The Most Jaw-Dropping Looks From The Fall '16 Couture Shows

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Of all the Fashion Weeks slated throughout the year, the Haute Couture shows, while beyond gorgeous, aren't exactly where you'd expect to encounter many surprises. Yet the fall '16 couture runways, which just wrapped up in Paris and Milan, delivered some unexpected twists. Yes, the breathtaking fashion was there, but there was a sense of, well, disruption. We know, we know: That word feels tired and almost devoid of meaning for the fashion crowd, given the ongoing upheaval of the traditional show schedule, not to mention the myriad ways brands are toying with the show format. It's not a descriptor that often comes up when we're talking about this hand-worked, incredibly detail-oriented craft, but it's fitting for the latest wave of haute couture.

Given all the changes in how we consume fashion and the cost- and labor-intensive nature of this particular métier, the whole meaning of couture is being called into question. And, while we can always expect some collective cooing at the sheer detail of the clothes making their way down the runway, this year's collections were more out-there than usual.

Plus, Vetements, the streetwear label and, basically, the most talked-about fashion label these days, was present, showing its spring '17 with the help of some familiar mall brands in the same timespan (but certainly not on the same official calendar, or with the same accreditation) as the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture-vetted houses.

There was also plenty of drama compared to the spring '16 shows, both in terms of silhouette (from sculptural sleeves to duvet-like cascading gowns) and embellishment (think sturdy, plastic wrap-esque bodices and Swarovski crystal-coated silicone). This season, collections were described as "topsy-turvy," "opulent," and even "wearable," on top of the standard reaction, which is something along the lines of "oooh, prettyyyyy." Ahead, we highlight some of the zaniest and straight-up incredible looks from fall '16 couture.
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Black, white, and extremely elegant all over: Giorgio Armani Privé kept the color palette very restrained — basically rendered completely in black-and-white. The collection was anchored on sleek, nostalgic silhouettes that recalled the sophistication of the '60s and '70s.

Giorgio Armani Privé
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Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.
Across all its brands, Versace oozes sexiness, whether via dramatic slits or body-hugging fabrics. But in its latest couture collection, the brand's sensuality was more subversive: Instead of strategic cutouts, an off-the-shoulder silhouette or a pencil-fit midi-skirt showed off skin. Donatella also rallied a fascinating group of models to don the collection: Bella Hadid, Karen Elson, Joan Smalls, Irina Shayk, and more.

Atelier Versace
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An embellished, netted bodysuit, worn under hot pants and topped with a structured blazer? Yup, that's couture.

Alexandre Vauthier
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John Galliano dubbed Maison Margiela's fall '16 couture collection "artisanal," according to The Guardian. The theme crops up in the collage-like aesthetic (both of the clothes and the makeup looks), as well as in the juxtaposition of materials, which give it a sort of lost-and-found quality. In Galliano's words, this take on couture is "fearless, reckless but technically perfect," per WWD.

Maison Margiela
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This season marks Iris Van Herpen's couture calendar debut. But the Dutch designer has long been praised for the incredible craftsmanship of her truly artful designs. If this intricate minidress isn't enough proof, Visionaire pulled the curtain back on the process to show exactly what goes into a single fall '16 couture look.

Iris Van Herpen
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As Dior is expected to announce its new creative director before its spring '17 ready-to-wear show this autumn, fall '16 couture is likely the last collection the house will present with its design studio heads, Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier, at its helm. So, for their presumptive swan song, the design duo kept it minimal (a predominantly black-and-white palette, much like Giorgio Armani Atelier), sending their models down the runway in lace-up flat (!) sandals. While there wasn't as much play with silhouette and structure as in seasons past, this collection did feature some lovely embellishments — such as these crossed scarves draped over a crisp white midi-dress.

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Adeline Andre sent out a parade of head-to-toe monochromatic looks. A standout was this sheer tulle gown, layered over a short playsuit, lending an ethereal quality to it.

Adeline Andre
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This Alexis Mabille couture gown has a certain draped-duvet-cover quality to it — and we're very into it. Plus, fancy-dress sheer leggings, which we first spotted on Naeem Khan's bridal runway, make an appearance on the couture circuit here.

Alexis Mabille
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Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.
Yet another popular item of clothing we didn't think would get the couture treatment (but are quite happy to be proven wrong): Denim. At Viktor & Rolf, a recycling-inspired collection featured embellished straight-leg jeans under sweatshirts that have been completely transformed with the Dutch fashion house's signature whimsical, sculptural touch.

