Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier & Elie Saab veer between the sensual and the chaste at Paris Couture Week

After the fairyland fantasy of Dior and Chanel's chill glamour, Paris haute couture shows veered between Vestal Virgins and the hot-blooded embrace of Mediterranean women Wednesday. As the French capital froze, designer Jean Paul Gaultier escaped south to the sunny plains of Spain, his slinky frocks ablaze in a carpet of poppies and spring flowers.

All the stock characters of Iberian arcadia were there, from imperious marquesas down to gypsy glamour pusses, all dressed to the nines for feria. Black cordobes hats topped Gaultier's thoroughly modern take on the flamenco dress, one black, white and red number paired with a leather biker jacket in the same colours.

Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier & Elie Saab veer between the sensual and the chaste at Paris Couture Week

It has to be said his fantasy Spanish rural idyll was more movida than Andalusian feria, searingly silky reds, yellows, pinks and blues bursting out of moody black. Despite the little ears of corn detailing, these were no hick chicks. His subtle series of rethought bolero jackets went from one ever so elegantly encrusted with tiny crystals to a killer blue denim jacket hybrid.

His knowingly cheesy payoff -- couture shows traditionally end with a wedding dress -- was a fairy-winged bride on the arm of a bare-chested hunk in dungarees who might have walked straight off the set of "Jamon Jamon".

Arab revival

As the legacy of the Arab Spring grows more bitter by the day, Lebanese creator Elie Saab voyaged to a more liberal time when love, freedom and beauty were in the air during Cairo's long postwar cultural flowering.

Having been transformed at the turn of the 20th century by immigrants from the Levant and elsewhere, Egypt became "a hub for progress which allowed Arab culture to flourish", the designer said.

Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier & Elie Saab veer between the sensual and the chaste at Paris Couture Week

The show's high romantic pitch came from the party scene in the great 1957 Egyptian film "Sleepless", Saab said, when the actress Faten Hamama arrives in a long gown "elegant in its simplicity... sparkling with crystals" and catches the eye of her lover Omar Sharif.

And those same crystals sparkled across the pale blue Nile haze of his collection's tulle, mousseline and lace. Sandy beige and pinks of the desert beyond also loomed large, all heavily embroidered with flowers, palm trees and forms inspired by Arabic calligraphy.

Saab said he was searching for the spirit of all the great Egyptian leading ladies of the era and the legendary singer Umm Kulthum, "Strong yet delicate, elegant and free."

Valentino's Vestal Virgins

Having seen his longtime creative partner Maria Grazia Chiuri slope off for Dior having between them turned Valentino into a 1-billion dollars business, Pierpaolo Piccioli is in reflective mood. His first solo couture collection is the blank slate of a new start, with a series of full-length robes you could imagine on ancient Rome's most stylistically savvy Vestal Virgins.

Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier & Elie Saab veer between the sensual and the chaste at Paris Couture Week

The Italian designer called this restrained white-out elegance a "purity that sidesteps austerity". Which you can take to mean what first looks simple and austere can also seduce, holding you in the spell of razor cut lines and quivering pleats. Showing it in a contemporary art gallery housed in a Paris mansion, Piccioli hinted at the depth of conceptual thinking he had put into the collection.

This return to classical "vertical silhouettes", he said, was about hiding the work that had gone into the dresses so as to give the women who wear them "the magic of the absence of effort". The Russian designer Ulyana Sergeenko brought fashionistas to the French capital's historic indoor winter circus for her show which began with a howling wolf.

Her women in their scary-sexy dark evening wear suits meant business. They were the hunters not the hunted, as her invitation showing a wolf staring at the prone body of a speared tracker in a forest made clear. (AFP)

Photo credit: Catwalkpictures