PARIS — "It's all cinema, it's all from film," said Jean Paul Gaultier, summing up haute couture.
Paris' enfant terrible seemed to have a point, speaking on the last day of fall-winter shows that have seen spectators transported from apocalyptic opera houses to the circus and flung across the four corners of the globe.
Gaultier's feline-infused couture collection - Wednesday's highlight - took for inspiration Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini and "The Pink Panther."
The references merged with theatrical panache to produce once of his best shows in seasons.
But the cinema continued throughout Wednesday. In Valentino's encyclopedic show, continents and eras were merged and had Baz Luhrmann in delight.
"Haute couture, like cinema, is unreal. It's theatre - a romantic aspiration that's more beautiful, more extraordinary than reality," said the burlesque "Moulin Rouge" director who sat on the coveted front row.
JEAN PAUL GAULTIER
With a delicious purr, Gaultier pounced back into top form with a feisty couture collection, proving that despite a couple of off seasons, he still has a lot of tricks up his embroidered sleeve.
This fall-winter's muse was the female panther, which inspired a slew of fresh ideas, including plenty of new ways to wear leopard and how to dress in feathers to look like a cat.
If it sounds eccentric, it was.
Leopard print featured cheekily on tights below one stylish all-black crepe dress, and there were several incredible couture coats. At first glance they looked like fur but were made entirely of feathers, speckled like a big cat pelt and with white feathers at the edges to resemble skin.
Gaultier, ever the showman, ensured the wackiness infused the show's presentation as well.
Forty-three looks filed by to the infectious theme of "The Pink Panther," showcased on models who clawed as they walked. Guests looked on from stalls divided into lionesses, panthers, lynx and leopards. Sometimes they applauded, sometimes they simply laughed.
But aside from all the fun, there was some serious couture at work here.
Inspired by clown costumes, Gaultier showed flair with a new silhouette produced by dramatic 1980s-style ice-cream cone-shaped chaps.
It was fresh and engaging, and it seemed to say one of the big cats of Paris is back.
As guests arrived at Valentino's show, they glanced inquisitively at the zebra heads and gold-rimmed fisheye mirrors mounted on the walls of the "Hotel de Rothschild," transforming the 19th century mansion into a vintage-style cabinet of curiosities.