Viktor & Rolf
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Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.
There are certain runways that feel almost like theater, truly leaning into the drama of the clothes on display. Jean Paul Gaultier has mastered this effect over the years — and this shot of Anna Cleveland showing off a metallic draped coat made us instinctively go "YES!"

Jean Paul Gaultier
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Photo: Victor Virgile/Getty Images.
Yuima Nakazato made quite a debut on the couture calendar with his iridescent creations, which are made from hologram PVC. Plus, the designer is reportedly working on integrating the see-now-buy-now conceit into the couture business: "The methods and material developed in this couture collection will be made available right away in stores," Nakazato told The New York Times. "I am currently planning a new system of combining made-to-order and ready-to-wear," he continued, which he deems "the future of fashion in couture."

Yuima Nakazato
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Ulyana Sergeenko may still be a relative newcomer on the Fashion Week circuit, but the designer has quickly risen to be a favorite — and and an eagerly anticipated name each the season. For fall '16, Sergeenko once again drew from the history of her native Russia, this time translating her interpretation of '60s Soviet youth aesthetic for a couture audience, according to WWD.

Ulyana Sergeenko
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Schiaparelli is another one of those couturiers that elicits many a sigh as each new creation hits the catwalk — not only because of the incredible craftsmanship, but also for its truly delightful themes. This season, the brand looked to the circus, and the house's past: Elsa Schiaparelli designed a Big Top-inspired collection back in 1938. The result: a very playful color palette and lots of embellishments. Want a closer look at Schiaparelli's magic? The New York Times built an interactive "making of the look" feature for one of the brand's fall '16 dresses.

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The silhouette of this nude gown may feel traditional. But the way the sheer fabric reveals some of the dress' inner workings — including a petticoat and corset — gives this Julien Fournie couture gown a contemporary, in-progress quality.

Julien Fournie
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Giambattista Valli is perhaps best known for his frothy, smile-inducing gowns. (Never forget that iconic Rihanna moment from the 2015 Grammy Awards.) His namesake brand's fall '16 couture collection certainly had some of that. But all that pretty poufy-ness was presented alongside more demure minidresses — and one particular balloon-sleeved crop top and slim-fit trousers that piqued our interest.

Giambattista Valli
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Extra-long sleeves? It looks like the streetwear effect has reached the highest ranks of fashion at J. Mendel, another house that made its couture debut this season.

J. Mendel
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For fall '16, Chanel Haute Couture had less tweed and more bare shoulders than usual. But our favorite surprise was by far the finale. At the "inside the atelier"-themed show, Karl Lagerfeld had Chanel's petites mains actually working on the looks on the runway as models walked past; instead of stepping out take a bow with a Kendall Jenner or Cara Delevingne on his arm, Lagerfeld walked the course of his stage alongside the women of the atelier — a.k.a. the true heroes in this couture story.

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Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.
Parting is such sweet sorrow — and that seemed to be the theme of Valentino's Shakespearean fall '16 couture collection. Although it was widely speculated beforehand, the Italian fashion house officially announced today Maria Grazia Chiuri, who served as co-creative director alongside Pierpaolo Piccioli since 2008, would be decamping the day after the runway spectacle.

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For her sophomore appearance on the couture calendar, Guo Pei presented an array of festive dresses and gowns, metallic layered fringe and all. So, will we see this ruby number on Rihanna anytime soon?

Guo Pei
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Could this be the next-gen naked dress? Ralph & Russo's couture take on the barely there gown consists of textured, transparent lace flowing loosely over a bra and high-waisted panties in the same navy hue.

Ralph & Russo
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Elie Saab got quite a bit of attention, including some skepticism, over its "mommy and me" couture gowns. (Hey, there appears to be a market for high-end matching wares, at least within the Carter-Knowles family.) The inspiration for its fall '16 collection was New York, according to theTelegraph — an idealized vision of the Big Apple circa the 1940s, with plunging necklines and dramatic slits, fashioned out of plushy velvet and kept in place with oversized jeweled brooches.

Elie Saab
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Photo: Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images.
When Zuhair Murad's lady in red makes her way down the fall '16 couture runway, every single part of her lewk — from sheer lace gown and beaded coat to wide-brimmed hat and lace-up sandals — is an expertly matched shade of ruby.

Zuhair Murad