Who could be surprised that in these difficult and even dangerous times, high fashion would shift to the exotic or the historic?

In the couture collections for summer 2020, there seems to be more memories of days of grace or a focus on distant places – even if the Balenciaga brand is moving forward by re-launching haute couture after half a century.

The high fashion season in Paris is jostling with names of small brands that are literally hands on, for the word “couture” seems now to evoke a fashion world of dreams.

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The ‘Grand Hubert’ revisited

“A love letter, a poem, my own letter to Hubert in its own sense, the idea of Vita and Virginia’s relationship, and how Vita built this garden around the emotions and the passions that she had and all these incredible garden rooms that brought so much feeling – I wanted to bring that in each of the dresses,” said Clare Waight Keller backstage, tumbling out words to express the evocative effect of a show where members of a mini-orchestra played tinkling Philip Glass while perched around the columns of the historic building.

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©Pascal Le Segretain

The designer made references to Hubert de Givenchy himself, who died in 2018, and the precise way he could swoop a vast hat above a graceful evening gown, the headwear dipping right down to the waist.

In contrast, there was the passion for gardening and the love affair between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf – all that expressed in gowns that seemed three dimensional in their puffy, lightweight layers.

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©Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

What did the designer mean by “love letter” to Hubert?

“Because I really went into the archive and looked at a lot of the different parts of the history from the very beginning,” explained Waight Keller. “The millinery shapes I found in the Fifties inspired the umbrella hats which bring the summer to life. And I used the cloche-shaped dresses, which brought the volume I have been working on for the past few seasons.

“I wanted to really amplify it up to the biggest scale,” she continued. “The beauty of the flowers comes through with the shots of colour – just like you see in the summer. It’s all the poetic kind of love statement that the garden was.”

The designer did this crisp romanticism so very well, each dress with the feather-light layers – not just in a predictable white, but also lavender, buttercup yellow, orange – and sometimes all that put together as if drumming up a wild passion and converting it into clothes.

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The show was not entirely grand – if airy – gowns, albeit they were the majority. The show opened with the curl-shaped, tailored jacket and then a coat, with the occasional slim pants or sharply waisted jacket to draw fantasy towards reality.

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©Getty Images/Peter White

There was emotion in the show, but none greater than the hugging backstage meeting of Valentino designer Pierpaolo Piccioli who, with his own couture show the next day, had come to support his friend.

Armani Privé: Ikat Forever

“A gesture of inclusion that has always belonged to me,” was Giorgio Armani’s take on his fashion passion this summer 2020 season. That was headed by Ikat – the dyeing technique that originated around Malaysia and the Far East, but has long since spread across the wider world.

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Surely, even in this combative era, no-one will scold Armani’s graceful and genteel use of the historical fabric technique as cultural appropriation?

It was rather a tribute that the designer, with his passion for islands, sea and boats, had made-to-travel in his fashion vision.

The slim-line shapes – perhaps a narrow pair of trousers made in Japanese Mikado silk – gave the show a refined casual look. But eyes were on the sweet but strong colours with flat flowers. The bold decoration was set off by small hats.

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Front row guests such as Reese Witherspoon and Juliette Binoche were just a sprinkling of those who will surely leap on the simple dresses, some quiet in colour, others vivid or even wild.

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©Bertrand Rindoff Petroff

But Armani has a self control that never allows him to go beyond his own boundaries of how he sees a woman. The slim cut traces the body shape and there are shoes to walk in.

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And this will surely be a collection that draws in the Armani Privé loyal private clients – whether they envisage a walk by the shores of Malaysia – or along the red carpets of the world.