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French for “high dressmaking,” Haute Couture is the most luxurious and highly protected classification of fashion, conceived by an invite-only group of the world’s most respected designers.

Haute Couture Week, held twice a year in Paris, offers a rare glimpse into this lofty domain, where visual escapism, extraordinary craft and one-of-a-kind outfits with five-figure price tags are commonplace.

Its most recent edition, for Spring-Summer 2022, has just concluded. And while glamour and gloss are a given, this year’s event was unlike any before it.

For one, the industry was reckoning with the death of Thierry Mugler, a designer whose theatricality and inventiveness transformed the world of couture as we know it. But there were breakthrough moments, too. At Valentino, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli stepped outside the couture norm of hiring waif-like, young models by including a full range of body types and ages in his cast.

A model walks the runway during the Valentino Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2022 show which won praise for body-positive casting.

At Schiaparelli, meanwhile, elements of the surreal – which artistic director Daniel Roseberry has become so good at harnessing – shone through, complete with the media storm surrounding Ye (formally Kanye West) and Julia Fox’s attendance at the presentation.

It is a sign of the times that these moments played out on social media, not just in the behind closed doors in Paris. Haute Couture will always be expensive, because it requires the most intensive craftsmanship and specialist materials, yet, increasingly, it is becoming a prism of the zeitgeist – an intertwining of sartorial, celebrity and societal forces.

Here are five highlights from the Spring-Summer 2022 shows.

Fendi looks to the stars

The collection included hints of Christianity and allusions to the heavens.

Kim Jones showed a Fendi couture collection in front of a live audience for the very first time, having been appointed as the brand’s artistic director during the pandemic. For the new season, he was inspired by the spirituality of Fendi’s home city, Rome.

With hints of Christianity and allusions to the heavens, in a religious sense, Jones explored a tempting vision of what may lie beyond. The results were statuesque and grand dresses, with styling that mimicked the heavens, in an astronomical sense.

Charles de Vilmorin’s ‘Dance of Death’

Charles de Vilmorin's "La Danse Macabre" used skeletons to confront the theme of death.

Spring may usually signal rebirth and renewal but Charles de Vilmorin’s Spring-Summer 2022 couture collection directly addressed death – albeit in an innocent, almost childlike manner. The 10-look collection was presented via short film, titled “La Danse Macabre” (“The Dance of Death”), which featured a young De Vilmorin cavorting with a skeleton in his boyhood bedroom.

The mood was far from gloomy, though, with the designer giving the presentation a cinematic, Pop Art spin that almost felt Tim Burton-esque as the credits rolled.

Life on ‘Planet Schiaparelli’

"Planet Schiaparelli" had an intergalactic twist.

After two years without physical shows, Schiaparelli brought couture back to the runway – and Daniel Roseberry’s latest creations spoke of possibility, the cosmos and the void of the unknown. The designer said he and his team referred to this collection as “Planet Schiaparelli.”

One outfit’s elaborate threadwork, applied by hand to black silk, featured stallions charging from heaven’s gate, away from some alien sun and into the clouds. Space has been an ongoing theme for Roseberry – recall the Saturn-inspired Schiaparelli earrings that Adele wore during her “One Night Only” television special – and his Haute Couture Week show was filled with otherworldly flourishes and space-age silhouettes.

Horsing around at Chanel

Charlotte Casiraghi charged down the runway on horseback.

Chanel’s creative director, Virginie Viard, tends to stage shows and collections that are far less extravagant than those of her predecessor, Karl Lagerfeld. Yet this season she proved she knows how to make a splash in her own understated way.

On Tuesday, she opened the label’s Haute Couture show by sending Charlotte Casiraghi down the runway on horseback. The Monegasque princess is an accomplished showjumper in her own right, and the move proved fruitful with the moment going viral on social media.

Valentino challenges couture norms

The new Valentino couture collection showcased a range of body types and ages.

Pierpaolo Piccioli used his Spring-Summer 2022 collection to challenge some of couture’s most rigid conventions. Instead of shaping the clothes solely on young, slender models, he designed for a variety of body shapes and ages.

The result? A collection that is as beautiful – if not more beautiful – than those we have come to expect from Valentino, showcased on gray-haired and average-sized models, among others. In doing so, Piccioli demonstrated an ability to shift our understanding of beauty standards, even in the conventional upper echelons of high fashion.