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The Most Over The Top Moments From Couture History

Paris is burning from the haute haute heat of couture week and to celebrate, we’re taking a look back at the five most over the top moments from couture history. From Yves Saint Laurent’s revolutionary Russian ballerinas to Mugler’s nineties mega-mutants, here’s a crash course in the collections that have shaped the fashion universe.

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Text Emily Manning

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  • YSL’s 76 Ballets Russes

    Yves Saint Laurent was undoubtedly the OG badass of couture. Taking over the house of Christian Dior from Monsieur himself at the ripe age of 21, Yves shook up the stodgy institution of couture by breaking out of its ultra-exclusive mold. First injecting the salon with a shot of the counterculture in 57, Yves’ diverse and dynamic couture collections would later prove him an expert of appropriation, elevating African breastplates and the souks of Marrakech to the realm of high fashion. Inspired by Léon Bakst’s early-20th-century costumes for the Ballets Russes, his 76 Russian Collection is one of the most renowned individual collections in fashion history. A celebration of ornamentation, opulence, colour, culture, and movement, this collection proved that elegant excess comes in many exotic flavours.

  • Foret de Karl at Chanel 2013

    Although Chanel’s couture collections aren’t themselves the most outlandish, the house’s sets are always as jaw-dropping as they come. You needn’t travel back in time further than Printemps-Ete 13, where Karl Lagerfeld literally created a forest, to catch our drift. The Kaiser’s collection sought to evoke airs of eighteenth century German Romanticism, and did so in perhaps the most visceral way possible: shipping an entire woodland wonderland into the Grand Palais. Tree by tree.

  • Thierry Mugler’s 97/98 Mutant Moment

    The French renegade’s penchant for exaggerated shoulders and extreme cinched waists came to define 80s fashion as a hypersexual power play. Whether inspired by butterflies or bionics, Mugler’s women were best brought to life on his increasingly imaginative runways, his theatricality paving the way for fellow couture giants Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. Stating in 94, “I don’t believe in natural fashion. Let’s go for it! The corset. The push-up bra. Everything! If we do it, let’s do the whole number,” Mugler’s autumn/winter 97 couture collection kept that promise. Emerging from an ominous field of indigo smoke, the collection’s final “Chimera Gown” looks as if Mugler smashed every Godzilla creature together and sent it through the chicest car wash in the universe. Some people are ahead of their time; Mugler is ahead of his species.

  • Malice in Wonderland for Christian Dior 06/07

    If Yves Saint Laurent’s subversive spirit rocketed Dior through the turbulent twentieth century, John Galliano shot it into the new millennium. Following his stint at Givenchy in 95 - an appointment that made him the first British designer to head a French haute couture house in history - the Gibraltar-born button-pusher took his irreverent breed of larger-than-life theatricality to the house that Dior built. Galliano’s autumn/winter 06 collection is all things malice in wonderland, a garden party with the volume cranked to 13. Colliding Renaissance with punk rock against a lush but menacing botanical backdrop, Galliano’s girl looks as if she couldn’t decide between going as Joan of Arc, the Queen of Hearts, or Siouxsie Sioux for Halloween.

  • Alexander McQueen’s “Eclect/Disset” for Givenchy autumn/winter 97

    “Give me time,” said Alexander McQueen, “and I’ll give you a revolution.” It seems the visionary didn’t need too much of it to make his indelible mark in the world of couture. For his second-ever collection for the house of Givenchy, McQueen’s autumn/winter 97 efforts are among his most prolific. Drawing the parallel between designer and surgeon, McQueen went all Mary Shelley and collapsed the two in “Eclect/Dissect.” The collection centres around a mad scientist who collected women from all corners of the world, taking apart and reassembling them as recombinant, cross-cultural hybrids on the catwalk/laboratory. Enmeshing Scottish tartan with Spanish lace, kimonos with Burmese folk craft, McQueen’s reappropriation doesn’t position the women as vulnerable victims, but as vengeful, telling Vogue: “I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.”