square bottom. It captured the voluminous, yet flat dimension of a Renaissance painting.
"This year we wanted to surprise," said Piccioli. "Not only everyone else, but ourselves first."
And they did.
JEAN PAUL GAULTIER
Did the Pondicherry landscape in "Life of Pi" inspire Jean Paul Gaultier's latest Indian-themed collection?
Whatever the reason, the one shoulder sari-styles, scarves and silk "shalwar" pants all made for a fun, endearing display. Guests even chuckled to Edith Piaf's "La vie en rose" in Hindi.
There were some vibrant East-meets-West looks. One European Spencer jacket came in paprika-colored shantung with a skirt, over a cumin-colored muslin dress — evoking Indian-style layering. Still, the exuberance translated a little too much into the clothes.
Gaucho-style fringing mixed with Madonna-style "Blonde Ambition" corsets, gypsy detailing, seventies disco, and even a look from the 1950s. Only a master like Gaultier can pull off something this eclectic, but sometimes, even for him, too many spices can spoil the couture broth.
Elie Saab's couture never ventures far beyond his safe signature: fitted high-waists and long feminine gowns in powdery sumptuous silk that are always well-cut.
There were no surprises here.
This season's theme, "an ode to delicateness," saw the Lebanese-born designer explore transparencies in lace and tulle in ivory, pink and light blue.
There is always something of the slightly twee fairy story princess that infiltrates Saab's collections. Here, this was done more creatively in otherworldly black crinolines in the latter part of the show.
Instead of conjuring up Snow White, they had a great feel of a glamorous wicked witch.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP